Saprographs: parasitical writings

‘ere the hour of the twattering of bards in the twitterlitter between Druidia and the Deepsleep Sea’ – James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

Update: a brief comment

Readers of this blog may have noticed a period of decline in new posts over the last months. I would just like to let my readers know the reasons for the scanty presence of new posts:

On the one hand, I have been busy with other writing – in particular, I have recently completed a novel and I am now in the midst of the post-writing endeavor of attempting to get it published; on the other hand, I have had my time taken up with a number of personal factors, including being between homes and stays in the hospital (I try to not make this site a place for the types of personal posts that seem to be the currency of the internet, but if need be I am happy to discuss this further).

But these things aside, this site is not dead and there will be new posts in the very near future, including both in depth theoretical material on various subjects as well as more colloquial ‘opinion’ pieces. Thank you for reading.


Lacan’s l’Encéphale papers I: ‘Detective Story’ (1928). An unauthorised translation.





‘Detective Story. From Chronic Hallucinatory Delirium to Imaginary Delusion.’

Presented by MM. Lévy-Valensy, P. Meignant and J. Lacan at the Société de psychiatrie; published in l’Encéphale (n. 5, 2, 1928) pp. 550–1.


We present a patient, forty-years of age, who for thirteen months constructed a police-themed delirium: from Beaucaire,[1] he was witness to scenes of robberies taking place in Paris and, in order to hand the criminals over to the authorities, he communicated via thought with the Paris agents and the gendarmerie of Beaucaire. Finally, he made the trip to Paris so as to complete his declarations to the police and, after being taken to the police station, he was interned. Without going into the specifics of this very rich case of delirium, we shall say a few words regarding its underlying causes.

At the time of internment, a diagnosis of chronic hallucinatory psychosis was made with the following features appearing to be present: visual, auditory and even genital hallucinations, and echoing of thoughts and actions [d’echo des actes et de la pensées][2]. Two facts, however, were striking from the outset: on the one hand, the predominantly nocturnal or hypnagogic character of the phenomena, which was reminiscent of the ‘dream delirium’ previously reported by Klippel,[3] but, in this case, however, the delirious conviction persisted throughout the entire day. On the other hand, there existed the presence of an important imaginary support: ‹‹ mentism[4] perceived as exogenous, visual inventions. . . hypnogogic and lucid visions, animated and combined and, perhaps, able to be evoked at times (?) ›› (from de Clérambault’s original [diagnostic] certificate).

Two months later, the patient presented himself as an imaginative.[5] No interpretation. The hallucinations were found to be extremely reduced, if not completely absent (with the phenomena of echoing of thoughts and actions[6] appearing to have been the last to disappear). Now present was an extremely rich imaginary story [roman imaginatif], increasing, so to speak, by avalanches; along with suggestibility was the possibility of bringing about, in addition to the stories already constructed, the attachment of immediate conviction [to the imaginary story], as well as the presence of more and more fantastic, megalomaniacal ideas.

The lack of information obtained regarding the patient’s history makes a judgement pertaining to prior mental constitution difficult. Nonetheless, it seems that the patient has always been an imaginative or mythomaniacal [in character] (poetic, unstable. . .). On the other hand, during the patient’s stay in the asylum, there were no signs of the effects of ethylism [subéthylisme]; that the patient is suffering from syphilis is a possibility (though biological reactions were negative, pupillary irregularities and leukoplasia were present). Without being able to confirm our judgment, we believe that the cause is an oneiric flare-up [poussée onirique][7] (toxic or infectious), owing to a predisposition in the patient. With the termination of the flare up, the properly oneiric character of the delirium and its hallucinations were attenuated and tended towards disappearance. But with this, the mythomaniacal tendencies then underwent a boost [coup de fouet]. The condition [affection] then assumed more and more the character of a purely imaginary delusion [délire d’imagination]; thus, the case falls into the framework of the ‹‹ post-oneiric, chronic, systematic delusion from the development of original [delirious] tendencies ›› (de Gilbert-Ballet [Bulletin médical, n. 87, 8 November, 1911, p. 959]).

Translated by Simon McNamee


[1] A commune in the Gard department in the Occitanie region of southern France.

[2] The term echo de la pensées in French psychiatry is equivalent to ‘audible thoughts’ or ‘audible thinking’; i.e., a subject hears his thoughts spoken; similarly, ‘audible actions’ might be the equivalent translation, designating, in the same way, the subject hearing his actions spoken (whilst performing the action or after).

[3] Maurice Klippel, the French physician (1858–1942) is, I believe, being referred to here.

[4] Following Phillipe Chaslin, mentism [mentisme] (from the Latin mens, ‘thought’): rapid and uncontrollable procession of thought and images which the subject cannot control or interrupt, typically coupled with anxiety or provoking anxiety and typically occurring at the time of attempting to go to sleep and causing insomnia.

[5] I have retained the use of ‘imaginative’ as a noun.

[6] See fn. 2.

[7] In the medical sense, pousée is used, beyond the sense of ‘push’ or ‘thrust’, to mean ‘a sudden manifestation of an illness or disease,’ hence, the sense of ‘flare up,’ as translated here. Additional, the descriptors ‘toxic or infectious’ seem to echo Klippel’s notion of oneiric delirium resulting from ethylism (see, e.g., Klippel & Lopez, ‘Du reve et du delire qui lui fait suite dans les infections aigues’, Revue de psychiatrique’ (April, 1900).

On ‘Class Process’ and ‘Surplus’ in the Work of Richard D. Wolff and Stephen A. Resnick: A Critique and A Clarification





Throughout their work, Richard D. Wolff and Stephen A. Resnick, in order to explicitly emphasise the production process in their Marxian analysis, redefine ‘class’ so as to refer to the production process qua mode of production as ‘class process’. As such, all forms of the production process are referred to as ‘class processes’ and, in turn, ‘primitive communism’ and ‘communism’ as modes of production are redefined as particular (non-exploitative) ‘class processes’ rather than non-class or classless modes of production. Now, despite the fact that their analysis more often than not contribute something of value to Marxist theory and despite the fact that I share their same perspective on the emphasis on modes of production in terms of its importance to Marxism,[1] I believe this notion of ‘class’ is in error. In the following schematic, structural exposition, I aim to demonstrate why this is an error via a presentation of the logic inherent to the determination of a mode of production, in relation to the production of ‘value’ and ‘surplus value’ as functional terms, as having the quality of a ‘class relation’. With this demonstration, I will then show why this error occurs; I will show that within Wolff and Resnick, in order to arrive at the term ‘class process’ qua production process itself, there is a conflation and equivocation between ‘value’ and ‘surplus value’. And similarly, I will show that this conflation and equivocation also produces, in their analyses, inconsistency. In order to present the logic involved as clearly as possible, I will focus on ‘primitive communism’ as an exemplar and I my explications will be intentionally reductive and schematic; as such, it should be noted that my analyses are not intended to be exhaustive—far from it—and do not capture significant elements and the like of the modes of production being discussed or aspects of the terms that are significant beyond the way they are presented. I am simply attempting to refine key aspects of the logic applicable to the specificity of Wolff and Resnick’s conception of ‘class process’.


Taking ‘primitive communism’ as our point of departure, this is how Wolff and Resnick deal with it as a form: ‘In this form, the direct laborers themselves collectively discuss and decide upon their working conditions, how much surplus they will perform, and how they will dispose of the fruits of their surplus labor.’[2] This is, in terms of the mode of production which determines where the surplus is being generated, the fundamental ‘class process’; subsumed class processes in relation to this require the distribution (some portion of it) of the surplus to them—the agents who produce the surplus ‘appropriate’ and make decisions about its distribution.[3][4] This conception relies on their definition of a ‘class’ as a term denoting the production process as such, where the production process inherently involves the production of surplus value. For example:


By class we mean . . . a process in society where individuals perform labor above and beyond (“surplus” to) that which society deems necessary for their reproduction as laborers. . . . In simplest terms, one part of the population does such necessary and surplus labor and receives back the fruits of the necessary labor for their own reproduction. These laborers deliver the fruits of their surplus labor—the “surplus”—to another part of the population that then distributes it to still another part.[5]


Hence, according to this model, an exploitative form would be: agents of surplus production produce surplusappropriation of surplus by agents other than agents of surplus productiondistribution of surplus by appropriators to appropriators and other groups in society; a non-exploitative form would be: agents of surplus production produce surplus‘appropriation’ of surplus by the agents of surplus production (same agents)distribution of surplus to agents of surplus production and other groups in society.

Now, in order to examine how the term class is being used in this manner and why their generalisation of ‘surplus’ as pertaining to all production as such is the result of a conflation and equivocation, let us schematically and in basic terms return to ‘primitive communism’ as a mode of production.


In general, ‘primitive communism’ has the following characteristics and conditions: basic agriculture (and perhaps ‘hunting and gathering’ activities) as means; communal ownership of land and resources (in relation to the means), hence: ‘common ownership’ and, in turn, ‘common ownership’ of production; no class differentiation;[6] and, (typically) a rudimentary division of labour pertaining to sex or based on sexual difference (say, the total production encompasses x and y; men do x, women do y). One can make a comment about the limitations of primitive communism and state something along the lines of ‘one remains a slave to nature’ in this mode of production, but to form and elaborate such a judgement of this sort is not the task here.

So with these characteristic and conditions, lets turn to how the ‘surplus’, as a term, can be derived and its relation to ‘class’.

The term ‘surplus value’ corresponds to a production process wherein a division or distinction between necessary labour time and labour time beyond necessary labour time can be derived (though in itself it does not have to be explicitly expressed in temporal form, which will be demonstrated); the appropriation of what is produced in surplus to necessary labour time by an agent other than the agent who produces the ‘surplus’ determines the ‘quality’ of the appropriation, qua ‘exploitation’. Hence, the determination of whether it is an ‘exploitative mode of production’. The appropriation then gives the function of distribution—that is, distribution is bound to the appropriation as a function, though they are logically and structurally distinguishable terms. So, if the mode of production is exploitative in the character as stated, then: ‘class’.

To apply the structure to ‘primitive communism’ and determine its quality, let’s first schematically and simply illustrate the structur of the feudal mode of production and then illustrate via comparison.


Let’s say an ‘agent of the labour process’ produces. What he produces has value[7] in that it embodies human labour (leaving aside other sources of value). Over some period of time, call it t, the total value produced that is definable as necessary labour is: 10 units of value. The total value produced over t is not 10 units of value, however; the total value produced is 25 units of value. The necessary labour as a portion of the total value produced is situated, literally, on a piece of land, and it is situated according to the following property: it is ‘owned’ by the agent of the labour process. Everything produced on this piece of land is immediately ‘appropriated’ by the agent of the labour process and its distribution follows from this ‘appropriation’ (e.g., he feeds himself and, let’s say, he also feeds his wife and children).

—Now let’s pause here for a moment before continuing in order to state: if the agent of the labour process goes home with his 10 units of value that he has produced and distributes 5 units to himself and 5 units to his wife and children (where his wife has, in the household also produced some value and the agent of the labour process immediately appropriates that value), it cannot necessarily be the case that now the agent of the labour process’ necessary labour is actually divided into necessary labour for himself for value for himself and surplus labour for surplus value that is distributed to others which is in a non-exploitative relation because the labour agent is also the agent of appropriation and distribution, which would follow from Wolff and Resnick’s conception. The mode of production determines the exploitative quality and the surplus value as such, not how the value is distributed; hence, ‘agency’ in the production process is integral to the analysis and, hence, at least minimally, ‘power relations’ qua the agent position and how this determines a class relation is too integral to the economic analysis and the focus on the production process (something which Wolff and Resnick minimise).[8] This is, in part, where Wolff and Resnick’s problem lies. Without having a clear conceptual distinction of the determination of surplus value from the production process, how a class relation is derived from the structural organisation of the determination of the surplus value, and the production process as such, coupled with the conflation I explicate below, the difference between surplus production and the distribution of non-surplus value cannot be adequately expressed. (Following what was stated above regarding the wife and children, it would also entail, following the same logic, that the wife and children are appropriating the agent of the labour process’ ‘surplus value’ where value is distributed. This would collapse the entire model. And this simultaneously with the agent appropriating the value the wife produces in the household; a kind of equilibrium of value appropriation. . .)

Now, the total value produced is 25. This means that 15 units of value were produced beyond what was (immediately) ‘appropriated’ by the agent of the labour process, and appropriated by some other agent, one other than the agent of the labour process, with the means of this ‘appropriation’-appropriation differential being the division of land (the agent of the labour process produces 10 on the piece of land he ‘owns’; the 15 units is produced by the same agent on a different piece of land ‘owned’ by the agent of appropriation). This 15 units corresponds to labour which is not ‘necessary labour’ since it is value produced beyond the agent of the labour process’ ‘needs’; it is in surplus to the 10 units produced directly for the agent who is doing the producing and that is in (immediate) relation to its ‘ownership’ (its appropriation and distribution). This 15 units of value is produced by the same agent but on another piece of land (‘owned’ by someone else), for the appropriation and distribution of another agent. The means of this is in the mode of production, explicity; e.g., the division of land (and land ‘ownership’). Though thus far it has been expressed ‘spatially’, we can qualify it with temporal form (or spatio-temporal form): t = seven days. The agent of the labour process spends, let’s say, two days producing the 10 units of value on his own piece of land, and four days are spent on the other agent’s land, the agent of appropriation’s land, producing the 15 units of value. (One day is spent not working, a ‘day of rest’.) Whatever is produced on the other agent’s land is immediately appropriated by the other agent (here we see that the property relation as such determines the quality of appropriation and exploitation). As such, of the 25 units of value, 15 units of value are produced for appropriation; 15 units of value are produced for the other agent. Namely, the serf produces that which is appropriated by the lord. Hence, the total value is divided into necessary labour and surplus labour; the surplus labour produces surplus value in contrast to the necessary labour that satisfied value for the agent of labour. With this structural composition, we have derived the term surplus value. Further: that the surplus value is appropriated by an agent other than the one who produces it in the production process, we can now define this form as an exploitative mode of production. And given that it is an exploitative mode of production, we can characterise it as a class relation; that is, its quality of exploitation determines that it ha the quality of being a class relation. To express this in logical form: If exploitation, then class; exploitation, therefore: class. And, in turn, if not exploitation, not class; not exploitation, therefore: not class.

If the above is taken into account, then, we can see that, unlike Wolff and Resnick, a production process as such is not necessarily a ‘class process’ since it is logically possible to have a production process and a mode of production that does not have the attribute of being an exploitative production process.

But let’s stay with the (simple and schematic) description of the feudal mode of production, its structure, for the moment. There are equivalences between this and the capitalist mode of production. For the sake of expression, I’ve given the feudal mode of production a fundamentally ‘spatial’ form; if in the schema we replace the spatial with a fundamentally ‘temporal’ one (though I do not mean to strictly define one in terms of spatial characteristics and one in terms of temporal characteristics—all modes of production have relations to time and space and time and space are compositional elements in all forms of production, the significance of which is something that is, in general, absent from non-Marxist economics), and state that the determinate of surplus value encompasses that the production satisfies the conditions of exchange value over use value (subordinates use value where production is for exchange value, hence: production of commodities for market distribution or, perhaps, some other form of distribution serving the same basic function), etc. With this, you likewise have a class relation given that it is an exploitative mode of production. Here, over some time period, t, let’s say eight hours, the value produced that corresponds to the way the production process determines the production of value is divided up between necessary labour time and surplus labour time. The agent of the labour process (here a wage-labourer rather than a serf) produces, let’s say, for the sake of consistency, 25 units of value in those eight hours. 10 units of value, produced in three hours of the eight hours in the working day, are given back to the agent of the labour process,[9] satisfying the portion of value that corresponds to necessary labour time for the agent of the labour process; the remaining 15 units of value are produced in the other five hours of the workday and are not given back but are appropriated by another agent. Hence, surplus is produced, the quality of the appropriation in the production process means that it is an exploitative mode of production; hence, the capitalist mode of production entails a class relation. The class relation as a term is derived from the exploitative nature of the appropriation in the production process.

We can clearly see then what the quality of exploitation is, what the term denotes, in terms of the production process and how class is derived from the particular way in which a mode of production is compositionally an exploitative one: the term ‘class’ refers to and describes an exploitative mode of production. Now, does ‘primitive communism’ satisfy any of the conditions that have been outlined such that it could be described, as a mode of production, as a ‘class process’ in accordance with Resnick and Wolff?

Let’s start at the beginning. To express Wolff and Resnick’s view: the production process entails that a surplus (value) is produced as such; where the production process entails surplus, it is a ‘class process.’ Hence, production process is equivalent in terms with ‘class process’. So, is surplus (value) produced in ‘primitive communism’?

I will now very simply demonstrate, along similar postulates as in the above analysis, that ‘primitive communism’ is communist because it is not an exploitative mode of production, it is not in terms of a production process equivalent in form, for example, to the feudal or capitalist exploitative modes of production; as such, it is not a class process but a classless mode of production; this will enable us, in turn, to explicate the fundamental difference between the ‘primitive communist mode of production’ and the ‘communist mode of production’ as production processes: no surplus value is produced in one, surplus is produced in the other.

Let as schematically describe the ‘primitive communist’ mode of production as encompassing the following or having the following characteristics: all agents share ‘common ownership’ of the means of production and all agents participate in the total value produced by the labour process, i.e., everyone is involved in the production process in that all members of the community are in some way involved in transforming raw materials into useful items for that community, which possess value since they embody human labour the human labour of that transformation process (again, ignoring other sources of value for the sake of clarity). To be absolutely clear and consistent, let’s say that over some time-period t, 10 units of value are produced by the agents of the labour process (all members of the community) and all agents are then the ‘immediate’ ‘appropriators’ or ‘owners’ of that value produced. 10 units of value is produced by all agents, ten units of value is ‘appropriated’ by all agents. And the distribution of that 10 units is too decided by all agents (or they decide to give it to one member of the community who has some special status, and this single agent has the role of making decisions pertaining to the distribution—it doesn’t matter). Nothing in this arrangement entails that a ‘surplus’ has been created since there is no value being produced beyond that which is ‘appropriated’ by the agents doing the value producing, the agents of the labour process, there is no relationship of value beyond necessary labour in relation to the form of the production process and the appropriation of labour since there is simple relationship between production for use and reflexive ‘appropriation’. There is no value beyond that which ‘belongs to’ the agents of the labour process which is being appropriated as ‘surplus’—the term ‘surplus (value)’ cannot be derived from the production process as a functional term of appropriation. As such, there is no exploitation (as I hope is obvious) since it is not an exploitative mode of production; this entails that the production process is not a ‘class process’ since it is not exploitative: it is a non-exploitative mode of production and hence a classless mode of production.

But let’s now modify this schema. Let’s say similar conditions and characteristics exist as in the above example, ‘common ownership’, etc., but in this community, the 10 units of value over t are produced not by all the members of the community—let’s say the community is made up of one hundred people—but only half the population of the community—fifty people—are agents of the labour process, the people who produce this 10 units of value. The other fifty people have roles in the community that are integral and valuable to the community, to its existence (more specifically, the existence of the mode of production) and, perhaps, in their own right, and are given a certain status in the community, but they are roles that, nonetheless, do not contribute directly to the value that the entire community needs and benefits from, they do not contribute directy to the production of those 10 units of value (over t). That is, they are dependent on those other fifty members who are the agents of the labour process, those who do produce those 10 units of value (over t). Let’s say those 10 units of value are not appropriated by the fifty who are not agents of the labour process, but they are ‘appropriated’ by the fifty members of the community who are the agents of the labour process. These agents determine the production, ‘appropriation’ and distribution of what they produce beyond what they produce for themselves, that is, the 5 units of value that is beyond, in surplus of, the 5 units of value they require for themselves alone. And in order to do so, they consult the other members of the community so as to make sure the distribution process is undertaken via good decisions rather than bad decisions—they even give specific non-production, distributive roles to certain members of the community composed of people from the non-productive fifty, so that the distribution process involves both agents of the labour process and non-agents of the labour process. To put it simply: the production process here entails that the value being produced is divisible into: value that corresponds to necessary labour in relation to the agents of the labour process; and, value being produced in addition to that which corresponds to necessary labour, i.e., surplus value produced by surplus labour. This surplus is not appropriated, but rather, it is ‘appropriated’ by the same agents of the labour process. And it is then distributed where distribution is a function of the ‘appropriation’ (as opposed to being a function of the appropriation). Hence, it is a non-exploitative mode of production and, as such, it is a classless mode of production. An example of such a production process can be found in Wolff and Resnick:[10]


Evidence of communist [production processes] on many collective farms [in the Soviet Union] . . . [appear] in personal reports on collective farm operations. Belov (1955) worked on a collective farm (reorganized in 1930 as an artel), became chairman of a collective in his own village, and eventually published a book based on his diaries. In explaining the structure of a collective, he writes: “. . . during and immediately after the harvest, before deliveries to the state have been made (the ‘First Commandment’) and before the seed, insurance and fodder funds have been replenished (the ‘Second Commandment’), all the crops are kolkhoz property, and woe betide the peasant who is caught making off with a kilogram of grain. . .” (Belov 1955, 32). Belov here captures the importance of state pressures (‘Commandments’) on farm collectives. The state applied pressure because the entire crop belonged first to the collective that produced it, not to any subset of its members nor to any set of state officials. This precisely differentiated collective farms from state industrial workers (and from state farm workers). Having supported and even organized farmers into communist [production processes] on many collective farms, the state then found itself compelled to use pressure and eventually force to acquire the surplus distributions it wanted from the communist surplus that the collective itself appropriated. The Soviet state intervened to order the collective farm to distribute some of its surplus in certain ways, but ordering how others distribute their surplus is different from appropriating and distributing surplus. The state exerted power, while the collective produced, appropriated, and distributed a surplus. [fn. Based on the evidence, we rejected the counterthesis that state officials were surplus appropriators on collective farms. No discourse recognized nor did existing laws empower a centralized board of ministers or decentralized local officials to allocate labor power and means of production or to appropriate the crops harvested (or the proceeds from their sale). As explained in the text, the statutes passed, the culture produced, and the local collective economy combined to create something very different. The workers of collective farms collectively possessed the means of production, set in motion their own labor power, and had the first command over the produced crops and values. They distributed their surpluses to secure the survival of the collective. Paradoxically, it was the communist fundamental . . . position held by these agricultural workers that necessitated the extensive power used by communist state officials to try to influence those workers’ activities. State power aimed to acquire resources from a communist [production process] structure outside the state.][11]


It is not my intention to discuss the production processes within the Soviet Union, the merits or otherwise of the Soviet Union as a state and whether they fulfilled their role as a state capitalist or socialist formation. All that I intend to demonstrate is that a communist mode of production is differentiated from a primitive communist mode of production in a fundamental way. That is, a fundamental difference between ‘primitive communism’ and ‘communism’ pertains to the determination of the production of surplus value. Communism in any form, however, is fundamentally characterised by the fact, arising from the structure of its mode of production, that is it non-exploitative and hence classless.


Finally, let us turn to how Resnick and Wolff are able to term the production process as such a ‘class process’. I will demonstrate a conflation inherent to Wolff and Resnick which will account for this term. The conflation is as follows.

In a production process in general, there is the following equation: raw materials (or some form of materials) + human labour = product with (use) value (where the product embodies the human labour put to work in the production of the product; this labour is the source of the value embodied in the product).[12] This in itself accounts for value as such (in terms of value produced by human labour). The addition of human labour which transforms the raw materials into a product of human labour does not account for ‘surplus value’—the term and function of ‘surplus value’ requires derivation from a specific operation which is derived from a specific organisational structure of the production process. As stipulated in the preceding, this surplus is derived from some relationship between agents of production and appropriation (or ‘appropriation’), how value is being produced, and the structural organisation of that production process in relation to the appropriation and distribution of the that value. One needs, for instance, a division of the total value (determined in some parameter) in relation to the organisational structure of production which generates the term surplus in relation to the agents of the labour process. The addition in the equation raw material + human labour does not equate to a surplus value being produced; the surplus pertains to the addition of labour which determines value beyond the value that ‘satisfies’ the direct agents of the agents of the labour process, as evident in the above distinction between primitive communism and other forms of production. Raw materials + human labour is a general (and abstracted) description of the production process itself (and does not include any other factors involved). To illustrate this in a very simple way: if I make a meal for myself, with my labour power alone, I turn the raw materials that go into the meal into a product for my own consumption. That product embodies the human labour that transformed those raw materials into what it now is. As such, it ‘possesses’ value; it does not possess surplus value since no factors in this production process determined the function of the term ‘surplus’ as operational in this process. On the other hand, if I make two meals, where I transform raw materials into a product with human labour and as such these two meals ‘possess’ value as the embodiment of my human labour, and I make these two meals for myself and someone else such that I made those two meals solely with my own labour power and produced more than what was simply necessary for my consumption (one meal), and I then take one of the two meals and give it to myself and take the other of the two meals and give it to someone else, here there is a surplus whereas in the former case there was no surplus. The nature of the determination of the surplus, its appropriation and distribution, and whether or not it is an exploitative mode aside, this demonstrates that one cannot equate the general process of production and the transformation of material with human labour into products—we can express this as: RM+HL=V—with surplus production—which can be expressed: (RM+HL)=V+S. This is precisely what Wolff and Resnick do. If we indicate this in terms of the second equation (i.e., [RM+HL]=V+S), this is to conflate this second ‘+’ with the first parentheticised ‘+’; in doing so, the second ‘+’ is equated with the first ‘+’ so that, wherever there RM+HL, there is always already S. And the confusion of these two forms of addition accounts for the conflation which generates the term ‘class process’ as being equivalent to ‘production process’ or ‘mode of production,’ for, as I have just demonstrated, following the conflation of these two forms of addition, all forms of labour process produce a surplus value. And this leads to inconsistency.

Why inconsistency? To illustrate: on the one hand, ‘surplus’ for Wolff and Resnick fundamentally refers to the labour process as such (as outlined above). In their examination of, for instance, the household,[13] the following claim, roughly sketched, is made: let’s say a husband and a wife share a household together. The husband goes to work and is exploited in a capitalist mode of production; the wife’s ‘role’ is to be the agent of the domestic mode of production. Part of this role involves, for example, making the meals. She does not make meals for herself alone, she makes meals for two. Hence, she produces a surplus. Since she produces a surplus and it is appropriated by the husband, this is an exploitative production process. Now in these terms, the exploitative form of appropriation is derived from the distribution of the surplus, and the surplus is being derived from the fact that more value is being produced by the agent of the labour process (in the household) than that agent receives back in the form of what they consume (two meals are made by one person for the consumption of two people). So surplus as a functional term is being derived in relation to the appropriation-distribution process of that which is produced (and that which is being produced is determined by the appropriation-distribution process it is structurally bound to). If so, this is an entirely different determination of surplus value where surplus value is taken to be inherent to all forms of production (which then allows Wolff and Resnick to refer to all production processes as ‘class processes’). Such a determination relies on the conflation of the two forms of addition previously mentioned; applying the determination of ‘surplus’ in this manner to the above example would grant the following claim: if the wife does not produce two meals for herself and her husband, but only one meal for herself (let’s say her husband died from being worked to death outside of the household), she has produced a surplus in so far as she has produced something involving the transformation of raw materials with human labour giving her the product embodying that human labour used. But this notion of ‘surplus’ doesn’t produce the analysis that pertains to surplus qua its function in their definition of an exploitative appropriation and distribution of surplus. That is, the nomination of surplus production in the household was derived at via the bringing into relief of appropriation in relation to the requirement of surplus labour beyond necessary labour in order to determine surplus value in addition to value (that met the requirements of the agent of the labour process),[14] or, as I’ve notated it, (RM+HL)=V+S. However, since their analysis, at least in the manner they have expressed it, requires the embedded ‘+’, that is, the initial, parentheticised ‘+’, to be the determination of S, this would collapse their ability to determine surplus in the manner which allows them to produce their analysis of the household, since (i) RM+HL=V in distinction to the process of surplus production, (ii) (RM+HL)=V+S, is required in order produce such an analysis, in order to perform the operation RM+HL=V→(RM+HL)=V+S; if the production process as such is defined as surplus production such that (i) and (ii) are both defined as surplus production, where there is an equivocation of two different additions, in order to refer to all production processes (including ‘primitive communism’) as ‘class processes’, this then means that the distinction between (i) as a process which does not produce surplus and (ii) where surplus is produced and analysed in terms of its appropriation-distribution cannot follow from their fundamental conflation of (i) and (ii). If their analysis of the household holds, their definition of ‘class process’ collapses; if their definition of class process holds, then (ii) collapses into (i) and their analysis is no longer possible since it requires the active distinction of (i) and (ii). Their analysis collapses in on itself.

But if surplus value production is adequately distinguished from the production of value in general and ‘class’ is derived from the way in which a mode of production organises appropriation in exploitative form, both of which I have attempted to logically express in this paper, one avoids this error. The cost of avoiding this error is no longer conflating ‘production process’ as such with ‘class process’—since, as I have illustrated, a mode of production is not necessarily exploitative and as such a mode of production can be classless. If this is the cost of avoiding this error, it is hardly a high price to pay for theoretical and conceptual clarity.

As I have shown, this clarification allows us to highlight a fundamental difference pertaining to ‘primitive communism’ and ‘communism’: one is a non-exploitative mode of production where no surplus is produced and one is a non-exploitative mode of production where surplus is produced. Given Wolff and Resnick’s terms, they are unable to account for this difference (amongst other things). For instance, their differentiation between ‘primitive communism’ and ‘communism’ is that in the former, those who produce the surplus are the same as those who appropriate the surplus and make decisions about its distribution;[15] whereas in the latter: ‘a communist form of the class process . . . is thought to necessarily [include] the collective ownership of all the means of production, the allocation of labor power . . . by collectively designed economic planning, and the collectively determined disposition of the surplus.’[16] But if such a distinction does actually function as a meaningful distinction capable of differentiating ‘primitive communism’ from ‘communism’ in terms of the process of production, it can only do so not by reference to anything to do with the structure of the mode of production as such, but ultimately by a dialectical relation to a dominant mode of production that historically preceded it; but then the way in which the terms are systematically being used has shifted from a structural account to an account relying on a historicist mode of analysis, e.g., ‘it is primitive communism in a historically developed mode’. Without the theoretical analysis that grants the distinction on the basis of surplus—one does not have surplus value being produced, one does—there can be no differential definition in relation to the mode of production as such.


To conclude: I have aimed to demonstrate that the term ‘class process’ used by Wolff and Resnick to refer to the production process as such is in error. Taking ‘primitive communism’ as the point of departure, I have logically demonstrated the way in which ‘class’ refers to a specific exploitative structure of the mode of production and demonstrated that a mode of production that is not exploitative entails that it is classless; as such, a classless mode of production (communist) is possible and ‘class process’ cannot then encompass all modes of production. Additionally, I have attempted to exposit the way in which, via conflation and equivocation, the error is determined and I have briefly indicated the way in which this leads them into error in description as well as inconsistency in analysis. With this critique, I have attempted to clarify their focus on the production process and I have attempted to exposit the logical determination of the key terms pertaining to the analysis: ‘production process’, ‘labour process’, ‘appropriation’, ‘class’ and ‘class relation’ (or ‘class structure’), ‘value’, and, perhaps most importantly, ‘surplus value’.




[1] See, for example: Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (International Publishers: New York, 2009).

[2] Richard D. Wolff and Stephen A. Resnick, Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical (John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore & London, 1987), p. 151.

[3] Ibid.

[4] I use the term ‘appropriation’ via analogy to the exploitative productive process and to clearly indicate the different elements involved in the production process; where the appropriation occurs in an exploitative mode of production, I will use the term appropriation without inverted commas; where the agents responsible for the production are also the agents who ‘appropriate’—meaning that it isn’t really an act of ‘appropriation’ but the function of the term is still explanatorily useful—I will put the term appropriation in inverted commas.

[5] Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff, Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the U.S.S.R. (Routledge: New York & London, 2002), p. 8.

[6] Why it has no class relations and what it means to be classless will, of course, become clear in the proceeding.

[7] In the following, I will fictionally express ‘value’ in numerical units in order to simply and easily make the expression of value accountable. This has nothing to do with price or any type of expression of value that takes place in accordance with any modes of production.


[8] See: Resnick and Wolff 2002.

[9] For the purposes of this discussion and for the sake of simplicity, I will bracket the money form and the difference between value and price here.

[10] In the following quotation, I have used square brackets to alter the term ‘class process’ to ‘production process’ so as to be in accordance with the main text.

[11] Resnick and Wolff 2002, p. 246. The ‘Belov 1955’ citation in this quotation is the following:  Fedor Belov, The History of a Soviet Collective Farm (Frederick A. Preger: New York, 1955). One can also add that the key to the apparent ‘paradox’ is to be found, perhaps, in the relation of the subsumed communist production process to the dominant state capitalist mode of production.

[12] Again, bracketing other sources of value.

[13] For an extended analysis of the household, see:: Harriet Fraad, Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, Bringing It All Back Home: Class, Gender and Power in the Modern Household (Pluto Press: London & Boulder, 1994). In general, this example that I am playing off of is expressed by Richard Wolff in various places; for instance: Wolff and Resnick 1987, pp. 218–22, and in particular: ‘Fundamental and subsumed class processes can and typically do occur in . . . households. . . . Household labour produces goods and services: raw food materials are transformed into finished meals, cleaning equipment is utilized to transform disorderly and dirty rooms into clean and orderly ones, and clothing is repaired, to cite but a few examples. These production processes rarely result in commodities. . . . However, the absence of commodity production is not equivalent to the absence of class processes.

‘The production processes  of these meals, cleaning services, and repair services involves not only the natural transformation of physical substances through labor but also the fundamental and subsumed class process. To identify whether and how class processes occur in households, we must distinguish between necessary and surplus labor. Can we identify in households some people who are direct laborers, who not only perform labor that is needed to produce the goods and services they require to keep laboring in the household, but also do some surplus labor beyond their necessary labor? Marxian theory replies affirmatively.

Many housewives have traditionally performed the labor required to make meals, clean rooms, and repair clothing. Such women also perform surplus labor—that is, they produce a quantity of meals, cleaned rooms, and repaired clothing that exceeds their own personal requirements for or consumption of these products. Their husbands, cotenants of these households, typically appropriate the surplus labor embodied in these surplus products.’ (pp. 219–20)


[14] See: fn. 13.

[15] Wolff and Resnick 1987, p. 151.

[16] Ibid., pp. 152–3.

A Clarification of The Concept of ‘Overdetermination’: Althusser contra (post-Rorty) Resnick and Wolff






Since Althusser’s concept and theorisation of ‘overdetermination’ has been (partially) adopted by Resnick and Wolff, modified by a post-Rortyan conception of relativity, I would like to offer the below presentation in order to clearly demonstrate that Resnick and Wolff’s understanding and use of ‘overdetermination’ does not accord with the actual Althusserian term and as such deprives it of its theoretical value and function and removes it from the field of Marxist theory; i.e., in Resnick and Wolff it is not, in the final analysis, a Marxist concept.


Resnick and Wolff contrast ‘overdetermination’ with ‘determinism,’ and epistemologically place ‘overdetermination’ outside both the empirical and the rational paradigms. So far, so good. Resnick and Wolff depart from the (to be schematic) second component of Althusserian ‘overdetermination,’ with influence from Richard Rorty (as I will indicate); that is, ‘economic determination in the last instance.’ Here is, succinctly, their expression of ‘overdetermination’ contra determinism:


…we have found persuasive a consistent, if minority perspective within Marxism . . . that rejects determinism . . . . Thus, one aspect of society is not the ultimate determinant of the others. A superstructure of politics and culture is not reducible to being the effect of an economic base. . . . We affirm instead the Marxian notion of ‘overdetermination’: the proposition that all aspects of society condition and shape one another. Hence it is not possible to reduce society or history to the determinant effect of some one or a subset of its constituent aspects. What theory or explanation does—all it can do or has ever done—is to select and draw attention to some aspects and some relationships of whatever object it scrutinizes. That object’s overdetermined complexity and ceaseless change place a comprehensive grasp beyond any theory’s reach. All theories and explanations remain partial, open to ceaseless addition, contestation, and change. This is because, to be intelligible, they can focus on only a few aspects. They necessarily leave out most of the other aspects.[1]




From the standpoint of an overdeterminist theory, the economic and noneconomic aspects of society influence [and create] each other. . . . [Our] Marxian theory . . . assigns no determining priority to economic over noneconomic aspects of society. All the different aspects shape and are shaed by all the others. No one part of a society, neither the economy nor any other part, determines the whole society. Every aspect of society, including the economic, is overdetermined by all the others. Economic or any other kind of determinism is rejected here in favor of overdetermination.

. . .each aspect of society owes its existence to the other aspects. Each is constituted by the interactions among all the other aspects of society. Overdetermination means that every aspect of society is always a cause and an effect. Each aspect plays its particular role in constituting—that is, in causing the existence of—every other.[2]


And their particular reliance on Althusser is expressed in the following quotation:


We read Althusser’s very particular choice, definition, and development of the concept of overdetermination as the affirmation that noneconomic instances or levels of society are just as determinant upon economic aspects as the latter participate in determining, or rather, overdetermining the former. Althusser rejects any essentialism within either dialectical or historical materialism. No one aspect or instance is the essence of any other. There is no subject of which the social totality is the predicate: no essence, no origin, and no telos. Rather, history is seen as the ceaseless interplay or mutual effectivity of aspects or instances. It is a process without a subject, theistic or otherwise. Althusser’s notion of dialectical materialism rules out any essentialist concept of society and any essentialist concept of knowledge. . . . We might paraphrase Althusser’s antiessentialism as follows: there are effective subjects and intersubjectivity generated in history but no subject(s) or instersubjectivity of history.[3]


The influence of Richard Rorty on the relativisation of Althusser’s concept of ‘overdetermination’ (the significance of this modification I hope will become clear) is brought into relief in the following lecture by Stephen Resnick: HERE


Now, in order to demonstrate that Resnick and Wolff’s understanding of and application of ‘overdetermination’ departs significantly from and distorts Althusser’s, it will suffice to present below two excerpts from Althusser’s contributions to Reading Capital. I do so since they offer a direct and relatively succinct explication and application of ‘overdetermination’ wherein ‘determination in the last instance’ is shown to be inextricably bound to the concept of ‘overdetermination’ and there is, too, an attempt by Althusser to demonstrate how and why this concept explicitly avoids the kind of relativism Resnick and Wolff employ and justify via ‘overdetermination’. For a more thorough analysis of the conceptualisation, theorisation, and application of the term ‘overdetermination,’ see Althusser’s ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination’.[4]



Two excerpts from Althusser’s Contributions to Reading Capital:


‘[T]his dominance of a structure [In all forms of society there is one specific kind of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others” (Grundrisse, pp. 106-7)], of which Marx gives an example here (the domination of one form of production, e.g., industrial  production over simple commodity production, etc.), cannot be reduced to the primacy of a centre, any more than the relation between the elements and the structure can be reduced to the expressive unity of the essence within its phenomena. This hierarchy only represents the hierarchy of effectivity that exists between the different “levels” or instances of the social whole. Because each of the levels is itself structured, this hierarchy represents the hierarchy, the degree and the index of effectivity existing between the different structured levels present in the whole: it is the hierarchy of effectivity of a structure dominant over subordinate structures and their elements. Elsewhere, I have shown that in order to conceive this “dominance” of a structure over the other structures in the unity of a conjunction it is necessary to refer to the principle of the determination “in the last instance” of the non-economic structures by the economic structure; and that this “determination in the last instance” is an absolute precondition for the necessity and intelligibility of the displacements of the structures in the hierarchy of effectivity, or of the displacement of “dominance” between the structured levels of the whole; that only this “determination in the last instance” makes it possible to escape the arbitrary relativism of observable displacements by giving these displacements the necessity of a function.’[5]


‘. . . the man-nature unity expressed in the degree of variation in that unity is at the same time both the unity of the man-nature relationship and the unity of the social relations in which production takes place. The concept of the mode of production therefore contains the concept of the unity of this double unity. . . . We have thus arrived at a new condition of the production process. After studying the material conditions of the production process, which express the specific nature of the relations between men and nature, we must now turn to a study of the social conditions of the production process: the social relations of production. These new conditions involve the specific type of relations between the agents of production which exist as a function of the relations between these agents on the one hand and the material means of production are on no account reducible to mere relations between men, to relations which only involve men, and therefore to variations in a universal matrix, to inter-subjectivity (recognition, prestige, struggle, master-slave relationship, etc.). For Marx, the social relations of production do not bring men alone onto the stage, but the agents of the production process and the material conditions of the production process, in specific “combinations”. I insist on this point, for reasons which are related to Rancière’s analysis of certain of Marx’s expressions, where, in a terminology still inspired by his early anthropological philosophy, it is tempting to oppose, literally, relations between men and relations between things. But the relations of production necessarily imply relations between men and things, such that the relations between men and men are defined by the precise relations existing between men and the material elements of the production process.

How did Marx this these relations? He thought them as a “distribution” or “combination” (Verbindung). Discussing distribution in the 1857 Introduction, Marx wrote:


In the shallowest conception, distribution appears as the distribution of products, and hence as further removed from and quasi-independent of production. But before distribution can be the distribution of product, it is: (1) the distribution of the instruments of production, and (2), which is a further specification of the same relation, the distribution of the members of the society among the different kinds of production. (Subsumption of the individuals under specific relations of production.) The distribution of products is evidently only a result of this distribution, which is comprised within the process of production itself and determines the structure of production. To examine production while disregarding this internal distribution within it is obviously an empty abstraction; while conversely, the distribution of products follows by itself from this distribution which forms an original moment (Moment) of production . . . [P]roduction must being with a certain distribution of the instruments of production (Grundrisse, pp. 96–7).


This distribution thus consists of a certain attribution of the means of production to the agents of production, in a certain regular proportion fixed between, on the one hand, the means of production, and on the other, the agents of production. Thus distribution-attribution can be formally conceived as the combination (Verbindung) of a certain number of elements which belong either to the means of production or to the agents of production, a combination which occurs according to definite modalities.

This is Marx’s own expression:


Whatever the social form of production, workers and means of production always remain its factors. But if they are in a state of mutual separation, they are only potentially factors of production. For any production to take place, they must be connected. The particular form and mode (die besondere Art und Wise) in which this connection is effected is what distinguishes the various economic epochs of the social structure (Gesellschaftsstruktur) (Capital, Vol. 2, p. 120).


In another and probably more important text (Capital, Vol. 3, p. 927), on the feudal mode of production Marx writes:


The specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labour is pumped out of the direct producers determines the relationship of domination and servitude, as this grows directly out of production itself and reacts back on it in turn as a determinant. On this is based the entire configuration (Gestaltung) of the economic community arising from the actual relations of production, and hence also its specific political form (Gestalt). It is in each case the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the immediate producers – a relationship whose particular form naturally corresponds always to a certain level of development of the type and manner (Art and Weise) of labour, and hence to its social productive power – in which we find the innermost secret (innerste Geheimnis), the hidden basis (Grundlage) of the entire social edifice (Kontruktion), and hence also the political form of the relationship of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the specific form of state in each case.


This text’s developments reveal behind the two elements hitherto considered (agents of production, means of production) distinctions of quite crucial importance. On the side of the means of production we find the already familiar distinction between the object of production, e.g., land (which played a determinant part directly in all the modes of production before capitalism), and the instruments of production. On the side of the agents of production we find, besides the distinction between labourer and labour-power, an essential distinction between the direct agents (Marx’s own expression) whose labour-power is set to work in production, and other men whose role in the general process of production is that of owner of the means of production, but who do not feature in it as workers or direct agents, since their labour-power is not used in the production process. By combining or inter-relating these different elements – labour-power, direct workers, masters who are not direct workers, object of production, instruments of production, etc. – we shall reach a definition of the different modes of production which have existed and can exist in human history. This operation inter-relating determinate pre-existing elements might make us think of a combinatory, if the very special specific nature of the relations brought into play in these different combinations did not strictly define and limits its field. To obtain the different modes of production these different elements do have to be combined, but by using specific modes of combination or “Verbindungen” which are only meaningful in the peculiar nature of the result of the combinatory (this result being real production) – and which are: property, possession, disposition, enjoyment, community, etc. The application of specific relations to the different distributions of the elements present produces a limited number of formations which constitute the relations of production of the defined modes of production. These relations of production determine the connections between the different groups of agents of production and the objects and instruments of production, and thereby they simultaneously divide the agents of production into functional groups, each occupying a definite place in the production process. The relations between the agents of production are then the result of the typical relations they maintain with the means of production (object, instruments) and of their distribution into groups defined and localized functionally in their relations with the means of production by the structure of production.

. . .it is clear that the theoretical nature of this concept of “combination” may provide a foundation for the thesis I have already suggested in a critical form, the thesis that Marxism is not a historicism: since the Marxist concept of history depends on the principle of the variation of the forms of this “combination”. I should just like to insist on the special nature of these relations of production, which are remarkable in two respects.

In the text I have just quoted, we have seen Marx prove that a certain form of combination of the elements present necessarily implies a certain form of domination and servitude indispensable to the survival of this combination, i.e., a certain political configuration (Gestaltung) of society. We can see precisely where the necessity and form of the political “formation” is founded: at the level of the Verbindungen which constitute the modes of liaison between the agents of production and the means of production, at the level of the relations of property, possession, disposition, etc. [fn. One important specification. The term “property” used my Marx can lead to the belief that the relations of production are identical with legal relations. But law is not the relations of production. The latter belong to the infrastructure, the former to the superstructure.] These types of connection, according to the diversification or non-diversification of the agents of production into direct workers and masters, make the existence of a political organization intended to impose and maintain the defined types of connections by means of material force (that of the state) and of moral power (that of ideologies) either necessary (class societies) or superfluous (classless societies). This shows that certain relations of production presuppose the existence of a legal-political and ideological superstructure as a condition of their peculiar existence, and why this superstructure is necessarily specific (since it is a function of the specific relations of production that call for it). It also shows that certain other relations of production do not call for a political superstructure, but only for an ideological superstructure (classless societies).[6] Finally, it shows that the nature of the relations of production considered not only calls or does not call for a certain form of superstructure, but also establishes the degree of effectivity delegated to a certain level of the social totality. Irrespective of all these consequences, we can draw one conclusion at any rate where the relations of production are concerned: they relate to the superstructural forms they call for as so many conditions of their own existence. The relations of production cannot therefore be thought in their concept while abstracting from their specific superstructural conditions of existence. To take only one example, it is quite clear that the analysis of the buying and selling of labour-power in which capitalist relations of production exist (the separation between the owners of the means of production on the one hand and the wage-workers on the other), directly presupposes, for an understanding of its object, a consideration of the formal legal relations which establish the buyer (the capitalist) as much as the seller (the wage-worker) as legal subjects – as well as a whole political and ideological superstructure which maintains and contains the economic agents in the distribution of roles, which makes a minority of exploiters the owners of the means of production, and the majority of the population producers of surplus-value. The whole superstructure of the society considered is thus implicit and present in a specific way in the relations of production and economic functions between determinate categories of production agents. Or in other words, if the structure of the relations of production defines the economic as such, a definition of the concept of the relations of production in a determinate mode of production is necessarily reached via the definition of the concept of the totality of the distinct levels of society and their peculiar type of articulation (i.e., effectivity).

In no sense is this a formal demand; it is the absolute theoretical condition governing the definition of the economic itself. It is enough to refer to the innumerable problems raised by this definition where modes of production other than the capitalist one are concerned to realize the decisive importance of this recourse: Marx often says that what is hidden in capitalist society is clearly visible in feudal society or in the primitive community, but precisely in the latter societies we can clearly see that the economic is not directly and clearly visible! – just as in these same societies we can also clearly see that the degree of effectivity of the different levels of the social structure is not clearly visible!  . . . To think the concept of production is to think the concept of the unity of its conditions: the mode of production. To think the mode of production is to think not only the material conditions but also the social conditions of production. In each case, it is to produce the concept which governs the definition of the economically “operational” concepts (I use the word “operational” deliberately, since it is often used by economists) out of the concept of their object. We know which concept in the capitalist mode of production expresses the fact of capitalist relations of production in economic reality itself: the concept of surplus-value.’[7]






[1] Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff, Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the U.S.S.R. (Routledge: New York & London, 2002), p. 9.

[2] Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff, Contending Economic Theories: Neoclassical, Keynesian, and Marxian (The MIT Press: Cambridge and London, 2012), p. 143.

[3] Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff, Knowledge and Class: A Marxian Critique of Political Economy (The University of Chicago Press: Chicago & London), p. 91.

[4] Althusser, ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination: Notes for an Investigation,’ pp. 87–128 in For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (Verso: London & New York, 2005).

[5] Althusser, ‘The Object of Capital,’ pp. 215–355 in Reading Capital, Étienne Balibar, Roger Establet, Jacques Rancière and Pierre Macherey, trans. Ben Brewster and David Fernbach (Verso: London & New York, 2015), p. 246.

[6] Note that here we can see clearly that Resnick and Wolff’s redefinition of ‘class structure’ which entails that the communist mode of production is a certain type (non-exploitative) of class relation cannot be sustained or affirmed. For Resnick and Wolff on communism as a specific class structure, see: Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff 2002; see also Richard D. Wolff and Stephen A. Resnick, ‘Different Forms of the Fundamental Class Process,’ pp. 151–3 in Economics: Marxian versus Neoclassical (John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore & London, 1987).

[7] Althusser 2015, pp. 328–35.


Sleight-of-Hand? A Brief Comment on Zizek and ‘General Knowledge’




I recently came across the following video featuring Žižek discussing Marx’s concept of ‘general intellect’ or ‘knowledge’ and why, according to Žižek, Marx was wrong and why ‘knowledge is an anti-capitalist commodity. The video can be viewed HERE.  Now, I would like to briefly respond to Žižek here, primarily to the first minute or so of the video (as the comments he makes there are the basis for what then follows). My response is as follows.

I’m a little confused as to what Žižek is referring to here that would indicate that ‘Marx got it wrong.’

First he says that Marx claims that when exploitation is exploitation of general knowledge as such, this would be the end of capitalism. But where does Marx say this? I am assuming that Žižek is referring to the Grundrisse, though I may be wrong, but if he is, Marx writes about ‘general knowledge’—and what he specifically means by this term is something that should be taken into account rather than assumed as a general term—as something which is actualised in a capitalist economy. And it is concretised. Hence, it becomes an element in the division of labour. Social knowledge becomes a direct force of production. Marx gives examples, concrete examples: things pertaining to technological expertise, the creation of the electric telegraph, for instance. So, according to Žižek, following this analysis, Marx assumes that exploitation of knowledge (qua general intellect/social knowledge) as such would mean the overcoming of capitalism. How so? It is within the process of production within capitalism, it arises therein, there is no case in which it would be simply the exploitation of knowledge alone (beyond its position in the division of labour) because exploitation is a productive process referring to a particular form of class-relational-production. And if ‘exploitation’ took place outside of a capitalist economy and in, say, a communist social organisation, whatever is being referred to or assumed here in regards to general knowledge would not be ‘exploitation’ since communism is by definition a non-exploitative system of organisation.

Coupled with this is that Žižek then states: ‘Collectivised knowledge can itself be privatised.’ Marx failed to understand this? Really? That was the entire point of Marx’s analysis of social knowledge/general knowledge in the Grundrisse. How is that an example of Marx ‘getting it wrong’?

Žižek then goes on to abstract from what knowledge means in terms of general knowledge—in terms of what Marx was specifically referring to—to some more general and abstracted notion of ‘knowledge’ that has no relevance to the considerations of Marx’s conception of ‘general knowledge’ that began his discussion. When he says that if one uses a commodity, like a piece of food for example, and eats it, then it gets used. But, in contrast, if one tells another a piece of knowledge, and now someone else has it, then it doesn’t get used in the same way as a commodity, as per the food example. Well, no. Firstly, a commodity can get used in various ways, not just through physical consumption. Secondly, it is completely irrelevant to the argument about ‘general knowledge’. The process of production and what is involved in consumption are different fields. General knowledge can be part of a production process and produce/be part of the surplus value in the commodity that is produced. General knowledge can be concretised in the production of that which it is a part of qua the division of labour process. Saying that knowledge can’t be eaten like a piece of food in order to object to this explanation is to be forthright about it, asinine and nonsensical.

Ultimately, I think, this is just another sleight-of-hand move by Žižek to reframe Marxisan theory in a substantialist and humanist/Hegelian manner. But I will extrapolate in this issue in another piece. I will add here, though, as a kind of direction, that a better conceptualisation of knowledge and production of knowledge as such can be found in Althusser’s ‘On the Materialist Dialectic.’ Again, further discussion of this would be for another time.

Let me add, in addition, a further remark that will demonstrate why Zizek is fundamentally wrong about knowledge being an ‘anti-capitalist commodity’ (ignoring that, on the face of it, this is actually a contradiction in terms in any case). I will do first by quoting a statement made by Zizek later in the video (link above), at around the 1 minute and 24 second mark: ‘You know this paradox, that sometimes companies spend more money than on the product itself, new technology, more than on this on how to prevent its free circulation, and so on.’ The problem here with Zizek’s characterisation is that aspects of barriers to entry are pretty fundamental to capitalist modes of production and rather than having an paradoxical quality they are, in the same way the cost of ‘products’ and ‘technologies’ are factored into and accounted for in the process (we must assume Zizek is referring to the cost of M which gets turned into C in the M-C-M’ process when he uses these terms), embedded in the necessary expenditure of the capitalist production process, especially since the socialisation of production (of which knowledge and its commodification is absolutely integral).


To illustrate my objection clearly, one finds a perfect demonstration of what knowledge in the socialisation of production means and of what Marx is getting at with the term Zizek refers to in Lenin’s Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916):


The report of the American Government Commission on Trusts states: ‘Their superiority over competitors is due to the magnitude of its enterprises and their excellent technical equipment. Since its inception, the Tobacco Trust devoted all its efforts to the substitution of mechanical for manual labour on an extensive scale. With this end in view it bought up all patents that had anything to do with the manufacture of tobacco and spent enormous sums for this purpose. Many of these patents at first proved to be of no use, and had to be modified by the engineers employed by the trust. At the en of 1906, two subsidiary companies were formed solely to acquire patents. With the same object in view, the trust built its own foundries, machine shops and repair shops. One of these establishments, that in Brooklyn, employs on the average 300 workers; here experiments are carried out on inventions concerning the manufacture of cigarettes, cheroots, snuff, tinfoil for packing, boxes, etc. Here, also, inventions are perfected. Other trusts also employ so-called developing engineers whose business it is to devise new methods of production and to test technical improvements. The United States Steel Corporation grants big bonuses to its workers and engineers for all inventions suitable for raising technical efficiency, or for reducing cost of production.’ (pp. 22-3)


With the basic transposition of this process onto the function of barriers to entry (expenditure on securing monopoly and restrictions therein…), mutatis mutandis, given that none of this is paradoxical in 1916 it can hardly be said to be  so in the 21st century, let alone new. Perhaps Zizek’s view would be a little less odd on this matter if his view of say, advertising, emphasised the primacy of barriers to entry and its effect, rather than emphasising advertising as creation of desire as such, but such a critique is for another time.


To continue with the clarification of socialisation, Lenin goes on to state:


Capitalism in its imperialist state leads right up to the most comprehensive socialization of production; it, so to speak, drags capitalists, against their will and consciousness, into some sort of a new social order, a transitional one from complete free competition to complete socialization.

Production becomes social, but appropriation remains private. The social means of production remain the private property of the few. (p. 25)


To conclude: I believe Zizek remarked, at one point during his recent ‘conversation with Will Self’ (see: here) that he was not a Marxist any more. The implication being that he had ‘gone beyond’ Marx. It seems that Zizek needs to at least go into Marx and Marxist theory—I mean, of course, return to Marx and Marxist theory…—before going beyond Marx and Marxism. As such, I offer one piece of advice to Zizek; that is, I return Zizek’s advice to Zizek: perhaps it’s time to return to reading and thinking; ‘learn, learn learn!’ Don’t act. Just think. (In this case, ‘not acting’ might include: less public appearances and lectures and less writing virtually the same book every three months.)

[Citation: V. I. Lenin, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of CapitalismA Popular Outline. Foreign Language Press: Peking, 1970.]

Marx on Ireland I: England’s Crimes and The Doom of Landlordism

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‘The Irish question predominates here just now. It has been exploited by Gladstone and company, of course, only in order to get into office again, and, above all, to have an electoral cry at the next elections, which will be based on household suffrage. [fn. Marx is referring to the elections to the English Parliament which were to be held in November 1868, on the basis of the 1867 Act on Household Suffrage, which extended the franchise to the tenants of flats and cottages, that is, to the petty bourgeoisie and the working-class élite. Before the elections, Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party, made many promises to settle the Irish question in the hope of winning votes among the new categories of voters. Even before the election campaign got under way, he proposed the separation of the Anglican Church from the state in Ireland, thereby depriving it of state support and subsidies. He expected that this would win him popularity with the Irish Catholic voters. After winning the elections and assuming office at the end of 1868, Gladstone passed a Bill through Parliament in March 1869 which placed the Anglican Church in Ireland on an equal footing with the Catholic Church. Gladstone and the Liberals hoped that their policy of moderate reform would weaken the revolutionary movement in Ireland.] For the moment this turn of events is bad for the workers’ party; the intriguers among the workers, such as Odger and Potter, who want to get into the next Parliament, have now a new excuse for attaching themselves to the bourgeois Liberals.

However, this is only a penalty which England—and consequently also the English working class—is paying for the great crime she has been committing for many centuries against Ireland. And in the long run it will benefit the English working class itself. You see, the English Established Church in Irelandor what they use to call here the Irish Churchis the religious bulwark of English landlordism in Ireland, and at the same time the outpost of the Established Church in England herself. (I am speaking here of the Established Church as a landowner.) The overthrow of the Established Church in Ireland will mean its downfall in England and the two will be followed by the doom of landlordism—first in Ireland and then in England. I have, however, been convinced from the first that the social revolution must begin seriously from the bottom, that is, from land-ownership.’


[Karl Marx, letter to Ludwig Kugelmann, April 6, 1868. The letter can be found in Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Ireland and the Irish Question (Progress Press: Moscow, 1971) p. 150.]

Image: photograph of tenement area in Dublin taken during the Dublin lock-out, 1913.

Being Cute with Citations: A Brief Expressionistic Note on the Use of Psychoanalysis


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Citāre, ‘to summon, urge, call; put in sudden motion, call forward; rouse, excite.’

The setting is the following: a mildly reverberant living room in a roomy house on a luxuriant property in the innersuburbs of Melbourne. The scene: a mocksalon of middleclass housewives—and, perhaps, one or two highly paid servicesector workers who were immaculately born(e) into the trappings of bourgeois culture—who have each prepared a five-to-ten minute monologue on an interesting topic. The point? Thought is a consumption commodity. Each thought must be displayed de rigueur so that accordingly one can either pass it by after browsing, à la ‘window shopping,’ or, after it gazes back, identify with it to the point of putting it on display in one’s own home. Part of the invest(i)ment. Someone has just made some matcha tea from a set they purchased from T2© and is pouring a cup for everyone. Another is looking at their iPhone©. And now one speaks.

Referring to one of the bitesized pitches she had been raptly listening to, having found previous to this moment a certain narcissistic satisfaction called ‘relatability’ in the three-minute YouTube© videos of Alain de Botton© and since she has been a customer of the School of Life© for a little while now, she, now again with an audience, speaks: though her use of the term ‘Other’© leaves something to be desired, and she strangely couples it with the pair ‘othering’ and ‘problematic,’ her audience seem to all agree that her words make sense, that they provide insight. Further, with an inadvertent arrival at self-contradiction that the room is as she is ignorant of, her discourse then proceeds to marry those words to Levinasian notions of ‘the other’©—narrowed as ever to a very petite other—and, could it ever be otherwise? the notion of ‘authenticity’© that to an outsider peering in (though not to our fine ladies of leisure) would seem to put the former ‘ethics’ under erasure and allow the Individual (with a capital ‘I’) to swallow up the word. No matter. As with other forms of advertising, the subsumed effects bow to the primary one. She has ‘intellectual’ pursuits. She engages with the internet media. She has an account with Goodreads©; she recounts an anecdote she read somewhere in Žižek. Or was it a commentary on Žižek? It concerns a colleague, probably fictional—but truth has the structure of fiction©—who had just arrived at a position of eminence. He had taken up his first real employment position as a lecturer at a university. After his first lecture, he asked some students, ones he has friendly relations with, perhaps even peers in a similar position to him, how he went, if he was any good at the teaching and public speaking schtick. They responded, assured him that, deflating his self-conscious self-dismissal, he was in fact very good. Excellent, indeed, one of if not the best they had ever witnessed. The only problem, however, was his awkward vocal tics that seemed to disturb the performance and transform a perfect speaking style, presentation, and presence into one uncomfortably maligned by an intrusive and unpalatable force. A habit that, he then assumed, must be subtracted by some psychologistic and hygienic selfcare and wilful, concerned action. But the wise jester Žižek, confounding common intuition and assumption, has altogether different advice for this young fictional character, advice that is delightfully confounding to those who like their platitudes to be a bit bitter and harsher on the palate and less palliative: don’t get rid of your awkward vocal tic, Žižek advises, in a manner called ‘Lacanian intervention’©, for this, he states, is precisely the paradox of Lacan’s objet petit a©. The element that appears to spoil the perfection is in fact that which retroactively creates it—take away the element that disturbs the perfection and you also take away the perfection; take away the element that spoils the perfection and you also spoil the perfection. There is no longer a great public speaker and lecturer but a mediocre one, and so on and so on. On concluding the anecdote, met with smiles, she garnishes it with the pièce de résistance of the evening, adding as she reaches with a greedily guilty smirk for another vol e vent that one mustn’t give ground relative to one’s desire©. The room is aglow with a splutter of laughter. They all know the importance of culture. (Nearly all of them attend a book club that one of them started.) What else was all that education for? Why else did their parents avoid putting them in public schools and why else do they likewise give their sons and daughters the best education money can buy? And if the answer to these questions actually ends up provoking a thought, or if the laughter, for an instance, seems to pierce through this scene with all its cloistered, stifling and wearying, numbing pretension and hollowness and indexes something unutterable, indeed, something horrible—that is fine since, well, one of our ladies here even actually sees a psychoanalyst! Well, therapy comes in all different shapes and sizes, and different packaging, doesn’t it? Our ladies know one size fits all doesn’t fit any more: specificity, particularity and ‘individuated desire’ are the tools of both the market, our petit bourgeois friends in the merchant business who know the value of the word ‘personalised’© for example, and the psychotherapist, whether analytic©, positive©, cognitive©, mindful©, or consultative©. The subject changes. There are more pressing matters: clothing, restaurants, holiday destinations, etc.

Of course, this is a fiction. And none of the ‘citations’ make any sense. Is it possible to imagine a chatter of middleclass ladies discoursing on Lacan over ‘afternoon tea’ or at a ‘dinner party’? Well, pseudofreudianism was a general part of the Anglo-American discourse not too long ago, don’t forget, before the contemporary climate of neo-phrenology and the like became the fashion. In fact, I would say in some circles this type of ‘cute citationing’ is rather commonplace. And the point here is, perhaps, a little allegorical and a little ironic-polemical. Let’s say, to reach an end, for now, that the most refined references we find in the most academically minded among us might be accused of being cute and leave our wetsouled friends to their herbal infusions—all this culture has given them indigestion.