Translating Capital in context, politics, struggles

From Subversive Festival Zagreb, May 2014. 

John Hutnyk: Translating Capital in context, politics, struggles
The School of Contemporary Humanities
moderator: Dunja Matić


the dedication, the prefaces, the first sentence, the tenth/eight chapter, the teaching factory, malignant and parasitic, etc…

[errata: New York Daily Tribune, not herald. Fudged Horace and Dante quote, not rude enough about Zombie’s… but otherwise…]

Panto Terror reviewed (sandwich)

Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 16.10.41A brief review from Mark Perryman (Philosophy Football) on Socialist Unity where I am sandwiched between words on Arun Kundnani’s book (which I read and think is really good) and Andrew Hussey’s book (which I’ve not yet read):

“Arun Kundnani’s ‘The Muslims are Coming!’ links together the experience of Islamophobia, the framing of extremism/fundamentalism and the ongoing global impact of the west’s so-called ‘War on Terror’. Here the left is grappling with subjects it is more at ease with understanding, though the depth to which it is transformed via that process remains in question. An insight into what that transformation might look like is provided by John Hutnyk’s ‘Pantomime Terror‘ which imaginatively records how popular culture has been affected by a post 9/11 world and on occasion has offered signs of resisting the reactionary, racist, consequences of that process. The urgent necessity for this kind of engagement is established brilliantly by Andrew Hussey’s new book ‘The French Intifada’.”

I regret the reviewers have not noted the critiques of Zizek, Badiou and Buck-Morss in mine, or the importance of Spivak and Adorno to my argument, or the coda on Wagner, but still very good to have. See here. Thanks Mark.


Reading Spivak’s Harlem for my class, there is also this:

Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 06.30.08

Therefore Alice and I attempted teleopoiesis, a reaching toward the distant other by the patient power of the imagination, a curious kind of identity politics, where one crosses identity as a result of migration or exile…

Spivak in Other Asias


‘If an academic includes empirical details in her essays, joins demonstrations, participates in international conferences with political-sounding titles, and engages in solidarity tourism, we think of her as an activist’ (Spivak 2008:89)

That such an activist can be simply ignored by the World Bank etc., (when not directly employed by the same) and is manifestly some distance from the subaltern (who speaks or not) is of a type with her close relative:

‘The liberal Euro-US academic, unceasingly complicitous with the text of exploitation, possibly endorsing child slavery every time s/he drinks a cup of tea, paying taxes to destroy survival ecobiomes of the world’s poor and bomb innocent African villages by mistake, sometimes mouthing a “Marxism” liber-humanized out of existence, and talking no doubt against military aggression, profoundly irresponsible to the academics one obligation of not writing on something carelessly read … to them belongs the happy euphoria of being in the right’ (Spivak 2008:71)

Me and you both.

Where’s Friday?

I have started to gather my notes for the next lecture on Marx tomorrow. Here is what I had last year on Robinson. To which I hope to add some more this evening…

Spivak uses the occasion of Derrida saying ‘hello to Marx’ (Spivak 1995:78) to make some key points about women in the contemporary condition of financialised capitalism, and offer a reading of Assia Djebar’s Far From Medina and the ghosts of many women that must be retrieved from this text on Islam. I am not able to engage with Fatima, like Spivak I am ‘no Islamic scholar’, and anyway you must read both Spivak and Djebar. I also consider Spivak more interesting on finacialisation and women than anyone else writing on this. It is curious that few Marxists take this up, as class conscious ‘future socialists’ we cannot ignore the need to work through such questions, as we shall. Spivak insists:

‘According, then, to the strictest Marxian sense, the reproductive body of woman has now been “socialized” – computed into average abstract labor and thus released into what I call the spectrality of reason – a specter that haunts the merely empirical, dislocating it from itself. According to Marx, this is the specter that must haunt the daily life of the class-conscious worker, the future socialist, so that she can dislocate him herself into the counterintuitive average part-subject (agent) of labor, recognize that, in the everyday, es spukt. It is only then that the fetish character of labor-power as commodity can be grasped and can become the pivot that wrenches capitalism into socialism’ (Spivak 1995:67-8)

In Capital, the tale of Robinson is used to show that the operations of use-value are not somehow prior or isolated from exchange as relations of production. Even alone, Robinson calculates. It is not an innate nature, but a social condition (that can be changed).

‘The first example is Robinson Crusoe, to demonstrate that the relations of production can be known even in a situation of “pure” use-value’ (Spivak 1995:76)

Immediately before this, in search of Ghosts, Derrida finds that the translation occludes the literal ghost in referring to the ‘magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour so long as they take the form of commodities’ (Marx 1867/1970:76 L&W Pen-169, Derrida 1993/1994:164). Necromancy substitutes for spuk and Derrida wants to stress the apparition, that the ghost is something like Marx’s familiar, that he wants to exorcise and retain.

But Spivak notes that Derrida ‘goofs a bit’ here:

‘the passage quoted on page 164 [by Derrida] does not directly refer to the socialist future, as Derrida seems to think. Marx’s point is that simply to see the relations of production clearly is no big deal’ (Spivak 1995:76)

It may be worth thinking through whyo the charaters are here, and who appears on stage and who not – remember Hamlet’s father saying ‘I am dead’? Well, what of Robinson, and indeed Friday? Why is it important that Friday not be mentined? Clearly that Marx wants to say that even the isolated Robinson on his Island makes his objects according to a social code, not as an isolated individual. We are all social, even when it seems not. This is a key to anthropology isn’t it? But more, Pawler shows that Marx works this story up more and more over time. He explains that it is the bourgeois isolated individual that Marx has in mind, writing of ‘Robinsonades’ in The Poverty of Philosophyand again in the Grundrisse, the allegory in Capital is more developed than its first appearance, where ‘every man is a hermit and produces only for himself’ (Prawler1978:134). By the time of the Grundrisse ‘Robinsonaden’ offer ‘not the image of some primitive social organization, but as so clear a view of tendencies inherent in English society of the eighteenth century that they can serve as a symbolic adumbration of that society’s future. On closer examination the loneliness of Robinson Crusoe becomes a symbol for social alienation in the ‘civil society’ of the nineteenth century” (Pawler 1978:275-6). By the time of Capital Robinson is keeping a set of books, listing his possessions, and working out the sums of his own labour time, and presumably that of the unfortunate Friday. Here Pawler suggests Marx has found in Robinson the ‘character-type of “economic planners” in general and the “true-born Englishman” in particular … [and] … affords a simple model of economic activities in a setting in which the value of an object can be directly proportional to the quantity of labour expended upon it, undistorted by market considerations’ (Pawler 1978:335). Friday is not mentioned, yet would no doubt fit well and has often been recalled by postcolonial revision

The discussion of Robinson on his Island, as an English book-keeper, is Marx having his fun. The next moment we are to ‘transport ourselves from Robinson’s island, bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in Darkness’ where the hierarchy of serf and lord, compulsory labour, services, payments in kind, entails a society where the social relations are personal, and ‘not disguised under the social relations between the products of labour’ (Marx 1867/1970:77L&W). We need not go back to examine the different forms of common property, though Marx shows he has the scholarship to do this, but we can see the distribution of the work and consumption of produce in the peasant family is not one organized by commodities, but subject to arrangements of age, sex, the seasons, a spontaneously developed division of labour, etc.

Then, suggesting something different, but not yet the only possible difference, Marx asks us to ‘picture to ourselves, for a change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common’ (Marx, 1867/1970:78 L&W), social labour-power and social product, planned distribution, surplus consumed according to – in this, again not the only possible assumption – and distributed according to input of labour-time.

‘The social relations of the individual producers, with regard to both their labour and their products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and with regard not only to production but also to distribution’ (Marx 1867/1970:79 L&W)

There may be different forms in which this distribution is organized, according to the level of development of the productive forces, and a future communism would not assume distribution according to labour time but rather to each according to need, yet this scenario where production has stripped off its ‘mystical veil’ [this veil stuff is from Schiller’s The Bell, as Prawler shows, 1978:322) and is ‘consciously regulated’ in ‘accordance with a settled plan’ comes only at the expense of ‘a long and painful process’ (Marx 1867/1970:80 L&W). Marx’s point in the next pages is to show that the commodity as bourgeois form has everything reversed – like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing who things ‘reading and writing come by nature’ (Marx 1867/1970:83 L&W Pen.177, D.98).

Also want to read Ian Watt ‘Robinson Crusoe as Myth’ Essays in Criticism 1 1951 95-119…