So I was out of town for a bit, in Portland mostly, with a day or so in Seattle. It was nice. I got two hats, ate some good food, played some video games, bought too many books, and saw some awesome people. Among the excessive number of books I bought is a copy of Marx’s Wage Labor And Capital and his Value, Price, And Profit in one short book. I just started it. I can’t believe I never read this before. Some of it speaks to the discussion on labor power that NP and I are (sort of? usually? indirectly?) having (and which I need to catch up on).
In the introduction Engels notes that he edited Wage Labor And Capital, which Marx wrote in the 1840s, so that “this pamphlet is not as Marx wrote it in 1849, but approximately as Marx would have written it in 1891.” (6.) This may be a stretch, but I think this may connect sort of to how to read the significance of labor power, or rather, how to read everything else in v1 of Capital in relation to labor power. If we say, for the sake of argument, that the section on labor power is the fully developed Marx, then the earlier sections are a sort of earlier Marx. In reading them the first time, one follows a line of moving forward in time. After reading the section on labor power, one then on re-reading the earlier chapters should read them “as Marx would have written it in 1891”, so to speak. Now what that would actually _mean_ rather than being just a convoluted metaphor, I’ll leave for another time.
Continuing on, Engels goes on at length about the importance of the distinction between labor and labor power, where the issue seems largely to be a logical one for political economy (if value is a measurement in units of labor time, how can the value of labor time be determined? it can’t, but the value of labor power can, etc).
Two things other than the above struck me on reading this (and I’m only about 10 pages or so into the Marx, I just started it today). One is that I think this could be read in relation to issue of biopolitics and Marx. I’m too lazy just now to do my usual thing of finding other stuff I’ve written on this and adding links to it so I can remember stuff, or adding in external links. Just a few notes: Virno argues that biopolitics derives from the category labor power. I think this is wrong, but the gist for me is that labor power is biopolitical such that Negrian claims about a biopolitical stage of capitalism don’t hold water. Now, I don’t have the Foucault chops to clearly lay out anatomopolitics, discipline, and biopolitics/biopower. I could imagine some objection about the first, anatomopolitics, about how biopolitics involves populations rather than individuals and how earlier capitalism was anatomopolitical rather than biopolitical. I can see an argument like that having some force, but I don’t know that I’d buy it once capitalism is the primary mode of production, supplanting others, which is to say, I think this change (if it occurs at all, it may be that capitalism is always-already biopolitical, I’m not sure) probably occurred early on in the history of capitalism. It seems to me that part of the argument in Marx cuts against this imagined anatomopolitics sort of objection: while “[t]he worker leaves the capitalist, to whom he has sold himself, as often as he chooses (…) the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labor power cannot leave the whole class of buyers, i.e., the capitalist class, unless he gives up his own existence. He does not belong to this or that capitalist, but to the capitalist class” (20). It seems to me that the capitalist class’s cognizance of (and action toward) this relationship is a form of awareness of (and action on) populations, which is Foucault’s definition of biopolitics. Now capitalism may exist prior to this class consciousness by (some) capitalists, but I would guess that it came fairly early. I don’t think this is a disagreement with Foucault, though I may be wrong on that.
Following a different sense of biopolitics, that of Agamben insofar as I understand it, Marx’s argument seems to me close to a view of capitalism as already biopolitical in something like that sense. For instance, on page 19 of my edition Marx refers repeatedly to the workers’ life, “life-activity”, need/want to stay alive (is that a need of the fancy, or the belly? both?) – which drives the worker to sell labor power, “in order to live” – and implies that work is not life or “a manifestation of life.” (19.) Marx also refers to the means of subsistence here as “means of life,” and in the quote I already noted above states that the worker “gives up his own existence” if the worker stops selling labor power. (20.)
The other thing that struck me in all this is the centrality of law. I don’t know how I missed this before. The whole thing about waged labor being free, as much as I disagree with that argument (equating capitalism with formally free waged labor), that argument is all about legal status and the function of law. I don’t know that anyone still thinks of stuff this way, but it does not make sense to think of law as part of the superstructure as opposed to the base. The contents of the base are in part legally defined. The worker who is formally free sells time to the capitalist, a sale which is part of a contract (the conditions of which the worker must “submit to,” p11), time which is contractually ceded to the capitalist. One key issue here, I think, as with the chapters on primitive accumulation, is the role of law in possession, understood as a power relationship. Legal ownership is sometimes possession or is component of or occurs simultaneous with possession, but ownership without possession and possession without ownership are both possible (for instance, the legal and extra-legal and in some cases illegal seizures of lands described in the end bits on primitive accumulation).