Abstract This paper interrogates the ‘Fragment on Machines’ in Marx’s Grundrisse, first widely translated and disseminated in the 1960s at the dawn of post-Fordism. It examines its reception, and its deployment by the Italian Marxian tradition of Operaismo, and the criticisms this has sometimes garnered from other Marxists. I argue that while the ‘Fragment’ has generally been critically evaluated in terms of its contribution to the ‘scientific’ (or wissenschaftlich) critique of political economy—revealing truth through a method seen as objective, rational and methodical—it is in fact better understood in terms of its function as science fiction. In other words, its function as a piece of social commentary and criticism, exploring the social relations caught up with techno-scientific developments that are evidently already imaginable—revealing something about the then present, its dystopian dangers and utopian possibilities—even where these remained (just) beyond the realm of the scientifically possible. I argue that evaluating the ‘Fragment’ as science fiction draws attention to its effects, namely its capacity to pose (on the basis of this scientifically plausible interrogation of emergent futures) important political questions. Foremost among these was the meaning—for our understanding of the possible locations of workers’ resistance—of capital’s increasing reliance on relationships, forms of knowledge and affects that cannot be contained by the times and places of work. Any contemporary engagement with Marxian theory and the critique of political economy quickly raises two questions. First, which of the many approaches to reading Marx is today the most fruitful—in terms of both changing as well as interpreting the world, in various ways? And second, in a political economic reality defined by post-Fordist production, globalization and crisis, how far beyond Marx do we now need to move? These questions form a thread running through this paper. In addressing them, I argue for greater attention not only to the form and content of Marx’s writing but also to its effects. I explore in particular a remarkable and much debated extract from the Grundrisse known as the ‘Fragment on Machines’, its reception and deployment by the Italian Marxian tradition of Operaismo, as well as the criticisms this has often garnered from other Marxists. Rather than evaluating the ‘Fragment’ from the perspective of the critique of political economy, as others have done—examining its capacity to ‘scientifically’ (objectively, rationally, methodically) reveal the ‘truth’ of the capitalist mode of production and the mystifications of liberal political economy—I argue it might best be understood as having functioned, in the 1960s to 1970s, as a piece of science fiction. In other words, as social commentary and criticism exploring the social relations caught up with techno-scientific developments that were evidently already imaginable—revealing something about the then present, and the dangers and possibilities the immediate future appeared to offer—even if they did remain (just) beyond the realm of the scientifically possible. In part one of this paper, I set out a number of concepts central to Marx’s critique of political economy, identifying commodity value as determined by the average labor-time expended in its production, as well as the way this project can broadly be understood as ‘scientific’ (wissenschaftlich). Part two explores the content of the ‘Fragment’ itself, and particularly its claim that, at a certain stage in the development of the capitalist mode of production, socially produced scientific knowledge, skill and ‘the general productive forces of the social brain’ (Marx, 1973, p. 694) become absorbed by capital, so that the creation of wealth in fact depends less and less on labour-time employed. Part three examines Operaismo’s appropriation of the ‘Fragment’ and application to our current post-Fordist stage of capitalist development, as well as the challenges this posed to the critique of political economy. Part four looks at Marxian critiques of Operaismo in this regard, and particularly the argument that many of the concepts the tradition suggests need rethinking (such as abstract labor, value and surplus-value) maintain their usefulness today. Part five argues that these debates have often entailed red herrings, obscuring key political questions around the agency of different social subjects. I suggest that evaluating the ‘Fragment’ and its contribution on the basis of its status not as science but as science fiction refocuses us upon these issues. 1. The critique of political economy and Wissenschaft Between 1857 and 1858, Marx filled a series of seven notebooks published posthumously as the Grundrisse almost a century later. Written a good while after his 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts and well before the publication of volume one of Capital in 1867, they appear to occupy the midpoint in the development of his critique of political economy. In an 1867 letter to Friedrich Engels, Marx (1987) claimed the concept of surplus-value, along with the distinction between abstract and concrete labor on which it relies—both of which are set out most fully in Capital—were among the ‘best points’ made in the book. Even today, many still consider them cornerstones of his critique, as well as what distinguish it most clearly from its object: the classical political economy of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and others. In 1817, in Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Ricardo (1911, p. 6) had already identified labor as the primary source of a commodity’s value, and the quantities of labor-time congealed within them as providing a basis for their exchangeability. Earlier still, in book one of The Wealth of Nations, Smith ( 1999, p. 133) had also insisted that ‘labour… is the real measure of the exchange value of all commodities’. Marx’s key advance in this regard was insisting that while commodities are certainly ‘always the product of some specific useful and concrete labour’, as in Ricardo’s account, they also always figure ‘as the embodiment of abstract human labour’ (Marx, 1990, p. 150), in other words, of ‘human labour in general’ (Marx, 1990, p. 142). As such, the value—or exchange-value—of commodities expresses the average ‘socially necessary labor-time’ involved in their production, independent of both the form of the labor expended and of the diligence or indolence of individual workers. It is this crucial insight (or key aspects of it), we shall later see, that theorists of Operaismo, like Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno, would call into question through their reading of the Grundrisse amidst the emergence of post-Fordism. Marx’s (1990, pp. 279–80) second advance on classical political economy was his famous descent from the ‘noisy sphere’ in which commodities circulate and ‘into the hidden abode of production’ where he was able to unpack the concept of surplus-value. In doing so, he demonstrated ‘not only how capital produces, but how capital itself is produced’, and how this is based on the productivity and exploitation of labor (Marx, 1990, p. 280). Capital buys labor-power, setting it to work for a given period of time (a day, a week, a month…), at the end of which a worker will have realized not only ‘the value of his [or her] labour-power’ but also ‘a certain quantity of surplus-value in the shape of commodities’ (Marx, 1990, p. 712). Partly on the basis of his careful exposition (Darstellung) of such categories, Marx frequently stressed both the scientific basis of his own theory and method, as well as the shortcomings in this regard in ‘the field of [classical] political economy’ (e.g. Marx, 1990, p. 96; see also 1990, p. 94, and 1973, p. 100). The philosopher of science Karl Popper ( 2003, p. 375)—himself a staunch anti-Marxist—understood Marx’s critique of political economy as invoking Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason which, ‘in turn, was intended to mean: “Critique of pure or metaphysical philosophy in regard to its scientific status”’. ‘By alluding to Kant’, Popper (2003, p. 375) argues, ‘Marx apparently wished to say: “Just as Kant criticized the claim of metaphysics, revealing that it was no science but largely apologetic theology, so I criticize here the corresponding claims of bourgeois economics.”’ The scientific status of Marx’s work has of course long been debated by Marxists and non-Marxists alike, with the meaning of ‘scientific’ shifting considerably particularly among the former. In his book Marx, Methodology and Science, David Walker (2001, p. 137) convincingly shows this usually matched ‘the dominant model at the time’, so that August Comte’s scientific positivism held great sway, for instance, in what is often called the ‘classical period’ of Marxism, following Marx’s death in 1883 and running up to the eve of the Russian Revolution in 1917 (Walker, 2001, pp. 105–10 and 137–53). Karl Korsch ( 1963, e.g. p. 18), who was at the forefront of efforts to critique the scientism of Karl Kautsky and others in the decades that immediately followed, stressed that Marx himself had little time for the likes of Comte; yet it was his closest collaborator—Engels—who of course, in works like Anti-Dühring, nevertheless laid the foundations for what became known as ‘scientific socialism’. 'From his earliest writings onwards’, Leszek Kołakowski (2005, pp. 308) notes in his seminal work on the intellectual history of Marxism, ‘Engels strove to maintain the strictest possible relation between theoretical concepts and empirical data.’ He is said to have become ‘infected by the scientistic enthusiasm’ of the time, so that ‘[i]n his search for unity of method and content, and for concepts linking human history, in Darwinist fashion, with natural history, Engels was close to the positivists of his day’ (Kołakowski, 2005, p.309). For Popper (2003, p. 91), ‘Marx was a prophet of the course of history, and his prophecies did not come true’; but, he stressed, ‘this is not my main accusation. It is much more important that he misled scores of intelligent people into believing that historical prophecy is the scientific way of approaching social problems’. Popper’s critique rested on his particular (critical rationalist) conception of science which differed somewhat from the positivism of Comte. Whereas Comte had stressed the importance of verification (which allowed for generalizations to be made on the basis of observation), Popper emphasized falsification. The ‘main function’ of science, he argued, ‘is to check and refute, rather than to prove, our theories’ (Popper—cited in Walker, 2001, p. 110). ‘[T]he scientific character of a theory’, in other words, is established through its ability to be tested: ‘the possibility of overthrowing it’ (Popper, 2003, p. 288). And while, for Popper (2003, p. 368), Marx’s ‘prophecies’ themselves may have said ‘just enough to be falsified by events’, he argued that ‘those [Marxists] who tried to interpret this falsification away remove the last bit of empirical significance from Marx’s system. It then becomes purely “metaphysical”’. Popper’s reading of Marx is an exceptionally uncharitable one, and his own conception of science has been challenged from numerous quarters, including by Theodor Adorno. Moreover, of course, many Marxist theorists themselves—including all the key figures of Western Marxism, from Antonio Gramsci (e.g. 1971, p. 171) to Georg Lukács ( 1971, p. 221), as well as Korsch (  1963, pp. 17–18)—have also long critiqued the determinism and scientism of the orthodox tradition represented by Kautsky (e.g. 1910, p. 90) and Engels. Others still have taken to task both the function of science in the current division of labor, as well as ‘scientism’ more generally, both within and beyond the Marxist tradition (e.g. Horkheimer, 2002; and Aronowitz, 1988). Louis Althusser ( 2005, pp. 31–39;  2014, pp. 13–19) did famously insist Marx’s ‘mature’ works—following the ‘epistemological break’ with his earlier ‘ideological’ writings—were defined by his ‘[opening] up “the continent of history” to scientific knowledge’ (Althusser,  2014, p. 18), but he saw Marx’s contribution here as emerging from his very rejection of ‘the empiricist ideology’ (Althusser,  2005, p. 190). There is, however, a broader and more vernacular sense in which the Marxian project of critique of political economy might be thought to maintain a ‘scientific’ component. Science, as Walker (2001, p. 105) argues—and certainly this applies to social as well as natural science—is widely seen as the sphere to which we turn in the search for truth, and via a route seen to be objective, rational and methodical. The critique of political economy, for instance—as Popper (2003, p. 375) suggests—might indeed be seen as scientific in that it seeks to uncover, through precisely these methods, the ‘truth’ of liberal political economy: that its categories are fetishized (or naturalized), and that this obscures the exploitation central to the capitalist mode of production. Elsewhere, Walker (2001, p. 7) also explains, ‘the main term used [in German] by Hegel and his followers’, including the young Marx, ‘to refer to the scientific enterprise they saw themselves engaged in was Wissenschaft’. ‘This term’, he adds, ‘although it translates into English as science has a slightly different meaning to the English word. It is not so closely identified with the natural sciences… but, rather, has a broader sense encompassing a notion of organised knowledge obtained by some form of rigorous or disciplined method’ (Walker, 2001, p. 7). And indeed, it is at least in part in terms of the scientific status (or otherwise) of Marx’s various works that they have often been evaluated, including in relation to one another. In a 1985 review of Negri’s Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse (discussed at length below), for instance, Alex Callinicos insists ‘the Grundrisse is a far less finished, coherent and scientifically mature work than Capital’—and as such, at least implicitly, of less worth. 1.1 Discovering the Grundrisse The translation, dissemination and reception of the Grundrisse around the time of the global upheavals of 1968 enabled, first, various breaks with ‘orthodox’ and ‘traditional’ approaches to the (scientific) critique of political economy, which had long based themselves on a particular reading of Capital.1 Second, it allowed legitimacy for these new, heterodox approaches to be found within Marx’s own work. And third, this Marxian break with Marxism often corresponded to a fundamental reassessment of the methods, subjects and nature of any (proletarian) political project that might abolish ‘the present state of things’. As such, it was the central text in the reinvention of the Marxian tradition around this time.2 In Italy, key to this reinterpretation of Marx—what would later be described as moving beyond Marx, with Marx—was a sixteen-page segment of text published in 1964 (Marx, 1973, pp. 690–706), four years prior to the full Italian edition of the book, under the title ‘Fragmento sulle Macchine’ (‘Fragment on Machines’). It first appeared in issue 4 of Quaderni rossi (Red Notebooks), an organ of the Italian Marxian tradition of Operaismo associated with Romano Alquati, Negri, Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti. The tradition drew on the ‘Fragment’ to develop a very particular account of the changing nature of exploitation in post-Fordism (which they claimed Marx partly foresaw), the corresponding shifts that occurred in what they termed ‘class composition’, and the transformed possibilities for radical social transformation this entailed. Class composition, here, referred to ‘the nexus between [the] technical and political composition of the class’, a distinction that in some ways recalls the one Marx made between the working class in and for itself, but which can perhaps best be described as ‘the relationship between the material structure of the working class’ on the one hand, and its behavior as an autonomous subject on the other (Wright, 2002, p. 3). 2. The ‘Fragment on Machines’: science (or) fiction? In the ‘Fragment’, Marx argues that at a certain stage in the development of the capitalist mode of production, the so-called ‘means of labor’ appropriate to it emerge: ‘the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery’ (Marx, 1973, p. 692). (While ‘machinery is the most appropriate form of the use value of fixed capital’, he stresses, the reverse is by no means the case (Marx, 1973, pp. 699–700), belying a belief in potential alternative, non-capitalist uses of machinery and, as we shall see, scientific knowledge). This automatic system is said to develop to such an extent that its role is no longer to simply ‘transmit the worker’s activity to the object’ but rather involves the transmission of ‘the machine’s work, the machine’s action, on to the raw material’, supervising it and guarding it ‘against interruptions’ (Marx, 1973, p. 692). The movement and pace of workers becomes regulated by machines (Marx, 1973, p. 693). As a result of the increase in the productivity of labor this brings about, ‘the necessary tendency of capital’ is said to be towards ‘the greatest possible negation of necessary labour’ (Marx, 1973, p. 693); the labor, in other words, necessary for the worker to produce the quantity of value required to reproduce her own labor-power before a surplus begins to be accrued. In volumes one (1990, p. 762) and three (1991, pp. 318–19) of Capital, Marx similarly explores what he calls the growing ‘organic composition of capital’, where the ratio of fixed to variable capital (i.e. labor-power) increases with the development of machinery, emphasizing this is part of what contributes to the supposed ‘law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit’. In the ‘Fragment’, however, he focuses on the degree to which ‘objectified labour’ in the form of machinery-as-fixed-capital ‘materially confronts living labour as a ruling power and as an active subsumption of the latter under itself’ (Marx, 1973, p. 693), stressing that there is not only a change in capital’s organic composition, but also a reduction in ‘the necessary labour of society’. In other words, there is a decrease in the total labor-time of society, ‘which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them’ (Marx, 1973, p. 706). Socially produced scientific knowledge begins, at this point, to be appropriated by capital—including knowledge generated by non-waged laborers, as well as by waged workers in their newly freed-up ‘spare’ time. Marx explains that ‘the accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital, in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper’ (1973, p. 694). The contradiction which, for Marx, arises in this process is that, on the one hand, ‘production resting on value’ continues to be based on the quantity of labor-time directly employed, while on the other, ‘the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and the amount of labour employed… but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production’ (Marx, 1973, pp. 704–5). In making this argument, he insists, albeit in a parenthetical aside, that ‘what holds for machinery likewise holds for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse’ (Marx, 1973, p. 705). These too, in other words, are rendered alien, objectified forces that become both a part of capital as well as themselves directly productive. The ‘Fragment’ concludes by arguing it is this ‘development of fixed capital’ which itself demonstrates ‘to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it’ (Marx, 1973, p. 706). As such, the classical figure of the productive waged-laborer (discussed in more detail in part four of this paper) ‘steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor… The theft of alien labour time, on which present wealth is based, appears as a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value’ (Marx, 1973, p. 705). 3. Operaismo’s reading of the ‘Fragment’ The Operaist theorists who have drawn most heavily on the ‘Fragment’ concede there are two main differences between their argument and that of the original text. First, Paolo Virno (2007, p. 4) claims, ‘in Postfordism, the tendency described by Marx is actually realised’. The rendering productive of the entire of social life and the end of labor-time as the measure of value, in other words, has now become a material reality (Virno, 2004, 102–104).3 Second, the notion of the ‘general intellect’, only used once by Marx (i.e. 1973, p. 706), accrues a great deal of importance, particularly in Virno’s work, and the ‘thoughts and discourses’ said to comprise it—‘formal and informal knowledge, imagination, ethical inclinations, mentalities and “language games”’—are argued to function as ‘productive “machines” in their own right’, without necessarily becoming objectified in machinery or other forms of technology that serve as fixed capital (Virno, 2007, pp. 5–6). For Virno (2007, p. 5), ‘Marx…’ neglected, in other words, ‘the way in which the general intellect manifests itself as living labour’. Virno (2007, p. 6) redeploys the notion of general intellect within his own concept of ‘mass intellectuality’, said to dominate post-Fordist production. The resources on which labourers increasingly draw, he insists, are ‘the faculty of language, the disposition to learn, memory, the capacity to abstract and relate, and the inclination towards self-reflexivity’, none of which are activities that can be confined, in their development or deployment, to a particular time of life (Virno, 2007, p. 6). Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (e.g. 2001, pp. 29–30 and 364–67) offer a similar discussion of the general intellect and mass intellectuality in the context of global post-Fordist production; or rather, under the hegemony of what they describe as ‘immaterial labor’: ‘labor that produces an immaterial good, such as a service, a cultural product, knowledge or communication’ (Hardt and Negri, 2001, p. 290). Immaterial labor is described as ‘hegemonic’ (e.g. Hardt and Negri, 2004, p. 141) in a sense similar to Marx’s declaration in the Introduction to the Grundrisse (1973, 106–7), that ‘in all forms of society there is one specific form of production which predominates over the rest, whose relations thus assign rank and influence to the others. It is a general illumination which bathes all the other colours and modifies their particularity’. Whereas industry dominated by capital, in Marx’s day, was said to transform agriculture and society itself in its own image, today agricultural, industrial and service work are increasingly said to resemble immaterial forms of labor (Hardt and Negri, 2004, p. 107). As with Virno’s account, this is said to produce a breakdown of work/non-work time, first because it coincides with the rise of precarious working conditions which require (prospective) workers to be permanently available for work (Hardt and Negri, 2009, pp. 146–47), and second because, ‘when production is aimed at solving a problem… or creating an idea or a relationship’, as in many immaterial forms of labor, ‘…an idea or an image comes to you not only in the office but also in the shower or in your dreams’ (Hardt and Negri, 2004, pp. 111–12). 3.1 Marx beyond Marx In Capital (e.g. 1992, pp. 111, 118–21 and 132–33), what Marx calls ‘productive capital’ (C, in the formula below) is only what ‘money capital’ (M) becomes when it interrupts the sphere of circulation and undergoes a ‘productive consumption’ through its investment in labor-power (L) and means of production (mp) in order to generate, in the process of production (P), more value than that which initially entered the whole process.4 This value produced initially assumes the form of ‘commodity capital’ (C′), re-entering the sphere of circulation in the moment it is sold. At this point, the circuit: LM−C<…P…C′−M′mp can begin to repeat itself.5 Negri (1991, p. 142), however, argues the Grundrisse (e.g. Marx, 1973, p. 699) shows how ‘the technological application of science’ described in the ‘Fragment’ illustrates that the ‘real subsumption of labor’ ‘can’t but be (in the same moment) real subsumption of society’. In other words, in the context in which the general intellect comes to the fore, it is not only the productive process considered in terms of the organization of waged-labor and its relation to machinery and other technology that are ‘revolutionized’—a process Marx (1990, p. 1024) describes in Capital, where the emergent socialized, collective laborer becomes ‘really subsumed’, undergoing a radical transformation with the development of ‘the specifically capitalist mode of production’. Rather, here Marx is said to foresee the revolutionization of social relations right across society, in that they all become ‘totally functional to the development of capital’ (Negri, 1991, p. 142). Unlike in the equation above, then, labor-time ‘ceases and must cease’ to be the measure of value (Marx, 1973, p. 705): the direct investment of money as productive capital in labor (and means of production) is no longer the only manner in which surplus production occurs; rather, it can be directly appropriated from activities taking place right across society. While Negri (1991, p. 145) observes that capital continues its efforts to reduce necessary labor-time, at the current stage of its development, the relationship between necessary- and surplus-labor is said to be displaced and resituated ‘at the level of the capacity of capital to subsume society’. Furthermore, he notes that the cessation of the ability for exploitation to be measured ‘modifies the form of exploitation’ (Negri, 1991, p. 147). In short, the form taken by value at this point is ‘pure and simple command, the pure and simple form of politics’ (Negri, 1991, p. 148). 3.2 Productive, unproductive and reproductive labour What Negri (e.g. 1991, p. 148) is describing here—and as he has reasserted and expanded on in recent collaborative writings (e.g. Hardt and Negri, 2009, pp. 312–16)—is an end of the so-called ‘law of value’, which is what Marx himself of course foresaw in the ‘Fragment’ (e.g. Marx, 1973, p. 705). This is the ‘law’ developed by Marx (and expressed in embryonic form by Ricardo, as we have seen) that commodity value is determined by the average socially necessary labor-time involved in its production. The development of the capitalist mode of production to the stage described in the ‘Fragment’, and said to have been achieved in post-Fordism, thus poses a radical challenge to a number of Marx’s own core concepts. This includes those discussed in part one, particularly ‘abstract labor’, on which we have seen the category of surplus-value also largely relies. Simultaneously, and with far-reaching political implications, the rendering productive (for capital) of the entire of social life is said to erode the distinctions between subjective figures traditionally central to Marxism: ‘productive’, ‘unproductive’ and ‘reproductive’ labourers (Hardt and Negri, 2001, p. 402). Productive labor is traditionally understood as waged-labor exchanged directly for what was above described as ‘productive capital’ and for the purpose of valorization, i.e. the immediate production of surplus-value. Unproductive labor has tended to be conceived as waged-labor exchanged not for (productive) capital but rather for revenue, purchased essentially as a use-value and without immediate concern for the valorization of the sum originally advanced. Common examples include the work of public sector teachers and healthcare workers, or those directly employed in personal services like cleaners and nannies. Those working in other sectors, like transportation (and particularly the transportation of raw materials and finished commodities), might sometimes appear ‘unproductive’. Their primary function, after all, is the provision of a use-value—distribution—as an end in itself, and thus relatively incidental to direct valorisation. Yet as Marx (1992, p. 135) recognized in his own discussion of the transportation industry, the labor entailed in distribution itself becomes part of the production process—it is productively consumed—and its value is carried over and added to the commodity being transported. Finally, reproductive labor is usually taken to be the unwaged work (disproportionately performed by women) that produces the commodity labor-power, although not value and surplus-value itself. ‘Housework’, child-rearing, and other unpaid forms of care are key examples. The most important political consequences of the blurring of these categories are the shifts in notions of class composition they produced. There were exceptions, of course, but previously both unproductive and reproductive workers had often been considered external to the working class proper, and to have a limited capacity to resist, subvert or oppose capitalist exploitation. In Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, for instance, Nicos Poulantzas (1975, p. 212) notes that although this is not the only definition Marx provides, ‘(capitalist) productive labour’ is at times considered ‘sufficient to enable Marx to outline the essential boundaries of the working class’, with wage-earners external to the immediate realization of surplus-value understood as equally external to the working class. Likewise, both Lenin in The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1977, p. 552) and Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1972, p. 221) described the emancipation of women within and through the capitalist mode of production (and its overturning) as conditional on their entering industry and leaving the domestic sphere. Their potential agency depended on their full membership of the working class, and therefore their status as waged-laborers—an argument persuasively challenged by some feminist Marxist contributions to the 1970s’ domestic labor debates (e.g. Dalla Costa and James, 1975; and Federici,  2012). Hardt, Negri and Virno’s work, however—based in part on their application of the ‘Fragment’ to post-Fordism—sees such narrow definitions of the (industrial) working class replaced with that of ‘a new proletariat’: a ‘general concept that defines all those whose labor is exploited by capital, the entire cooperating multitude’ (Hardt and Negri, 2001, p. 402). Hardt and Negri (2004, pp. 106–7) argue one should not only conceive this multitude ‘as all those who work under the rule of capital’—so-called ‘productive’, ‘unproductive’ and ‘reproductive’ workers alike—but also and consequently as ‘the class of those who [potentially] refuse the rule of capital… Think of it as the equal opportunity of resistance’. 4. Post-Fordism and measure—the value of volume three Contra the Operaist account, a number of other heterodox Marxian theorists have insisted that, in post-Fordism, labor-time still functions as the measure of value and Marx’s core categories (like abstract labor) consequently continue to hold. In his essay, ‘Immeasurable Value?’, for instance, George Caffentzis (2005, p. 105) agrees that the real subsumption of labor (i.e. its ‘revolutionization’) has entailed a reduction in the proportion of the working day necessary-vis-à-vis surplus-labor is performed, increasing what Marx (1990, pp. 429–438) calls ‘relative surplus-value production’. He also concedes this was achieved through the application of science and technology to the productive process, leading ‘to a great variety of investment possibilities both within and among branches of production, hence there develops an immense vertical spectrum of organic composition possibilities (from almost labor-less production in atomic power plants to labor-intensive production in sweat shops and plantations)’ (Caffentzis, 2005, p. 105). Drawing on Marx’s discussion, in volume three of Capital (1991, e.g. p. 263), on the mechanism by which the ‘general rate of profit’ is established, he notes furthermore that, in certain industries in which a high organic composition of capital exists, commodities really are often produced whose value does not correspond to the quantity of labor-time expended (Caffentzis, 2005, pp. 104–8). Where he diverges from the Operaist argument, however—and from that of the ‘Fragment’—is in insisting this neither leads to immeasurability per se nor, as Marx (1973, p. 706) had claimed, to the necessary breakdown of capitalism. Rather, he notes there is always a disjunction between price and value and, furthermore, that the ‘price of production’ of commodities (defined below) in high organic composition industries ‘includes surplus value created in other branches of production of lower organic composition’ (Caffentzis, 2005, p. 106). Early on in volume one of Capital, Marx (1990, p. 197) himself had noted the deviation of the average price of commodities sold on the market from their value. In volume three, he expands on this, discussing this lack of (necessary) equivalence between production price and commodity value (Marx, 1991, pp. 262–64). As Heinrich (2005, p. 145) explains, ‘the competition of capitalists, their hunt for as high a rate of profit as possible, has two results: on the one hand, prices are not just accidentally and temporarily, but rather permanently, an inadequate expression of value; and on the other, a tendentially equal average rate of profit is established for all capitals on the basis of these prices. Marx calls the price at which this average rate of profit is achieved the price of production.’6 These prices are equal to the so-called ‘cost price’ of a commodity—in other words, the cost of the means of production and labor-power per unit of production—plus the average profit (Heinrich, 2012, p. 147). The composition of a particular capital—the ratio of variable to fixed capital—of course continues to impact on the quantity of surplus it produces. However, as Duncan Foley (1991, p. 442) points out, and in contrast to Marx’s argument in the ‘Fragment’, ‘the law that only labor produces value would be respected, because the total value produced and the total surplus value would remain unchanged; Marx saw the deviation of prices from value as a redistribution of a given aggregate surplus value among different sectors of production’. These authors insist Capital shows the rate of profit is determined by the quantity of surplus-value produced, not by an individual capital, but at the level of society as a whole (Heinrich, 2012, p. 147). ‘For capitals of mean or approximately mean composition, the price of production thus coincides exactly or approximately with the value, and the profit with the surplus-value they produce. All other capitals, whatever might be their composition, progressively tend to conform with the capitals of mean composition under the pressure of competition’ (Marx, 1991, p. 247). Isaac Rubin (1973, p. 251), in his seminal exposition of Marx’s theory, observed that at first sight his labor theory of value appears to contradict in many ways his own theory of production prices. While the former holds that commodities are exchanged on the basis of the quantity of abstract labor-power they express, the latter suggests that, in general, this tends not to be the case. But those who advance this observation, he argues, ‘[do] not take into account that the quantitative formula for the exchange of commodities is only the final conclusion of a very complex theory which deals with the social form of the phenomena related to value, the reflection of a determined type of social production relations among people, as well as the content of these phenomena, their role as regulators of the distribution of social labor’ (Rubin, 1973, p. 251). Or, as Marx argues in volume three (1991, p. 261), ‘with the whole of capitalist production, it is always only in a very intricate and approximate way, as an average of perpetual fluctuations which can never be firmly fixed, that the general law [of value] prevails as the dominant tendency’. At least implicit in the supposed persistence of ‘the law of value’ in post-Fordism is that the concept of abstract labor, and as such the distinction between spheres and practices that realize value and those that do not, also continues to hold—even if one rejects, as many of the authors cited above in fact tend to do, the traditional Marxist privileging of the (male) productive worker. 5. The ‘Fragment on Machines’ as science fiction Operaist theorists are certainly well aware of the critiques discussed above which have frequently been taken up and addressed, in turn tending to garner further debate still. At times, however, discussion as to the organization of social relations and exploitation in post-Fordism—between those who have made great use of the ‘Fragment’, on the one hand, and those who continue to emphasize the importance of Capital on the other—have become side-tracked from key political questions. This paper began by setting out two issues posed by an engagement with the Marxian critique of political economy today. The frequent preoccupation with one of these—how far beyond Marx we need to move in our current political economic reality—has sometimes eclipsed the other: which of the many approaches to reading Marx is most fruitful today, in terms not only of interpreting but also of changing the world? The first question can be understood, broadly speaking, as one of (social) science, or Wissenschaft. It asks: what are the (scientific) theories, tools and methods required to (objectively, rationally, methodically) reveal the ‘truth’ of the capitalist mode of production today? The second, however, immediately demands something along the lines of what Harry Cleaver (2000, p. 76) has called a political reading of Marx; one ‘that involves two steps: to show how each category and relationship relates to and clarifies the nature of the class struggle and to show what that means for the political strategy of the working class’. My claim, below, will be that a perhaps counter-intuitive reading of Marx—and the ‘Fragment’ in particular—not as science but as science fiction can enable precisely such a reading. 5.1 Reading the ‘Fragment’ politically To evaluate the ‘Fragment’ not (only) on the basis of its contribution as Wissenschaft but also in terms of its potential function as science fiction draws our attention to the question of its effects. The literary theorist Darko Suvin (2010, p. 67) has argued science fiction (sf) ‘is distinguished by the narrative dominance or hegemony of a fictional “novum” (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic’. Unlike fantasy or naturalistic fiction, for example, the genre relies on scientific explanation (Suvin, 2010, p. 70)—not necessarily the scientific accuracy of the narrative, but certainly its plausibility. sf frequently functions as a form of social criticism and commentary on the present (as well as important emerging tendencies) on the basis of an exploration of techno-scientific developments (and the social relations caught up with them) just beyond the realm of what is scientifically possible, yet is already imaginable. H. G. Wells (2011, p. 839), one of the genre’s early writers, has described his own sf writings, like The War in the Air and The World Set Free, as ‘“fantasias of possibility.” They take some developing possibility in human affairs and work it out so as to develop the broad consequences of that possibility.’ Certainly, there are also several non-fiction writers and theorists whose approach has resonated with science fiction in this way. Sherryl Vint (2008, p. 290) convincingly argues that the work of Donna Haraway  2016, like A Cyborg Manifesto, is not only marked by a focus on science fiction, but also a sharing in the method of the genre in precisely this regard: ‘like the sf writer who extrapolates a social world from a novum, she is interested in the practice of world-building through techno-science and discourse’—an at least partially utopian project, in other words, that not only seeks to describe but also contribute to possibilities for the transformation of human and social life. Many of these features are present in the ‘Fragment’, with Marx sometimes demonstrating an ambivalence towards the development of machinery. We saw that while he insists it may well be ‘the most appropriate form of the use value of fixed capital’, he suggests the reverse is not the case: fixed capital, then, is perhaps not the most ‘appropriate’ form of machinery’s use-value (Marx, 1973, pp. 699–700). At other times, however, he goes further, appearing positively utopian: technological development is portrayed as paving the way for the end of the theft of labor time and the function of exchange-value as the measure of use-value (Marx, 1973, p. 705). Marx’s commitment to changing as well as interpreting the world is, furthermore, well known; and he clearly hoped his writing would contribute to this. There are few convincing explanations, for instance (other than to inspire and provoke action), as to why even some of his late works, like Capital (1990, e.g. p. 929), maintain a strong teleological component—insisting on the coming negation of capitalist production—long after his own historical writings (like Class Struggles in France, 1848–1850 and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) had laid out complex tendencies very different to the inevitable polarization of social classes and escalating conflict between them, described in the Communist Manifesto. Despite these occasional rhetorical flourishes, however, Capital is a work rooted in ‘scientific’ enquiry: a systematic critique of classical political economy and careful exposition of the material functioning of the capitalist mode of production, as it was observable in England and elsewhere at the time. Amidst the current political economic crisis, Capital’s continued relevance is again the subject of debate, even in the pages of the financial press. The ‘Fragment’ has had a somewhat different function, however. Its dissemination during the 1960s to 1970s enabled speculation on the consequences of emerging developments within the capitalist mode of production, as well as in the role and nature of technology. Subsequent debates have tended to focus on the accuracy of its account and its interpretation by Operaist theorists, and on whether later texts, like Capital, allowed Marx to resolve problems he was still grappling with in the Grundrisse. Seldom has the text been evaluated, however, on the basis of its capacity, first, to have invoked a future which, at the time of its initial mass reception, was clearly already imaginable, and hence, second, to have enabled the broad consequences of this possible future to be developed and worked out. In other words, to what extent did it succeed in constructing an (albeit perhaps fictional) novum around capital’s capacity to internalize and valorize social knowledge and social life, to an extent that accumulation no longer solely relied upon the sale and purchase of labor-power? What notions of utopia and dystopia did this allow to be conjured? How did its appeals to ‘cognitive logic’—whether or not these could be ‘scientifically’ validated—reveal limits to the ways in which the present was thought at the time, and how it could be transformed? To what extent, this is to say, did the ‘Fragment’ effectively function as science fiction? By asking what it would mean to recognize both the creativity of forms of social life beyond the world of waged-labor, as well as the ways capital relies on relationships, forms of knowledge and affects that cannot be contained by the times and places of ‘work’ (as these were understood at the time), the Operaisti were able to begin re-evaluating class composition: both in terms of the make-up of what was understood as the working class, as well as its potential terrains and modes of struggle. Their reading of the ‘Fragment’ was doubtless (only) part of what enabled prescience in both these regards. Whether or not, ‘scientifically’ speaking, the ‘law of value’ continues to hold—or whether forms of unwaged domestic work, or the kinds of emotional and affective exchanges that occur in places like parks and cafes, or the ideas we develop while hiking with friends, are in and of themselves sufficient for value and surplus-value production—many of the activities these theorists have drawn attention to are doubtless necessary for accumulation today. Macro-economic theory itself has become increasingly attentive to the importance of what it calls ‘externalities’: ‘costs or benefits that accrue to someone or some group other than the firm or individual that creates them’ (Gerber, 1999, p. 123).7 One of the clearest examples is the way creative industries often profit from locating in major metropolises, allowing their employees to draw on and make use of the sights, sounds, senses and networks of relations they find themselves embedded within.8 6. Conclusion Through its functioning as science fiction, the (Operaist interpretation of the) ‘Fragment’ enabled an approach to the Marxian critique of political economy that foregrounded the questions of how categories and relationships clarify the nature of class struggle in an age of post-Fordism—where, whether directly or indirectly, capital makes use of and relies on activities that occur right across the social sphere—and what that means for the political strategy of the working class: the class, we have seen, defined as that which works under the rule of capital, and who therefore has the capacity to refuse this rule. Some of the most important manifestations of this refusal have, in recent decades, taken forms quite different from the withdrawal of labour—or of productive waged-labour—through strikes and similar activities. Instead, waged-workers—many of whom are in temporary or part-time forms of employment—the unemployed, students and those who carry out un-waged ‘reproductive’ forms of work, increasingly exert collective forms of power through alternative means.9 One example is that of the blockade. In Argentina in the 1990s, the piquetero movement emerged in response to ‘the decomposition of the [country’s] industrial base’ and attempted to translate the traditional pickets of striking workers into roadblocks by unemployed workers ‘expelled from the factories’ so that they could attempt ‘to solve problems connected to their own existence’ (Colectivo Situaciones, 2011, p. 96). In her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, Naomi Klein (2014) argues that movements geared towards reducing carbon emissions—and establishing more democratic control over ecological resources—necessarily come into conflict with contemporary capitalism (in its deregulated, neoliberal form). And she describes resistance to ‘high-risk extreme extraction’, from hydraulic fracturing to bitumen removal from tar sands, as also often taking the form of blockades (both of the extractive projects themselves and the infrastructure they rely on) (Klein 2014, p. 315). Occupy Wall Street involved various demographics, many of them precariously employed and highly indebted (Graeber, 2012, pp. 74–87). The movement sought to confront the wealth and power of ‘the 1%’, and its first major act of civil disobedience, again, took the form of the blockade—namely, of the Brooklyn Bridge (Graeber, 2012, p. 57). And in 2010, during the mass protests around retirement reforms in France, oil refineries were blockaded across the country. The Invisible Committee (2015, p. 93), an anonymous collective best known for their book The Coming Insurrection, explains that these refinery blockades were carried out ‘not by their five workers, but by teachers, students, drivers, railroad men, postal employees, unemployed people, and high school students’. ‘If the subject of the strike was the working class’, here somewhat narrowly conceived, ‘the subject of the blockade is whoever’ (Invisible Committee, 2015, p. 93). I am grateful to Morgan Adamson, David Harvie, Nathanael Kuck, and two anonymous referees for very helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. Footnotes 1 Translation and dissemination of the Grundrisse largely occurred in the 1960s to 1970s, based on the full German version published in 1953 (Musto, 2008A, pp. 181–82). 2 For an overview of readings of the Grundrisse, see Musto (2008B). 3 Caffentzis (2005, p. 106) contests any suggestion that Marx was ‘prophesying about the deep future’ in the Grundrisse, insisting that his ‘mid-19th century’ observations in Capital on the ‘organized system of machines’ demonstrated ‘[t]he moment of real subsumption’ (discussed below) ‘had already occurred in "modern industry" along with the allied value phenomena: increasing relative surplus value creation, increasing organic composition differentials, and increasing deviation of prices of production from values’. 4 For a summary of Marx’s argument in this regard, see also Heinrich (2012, pp. 131–35). 5 The ‘…’’s in the formula above (taken from Capital, vol. 2) represent the interruption of circulation by the process of production (Marx, 1992, p. 132). 6 Translation is my own. This paragraph is missing from the English edition of Heinrich’s book. 7 On the relationship between the notions of biopolitical production and of externalities, see Hardt and Negri (2004, p. 147; 2009, pp. 141 and 151–56). 8 Richard Florida’s (2002, p. 218) influential account of the ‘Creative Class’ described urban ‘Creative Centers’ as providing ‘the integrated eco-system or habitat where all forms of creativity—artistic and cultural, technological and economic—can take root and flourish’. He claimed such Centers ‘tend to be the economic winners of our age’, with ‘high concentrations of creative economic outcomes, in the form of innovations and high-tech industry growth’ (Florida, 2002, p. 218). Adam Arvidsson (2007, p. 9) has drawn on the case of Copenhagen’s advertising ‘event bureaus’ to show that, while Florida (2002) rightly recognises cities attract ‘creative people’, he neglects the ways salaried ‘culture industry’ professionals appropriate and valorize the creativity of ‘unsalaried processes of [urban] productive cooperation’. 9 As Kathi Weeks (2011, p. 141) points out, ‘the attitudinal orientations, affective capacities, and communicative skills required by postindustrial production and consumption’ make it clear that today, the production and reproduction of labour-power increasingly takes place well beyond the confines of the domestic sphere. Bibliography Althusser , L .  2005 . For Marx , translated by Brewster , B ., London , Verso Althusser , L.  2014 . On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses , translated by Goshgarian , G. M. , London , Verso Aronowitz , S . 1988 . 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Cambridge Journal of Economics – Oxford University Press
Published: Dec 25, 2017
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