Notes on chpt2 capitalism in the web of life

Re-reading this book with some friends. Going to try and keep notes here this time. Will try to be more thorough in future notes…

I think Moore’s recalibration, or perhaps extension, of Caffentizis’/midnight notes’ concept of ‘work/energy’ to be very useful theoretically and analytically. I also think that the particular assemblage of exploitation and appropriation, while not exactly new, opens up a lot of new space for the critique of value and capitalism as it is used by Moore.

What comes through clearly in chapter 2, is the chance to break out of on the one hand, the rigid focus on the value-form, characteristic of various ‘value-form’ theorists which provides little to no space for the subjective aspect of antagonism – the desire and reality of rebellion. On the other hand, the attempt to ground value historically allows us to think/practice struggle without voluntarism. I have written elsewhere about this question of value and antagonism – on how an over-emphasis on the plane of equivalence/the value-form is ill equiped to explain the lived processes of re/-production and rebellion, that ultimately a limited value-form focus has little to say about the life and refusal of work (now on a world-ecological scale). In contrast, we cannot understand the stakes of conflict and the possibilities of contingency without a historical grounding of value. Moore contributes a great deal to overcoming this problem.

Law of value = Law of cheap nature. The law of value expresses the tension between capital/ism as logic and process, project and history. Cheap Nature as outcome of the messy conflicts that characterise the zones of exploitation and appropriation, and the relationships within and between each of these zones. Cheap nature is not a given, but co-produced. Thus contingent.

earlier Moore has said that ‘work/energy helps us to rethink capitalism as a set of relations through which the capacity to do work – by human and non-human natures – is transformed into value, understood as social necessary labour time (abstract social labour)’.

for Moore exploitation is constituted by those relations that produce abstract social labour – value.

approprition is the ‘extra-economic processes that identify, secure and channel unpaid work outside the commodity system into the circuit of capital’. So a slightly different use of the term than marx’s.

Exploitation and appropriation are related dialectically. For labour that is exploited, that is produce value/abstract social labour there must be a wider zone of appropriation. This is a key point for Moore.

‘History of capitalism flows through islands of commodity production, developing within oceans of unpaid work/energy’ – a useful phrase, and a useful image when trying to understand Moore’s history of the emergence of the law of value in sugar from the 16th century etc.

[Side note on cheap Nature – brings to mind Marx’s comment in the opening of the critique of the Gotha Programme. It also made me think about and return to Marx’s comments on the waterfall when discussing rent in capital 3. eg ‘things take a different form with the surplus profit of the manufacturer who makes use of the waterfall. The increased productivity of the labour applied arises neither from the capital and the labout themselves nor from the simple application of a natural force distinct from capital and labour but incorporated into capital. It arises from the greater natural productivity of a labour linked with the use of a natural force, but a natural force not available to all capital in the same sphere of production’… Although this is said in the context of analysis of differential rent, does it also express the link between the appropriation of non-human natures within the gravitational field of value for the ends of accumulation? What would a contemporary version of the waterfall be? Are these stupid questions??]

The interlocking of capital, science, empire… science, power and culture. There is a lot in this that would be worth unpacking. What struggles over science are at stake today? More broadly, struggle over knowledges? (A side thought… what might be a contemporary version of Panzieri’s capitalist use of machinery?)

Law of value = law of cheap nature = necessarily constituted upon a terrain of class struggle. Excellent point, but remains understated. I think Federici’s Caliban and the Witch is just one book that can flesh out some of what Moore is getting at here.

Moore’s 3 observations: 1. Law of value sets the stakes of the game. 2. But value presupposes the false – that nature can in fact be reduced to interchangable units (exchange-value through appropriation or exploitation), thus reality remains contingent, antagonistic. Yet it takes place within the constellation of mapping flat space, geometry etc… 3. To navigate this must historically ground value as logic and process, as project and history. ‘What makes capital, what capital makes’…

‘The law of value under capitalism is, then, comprised of two moments. One is the endless accumulation of capital as abstract social labour. The other, the ceaseless expansion of the relations of exploitation and appropriation, joined as an organic whole. This perspective stresses the historical and logical non-identity between the value form and it’s necessarily more expansive value-relations’.

On the non-identity of the value-form and value relations – a really important point, said by others in different ways before, but frmaed here in very clear and useful way. Also, I think has implications beyond where Moore takes it in this book, in terms of how we conceive of anti-capitalist struggles today.

the point about the non-identity between form and relations is related to the distinction between appropriation and exploitation. Value producing labour is exploited, forms abstract social labour – this is the value-form. This depends upon a wider range of unpaid labours which are the necessary within the relations of value, but which do not manifest directly in the value form.

The argument of the non-identity between value form and relation contibutes to a framing of struggle as emergent from both zones of appropriation and exploitation, as well as across these zones, as immediately against (capitalist) value, against the form and relations of value.

[Side thought Guattari: ‘the protection of material species, of natural, vegetable and animal species, is inseparable from the protection of incorporeal species’ (solidarity, sociability, neighbourhood etc)… we could replace protection with struggles…]

Early frontier strategy: ‘raised labour productivity by treating uncapitalised nature as a substitute for machinery’. The double movement of appropriation and exploitation organised and realised through the frontier – necessarily through the tension between the logic of capital and the history of capitalism.

Moore’s 3 points on money. The third I think most interesting – ‘governing the evolving boundary between capitalisation and appropriation’… I think this has implications for migration, ‘care chains’, global service industry, border regimes… stratifications of labour from the household to the day care center, to cafe etc… lithium, solar…?? (i’m being vague, but yeah…)

The cognitive moment of early historical capitalism: flat space, linear time, external nature. And now?

p64 ‘appropriation of unpaid labour more than just missing from the determination of value’ a somewhat obvious point, but politically important, given that many arguments amount to ‘include unpaid labours into the calculations’ and problem solved. Value is not a calculative logic that could be corrected through fair payment. It’s calculative moement is but one within a relation of force running through appropriation and exploitation. Sure, we should get what we can, but this in itself will not resolve the problem ie value, capitalism… another frontier.

‘Commodity frontiers were so epoch-making because they extended the zone of appropriation faster than the zone of commodification’ – this has signficant implications. Is a spatial/technological fix possible today?

the trinity in Moore: abstract social labour, abstract social nature, primitive accumulation.

Capital must accumulate through appropriation quicker than it accumulates through capitalisation/exploitation.


A research agenda for Marxian conceptions of value and the political economy of ‘service’ work

Looks very interesting, and closely related to some work I have done.

Matthew Cole

Currently, there is resurgence in scholarship on Marxian conceptions of value. However, much of the discourse has remained within the realms of heterodox economics, political economy, and philosophy. I would like to set out a new line of inquiry, which shifts the aims of this research from the abstract and quantitative toward the concrete and qualitative. Following this line, we will investigate aspects of the Marxian conception of value in relation to the way capitalism actually functions. This entails combining detailed examinations of the real-world experiences of work with a value-[in]formed political economic critique of employment relations.

Marx’s theory of value gives us a tool for understanding the dynamic process of capitalist exploitation that overcomes the fragmentation of that experience. To quote Diane Elson:

What Marx’s theory of value does is provide a basis for showing the link between money relations and labour process relations in the process of exploitation. The process of exploitation is actually a unity; and the money relations…

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