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International Critical Thought, 2014

Vol. 4, No. 4, 397 417,

The Digital Metaphysics of Cognitive Capitalism: Abandoning Dialectics,

the North Atlantic Left Invents a Spontaneous Communism within

Teresa L. Eberta and Masud Zavarzadehb

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English Department, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, USA; bPublic Scholar, New York,
In North Atlantic left theory, the law of value dies because the dialectics of labor time and
value, which is the ground of Marxs labor theory of value, is assumed to have lost its
explanatory power in cognitive capitalism in which the time of labor is close to zero, and
labor, therefore, is seen as having no central role in producing value. Value becomes
immeasurable and exploitation is displaced by expropriation. These assumptions are based
on an undialectical understanding of the relation of cognition and labor, in which they are
regarded as binary oppositions and labor is reduced purely to doing as opposed to
knowing. However, knowledge is always part of labor and intensies labor according to
Marx. Therefore, the same concrete labor times are translated into different abstract labor
times. The abstract labor time required in immaterial production (software) is more than
zero. The law of value operates as long as capitalism exists.
Keywords: Marxism; autonomist Marxism; cognitive capitalism; dialectics; communism

Ailment of the Dialectic (Hardt and Negri 1994)

In its post-Hegelian, rational form, the dialectic, Marx writes, is:
. . . a scandal and an abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen, because it includes
in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition of its negation, its inevitable
destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a uid state, in motion,
and therefore grasps its transient aspect as well; and because it does not let itself be impressed by
anything, being in its very essence critical and revolutionary. (Marx 1990, 103)

Following Nietzsche (1979, 10), who declared the dialectic is a symptom of decadence,
North Atlantic left theory has abandoned dialectics and moved from contradictions to antagonism (Hardt and Negri 1994, 133), and from the revolutionary class struggles of labor against
capital to a rebellious exodus that valorizes labor as autonomous from capital. The slogan of
this reformist insurgency is a Nietzschean call: the dialectics is nished (Hardt and Negri
1994, 135). Dialectics is nished and reform (as refusal of work) is the new name of revolution
because, it is assumed, in new capitalism there is no longer any conict between reform and
revolution (Hardt and Negri 2004, 289). As Gilles Deleuze puts it,

Corresponding author. Email:

# 2014 Chinese Academy of Social Sciences


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. . . the essential relation of one force to another is never conceived of as a negative element in the
essence. In its relation with the other, the force which makes itself obeyed does not deny the other
or that which it is not; it afrms its own difference and enjoys this difference. (Deleuze 1983, 8 9)

Dialectics, in other words, is displaced by a Vitalist difference in antagonisms that represents

changes in the social not as the unfolding of class struggles but as a mutation by events that
exceed all materialist explanations, what Foucault dismisses as regulative mechanisms (Foucault
1977, 154). In the post-dialectical social, the self-valorizing singularities of alternative subjectivities in the common are seen as asserting the subjective power of labor by an exodus from
capital and a refusal of work, thereby undoing capital. In the anti-dialectics of the left in the
North, to say it differently, the social is the ontological: it is immanent, im-mediate, and spontaneous
life itself (Negri 1999a, 27). The anti-dialectics of this social Vitalism is culturally normalized
through the interpretive strategies of the (post)humanities by which endless textualizations,
capital-friendly meanings and values are produced from texts of culture.
But dialectics, in Alexander Herzens famous expression, is Hegels algebra of revolution
(Herzen 1982, 237). Dialectics undoes the seemingly xed and permanent order of things through
grasping them in their concrete inter-relations in their totality and historical moments. It brings to
the surface their self-otherness: the reality that, as Hegel puts it, they are aficted with opposition (Hegel 1998, 76). By disclosing that all things are self-contradictory, self-dissolving
(Hegel 2010b, 27) and inherently fractured (385), dialectics puts in question the Aristotelian
law of non-contradiction. As Sean Sayers argues, the laws of (non)contradiction have been undermined by the development of forms of alternative, non-standard symbolic and many-valued
logic (Sayers, n.d.).
Dialectics negates the apparent, positive, integrated identities of all things and situates them
beyond their seemingly stable, sequestered singularities in the uid unity of their oppositions:
contradiction is the root of all movement and life; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, is possessed of instinct and activity (Hegel 2010b, 382). The negative spurs the contradiction in and between identities and, by activating their otherness, transforms
them. Dialectics pulsates with the negative; it counters the metaphysics of afrmation that
capitalist modernity rejoices in Nietzsches yesopposed to the dialectical no; afrmation
to dialectical negation; difference to dialectical contradiction; joy, enjoyment, to dialectical
labour; lightness, dance, to dialectical responsibilities (Deleuze 1983, 9).
Bourgeois and proletariat, to be specic, are contradictory sides of capitalist production. Only
in metaphysical abstraction are they seen as empirical, self-afrming, positive, separate, and
ultimate oppositional identitiesas nothing but themselves. Dialectics unfolds their perceived
separate singularities within the history of their mediated inter-relations and trans-laces their
oppositions in their concrete but transitory interlinking union in the totality of capitalist direct
production. Their antagonistic relations to each other are not merely external to their positive
self identities but through dialectical negation are constitutive of identities. Dialectics is the
transformative negation: the process in which the positive is negated and the negated is itself
negated to produce new determinate states, which contain what has emerged (aufheben). To
say it differently, dialectics sublates oppositional identitiesbeing and non-beingto alter the
conditions of becoming, their absolute unrest (Hegel 1998, 101). Through dialectics, in
short, the classes of bourgeois and proletariat emerge into an alter state of classlessness: a
social site beyond the afrmative singularities of either class and open up an unending series
of mediated transformations. Rest is conditional, motion is absolute (Lenin 1976, 360):
[P]ure change, . . . antithesis within the antithesis itself, or contradiction. For in the difference which is
an inner difference, the opposite is not merely one of twoif it were, it would simply be, without

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being an oppositebut it is the opposite of an opposite, or the other is itself immediately present in it
. . . I put the opposite here, and the other of which it is the opposite, there; the opposite, then, is
on one side, is in and for itself without the other. But just because I have the opposite herein and
for itself, it is the opposite of itself, or it has, in fact, the other immediately present in it . . . it is itself
and its opposite in one unity. (Hegel 1998, 99)

But, dialectics, as Marx (1976, 163) remarks, is not the ritual formula afrmation, negation and
negation of negation. It is the movement that begins from the contradictory conicts in things
and leads to their transformation from what they are to an altered being. Dialectics is the algebra
of revolution.
The transformative task of dialecticschanging what isis the target of the war on dialectics in
radical theories of the left in the global North. Left theories always advocate social change. However,
by embracing a non-dialectical idea of change, the North Atlantic left theories are becoming latter
day reformisms based on antagonism without contradictions: a static antagonism between two positive, xed identities of capital and labor. Although the war on dialectics is often presented in left
theory as a philosophical inquiry (Cohen 1978; Colletti 1975; Derrida 1994; Negri 2003), it is an
ideological move to replace the mediated contradictions of direct production under cognitive capitalism with spontaneous (unmediated) antagonisms, conicts without contradictions in reproduction
(Theorie Communiste 2008), to displace exploitation by expropriation and prot by rent (Vercellone,
n.d.) and, as we will argue, rewrite the forces of production into another relation, either prior or subsequent to the social relations of production (Althusser and Balibar 1977, 235; Zizek 1989, 51). The
forces and relations of production are, of course, separate but united in a dialectical opposition within
the unity of totality of what Marx calls productive activity (Marx 1993).
By suspending dialectics and displacing contradictions (in direct production) with difference
and antagonism (without contradictions) in reproduction, left theory in the North invents a new
capitalism within capitalisma cognitive capitalismas a spontaneous communism that
renders class struggle and revolution superuous. Through a militant rhetoric, the left announces
the Time for Revolution as a going beyond capitalism. But this is a revolution without dialectical negation; it is actually a return to the afrmation of capitalism as cognitive capitalism.
Dialectics is the analytics of the transformation of history in the progress of human freedom:
the development of human powers as an end in itself (Marx 1991, 959).

The Dialectics Is Finished (Hardt and Negri 1994)

But rst, to take up the dogma that the dialectic is nished and its popularity on the left, this
dogma is the poiesis of a desire named cognitive capitalisma desire to put an end to historical
materialism. The most rigorous and persistent suspension of dialectics in the (post)humanities in
recent years is in the writings of Antonio Negri, who refers to dialectics as fossilized (Negri
2010). The very form of the dialectic, he writes, that is, mediation as the content of domination
in its various different formsis thus brought into question (Negri 1996a, 220).
Dialectics, most commonly for Negri, is negationnegative thought as distinguished from
what he calls constituent thought (Negri 1999b, 211 16). Dialectical negation is, he argues, the
work of capitalismthe negation of labor, freedom, the common, and of love, which for Negri is
the embodiment of the afrmative as an ontological event . . . the creation of the new. Being,
in this narrative of the afrmative, is constituted by love (Hardt and Negri 2009, 181). Negris
understanding of the negative in dialectics is reductive and formalist.
Dialectical negation, contrary to formalist logic, does not lead to the cancellation of the other
and thus indeterminacy but to what Hegel (1998, 51) calls determinate negation. In the lesser
logic, he argues that,


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[T]he dialectic has the negative as a result, the negative is equally positive, precisely as a result, for
it contains within itself that from which it results, containing the latter as something it has sublated,
and is not without what it has sublated. (Hegel 2010a, 131)

Following the dominant tendencies in left theory, Negri displaces dialectical contradictions
the bearer of the negativewith a mostly Lacanian notion of antagonism (Laclau and Mouffe
2001, vii xix, 122 27).
Negris general critique of dialectics is an ontological version of Derridas anti-metaphysics
thus Derridas charge that Negri writes within the walled perimeter of a new ontological fatherland (Derrida 1999, 261). Like Derrida, he argues that dialectics imposes unity on differences
and ultimately totalizes singular antagonisms. Also like Derrida, and in line with post-Heideggerian left tendencies, he is opposed to binary opposition (e.g., labor and capital), and he moves
beyond duality and binarism through his interpretation of antagonism as an unresolvable antagonism (Negri 1988, 88). Antagonism, for him, is not a (binary) opposition to capitalism. It is
being against capitalism. It is conict without (dialectical) contradictions (From Contradictions to Antagonism in Hardt and Negri 1994, 133 35).
Anti-dialectical antagonism, Negri maintains, is made plural in the new epoch ushered in by
capitalisms real subsumption of society after the event of 1968 (Negri 1996b, 156). In the
new epoch antagonism is plural because it is no longer limited to the factory. Real subsumption turns the entire society into a factorywhat Mario Tronti (1973), in his Social Capital
calls a social factory. According to Hardt and Negri,
Laboring processes were radically modied by the automation of factories and by the computerization
of society. Immediately productive labor was displaced from the central position it had occupied
during the entire previous history of the capitalist organization of society. (Hardt and Negri 1994, 273)

Consequently, the binary antagonism between labor and capital that had developed in the closed
spaces of the shop oor now invested all forms of social interaction (Hardt 1996, 3). However, at
the same time that he theorizes society in the new epoch as a social factory, Negri maintains
that capital, as David Cameld (2007, 28) observes, is unable to fully harness biopolitical
productivity to value production. His discourses are always situated in an in-between-ness
that avoids all class this-sidedness.
Real subsumption does, of course, change social relations and brings about social change.
The question is whether these changes are a result of real subsumption itself or a relay of the
outcome of changes in production relations. What complicates this issue is that the war on
dialectics is an ideological move to displace the relations of production with reproduction and,
among other things, rewrite the forces of production as another mode of social relations.
Slavoj Zizek, for example, interprets Marxs theory of social change and history of capitalism
as stating that,
[T]he formal subsumption precedes the real one; that is Capital rst subsumes the process of production
as it found it (artisans, and so on), and only subsequently does it change the productive forces step by
step, shaping them in such a way as to create correspondence. (Zizek 1989, 51; emphasis in the original)

He therefore argues that the form of the relations of production . . . drive the development of
productive forces (Zizek 1989, 51; emphasis in the original) and believes that to argue otherwise
(as Marx does) is to subscribe to a vulgar evolutionist dialectics (Zizek 1989, 53). Zizeks
(2008, 339) argument is part of his grand narrative about the inner resources of capitalism and
the impossibility of ending it: One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism
is indestructible. The indestructibility of capitalism, according to Zizek (1989, 52), is caused by

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its insurgency against the internal balance that, he maintains, dialectics imposes on it. The
instability of capitalism, in Zizeks view, is its strength; dialectics (internal balance) fails to understand the secret of its resilience and predicts its end. In its productive restlessness, capitalism, for
Zizek, suspends the primacy of the forces of production and shaping of the social relations of
production in accordance to its needs, thus escaping the internal balancethe correspondence
between forces and relations of production. Negris interpretation of the relation of the forces of
production and social relations of production that underlie his application of real subsumption
to contemporary capitalism conforms to this standard anti-dialectical left view (with minor differences that derive from his Spinozian model of antagonism between two powers).
When society is seen as a social factory, the lines between labor and life become blurred and
antagonisms multiply because of the gradual shift from the capitalist command over the factory
. . . to the exploitation of society as a whole (Negri 2010). Dialectics, Negri argues, reduces
these antagonisms to a single antagonism between proletariat and capital. Hardt and Negri
(2000) thus replace the proletariat with the multitudeall who work under capitalism. In
doing so, they obliterate the difference between productive labor (which produces surplus value)
and non-productive labor (which distributes surplus value). Work is, consequently, equated
with labor, which is then equated with all daily action. Labor, of course, is not mere life
action. It is a purposive productive activity (Marx 1987, 292). Unlike action which is spontaneous, creative, unique and cannot be imposed externally, labor has a beginning-middle-end
temporal structure and can be planned, repeated, reproduced and imposed (Caffentzis 2005, 97).
Hardt and Negris main questioning of dialectics is twofold: the dialectical relationship
between capital and labor, in which they believe labors resistance is recuperated through
mediation by capital, and the modern State-form which stands on this dialectics: The State
was entrusted to a dialectic that could resolve every contradiction (Hardt and Negri 1994,
125). Although Negri offers different critiques of dialectics at different moments and in different
tones, these two seem to always be the underlying issues which he articulates in an anti-dialectical
afrmative critique (Hardt and Negri 1994, 21).
Negris (1999b) arguments are Spinozian: the constituent power of (the subjectivity of) living
labor provides it with an innate ontological power of resistance against the power of capital, thus
enabling it to develop a logic of separation (Negri 1984, 130) that overcomes dialectical
mediation and gives labor autonomy from capital. Their conicts are not seen as contradictions
but as non-dialectical antagonisms that cannot be resolved by sublative mediation. Antagonism
is the expression of pure subjectivity that dees the dialectical (representation) of totality
and logical unity (Negri 1984, 12). In Five Theses on the Common, Gigi Roggero sums up
the case against dialectics:
[T]he working class is the potentia that wants to exercise power; capital, on the other hand, is the
power that exploits potentia. The former is the master, the latter is the slave. But there is no dialectical
Aufhebung possible between them. In fact the dialectic, which also necessitates the universal subject,
dies in the partial insurgence of the workers struggle. (Roggero 2010, 363)

In Negris anti-dialectics, the subjectivity of living labor counters capital through acts of selfvalorization, such as sabotage, and gains autonomy through, for instance, the Refusal of
Work (Negri 2005, 258 90), exodus (Hardt and Negri 2009, 150 64), free shopping,
and self-reduction of prices (Negri 1988, 90, 119, 123).
Under capitalism, however, the autonomy of labor from capitalantagonism without contradictionis a left fantasy. This fantasy obscures the historical materiality of the place of workers in
the social relations of labor in which The silent compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on
the domination of the capitalist over the worker (Marx 1990, 899). Negris representation of


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workers as the power of a (transhistorical) subjectivitylife forcethat is autonomous from

actual material limits is a Vitalist poiesis: the making of an image of the worker as a self-standing,
powerful force to whose actions capital is simply reactive. The worker in Negris political
imaginary not only governs his own life, but is capable of controlling capital. The history of
capitalist forms is always necessarily a reactive history (Negri 2005, 268)reactive, that is,
to the subjective acts of the desire of workers. Workers are seen as fashioning and re-fashioning
capitalism, making it an extension of their own desires. The workers agency, in Negris theory, is
not grounded in the process of production but in the spiritual spheres of invention-power by
which workers afrm themselves without contradictory relations but in antagonism with capital.
We dene invention-power as a capacity of the class to nourish the process of proletarian selfvalorization in the most complete antagonistic independence; the capacity to found this innovative
independence on the basis of abstract intellectual energy as a specic productive force (in an increasingly exclusive manner). (Negri 2005, 268; italics in the original)

The un-said of Negris theory is that it is the workers who are responsible for the state of the
world and its injustice, not capitalcapital is always reactive to labors desires. Negris anti-capitalism is a normalization of capitalism from the left under a new name.
Negri critiques dialectics for obliterating the workers subjective power and their autonomy by
absorbing the contradictions of labor and capital into what he assumes is a dialectical synthesis.
Negris notion of dialectical synthesis is rooted in his tropic reading of Grundrisse (Marx
1993). In interpreting Grundrisse, Negri rejects (as objectivism) all textual evidence from
Marxs writings before and after Grundrisse and disregards the arguments of Grundrisse itself
(Mandel 1971; Rosdolsky 1968). Based on his affective interpretation of Marxs text, Negri
claims that in Grundrisse, labor is subjective power (Negri 1984, 70); this provides the
ground for his meta-narrative of afrmation of a non-synthesizing and singularizing love as
the composition of singularities in a common relationship (Hardt and Negri 2009, 183). Singularities, in his writings, are a transcoding of bourgeois subjectivity into bio-politics and the
political reformism that it authorizes (Hardt and Negri 2009, 179 88, 376 83).
Negri, in other words, regards struggles between labor and capital not as an economic struggle
but as a power antagonism between two group subjectivities that are unresolvable (Negri 1984,
16). The dialectic therefore is as impotent as simple materialism to dene the revolutionary
method (Negri 1984, 44). Although Negris critique of developing (dialectical) contradictions
and his translation of them into irresolvable antagonisms has a philosophical appearance, it is
an economic move that ostensibly separates labor from capital but actually severs value from
labor (time) and places exploitation outside of direct production (Hardt and Negri 2009, 137).

The Californian Digital Revolution and Its Strange Flirting with Cybercommunism
What exclusively determines the magnitude of value of any article, Marx (1990, 129) writes, is
. . . the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time necessary for its production. The
relation of labor (time) and value is for Marx a dialectical relation that, through the contradictions
and mediations of the double temporalities of necessary labor and surplus labor time in the
Working Day (340 426), also marks the ratio of exploitation.
However, having abandoned dialectics, North Atlantic left theorists such as Negri isolate labor
time from value and argue that the labor theory of value no longer explains the complexities of
contemporary capitalism, which is, they claim, based on immaterial labor. In cognitive capitalism,
the law of value dies, according to Negri (1984, 172), and value is freed from what he and
Michael Hardt call the metaphysics of objective measuring (Hardt and Negri 2000, 35359).

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In an ostensibly philosophical move to undo metaphysics, they actually obscure the economics of
the accumulation of capital.
The suspension of the law of value is justied, they argue, by Marxs Grundrisse. However,
their reading of The Fragment on Machines (Marx 1993, 704 11) is an undialectical interpretation. Marxs general intellect (Marx 1993, 694 711) is interpreted as living labor that is
autonomous from xed capital (Virno 2004, 106; Vercellone 2007, 18). Such a reading of
the general intellect is a neo-Vitalist interpretation based on Bergsons metaphysics. It represents the social not as an effect of class struggles but as the articulation of an original life
force placed in a left-wing version of what Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron (1996, 44
72) call a Californian Ideology. Californian ideology, is the American variety of neoliberalism. It proposes that techne, or what Hardt and Negri ecstatically call, the triumph of computerized production (Hardt and Negri 1994, 10), frees the individual from the clutches of both big
business and big government (Barbrook 2007). This is because informatization today marks a
new mode of becoming human (Hardt and Negri 2000, 289). Ultimately, Californian ideology is
an apologetics for a neoliberal deregulation of all economic activity (Barbrook 2007). Deregulation is, of course, what theorists of cognitive capitalism such as Hardt and Negri defend as
freedom from the metaphysics of transcendent measure (Hardt and Negri 2009, 38).
Thinking of open source software and free immaterial distributions (Moulier-Boutang 2011,
69), Moulier-Boutang and other theorists of immaterial labor see the ideology of the Californian
digital revolution as irting with cybercommunism (Moulier-Boutang 2011, 49) in a
desire for the digital transcendence of capitalism (Barbrook 2007). Moulier-Boutang therefore argues that:
California and the whiz-kids who have established its new businesses during the past thirty years are
our modern physiocrats. Instead of sneering at their navete, which so irritates Europes posthistorical
sages, let us instead recognise that they have discovered and invented the new form of value.
(Moulier-Boutang 2011, 49)

The embodiment of this new form of value is seen as a new capitalism within capitalism: a
cognitive capitalism of immaterial production, the other names of which are cybercommunism
and what Paolo Virno (2004, 110 11) calls the communism of capital. (Cyber)communism is
broadly based on a utopian gift economy that puts an end to exchange value by fostering a giving
without any reciprocation since any giving that receives a return is a re-entry into the capitalist
relations of exchange (Baudrillard 1993; Derrida 1992). Through ending exchange value by
gifting (e.g., open source software), cognitive-capitalism-as-cybercommunism produces the
common in which the distinction between private and public property disappears; property
itself is said to cease to exist (Hardt 2010, 134 36), and wage labor is believed to come to
an end.
Antonio Negri (the cyber-Negri in the celebratory annotations of his work by such writers as
Nick Dyer-Witheford [2005] in Cyber-Negri: General Intellect and Immaterial Labor) is
perhaps the most active mythographer of the end of wage labor within capitalism itself (Negri
2008, 162, 188) and the mutation of capitalism (i.e., change without revolution) into a spontaneous communism (Hardt and Negri 2000, 294). In Negris mythologies, cognitive capitalism
is a new epoch in human history; it is The third period of the capitalist mode of production,
after manufacture and large-scale industry which begins precisely in the years immediately following 1968 (Negri 1996b, 156). Its new information technologies are, he believes, reshaping
the entire society (Hardt and Negri 2004, 109). His master-myth is that in the new erawhat
he often refers to as Post-fordismImmediately productive labor loses its centrality in the
process of production, and,


T. L. Ebert and M. Zavarzadeh

[t]he political composition of the proletariat is social, as is also the territory where it resides; it is
completely abstract, immaterial, and intellectual, in terms of the substance of labor; it is mobile
and polyvalent in terms of its form. (Negri 1996b, 156)

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His narratives are myths constructing a cognitive environment in which the class interests of a
new petty bourgeoisie (intellectual workers) are normalized as the forward-looking interests of all
in a new epoch.

The Law of Value Dies (Negri 1984)

The law of value is the measure exploitation. It is assumed by Negri and other theorists of
cognitive capitalism to be specic to industrial capitalism, which reaches its nal moment in
Fordism. In the Post-fordist labor regime, immaterial production, as Moulier-Boutang (2011,
8) puts it, sits at the heart of economic value. Consequently, the labor theory of value is
blown apart (Hardt and Negri 1994, 11), they say, by high-tech, which has increased productivity beyond the measure of time, making labor a marginal agent of wealth, and also by
the (real) subsumption of total society by capital, turning society itself into a social factory
and blurring the line between daily life and labor. The death of the law of value in left
theory becomes the occasion for obscuring the distinction between necessary and surplus labor
time and, consequently, for displacing exploitation in direct production (economic) by expropriation (power politics) since capital, in cognitive capitalism, is said to have become external to the
production process (Hardt and Negri 2009, 137). Cognitive capitalism is represented as a new
mode of primitive accumulation in which the extra-economic (power) and not direct production
is considered the source of wealth (De Angelis 2001; Zizek 2010).
In theories of cognitive capitalism, the value of value, therefore, is seen as no longer determined by economic relations (exploitation in labor time) but by politics (expropriation in
power relations)the capitalist command (Hardt and Negri 2000, 355). In the new era of
cognitive capitalism, the political (power) tends to entirely absorb the economic and to
dene it as separate only insofar as it xes its rules of domination (Negri 1996b, 153).
In the wake of the death of labor theory of value and the rise of cognitive capitalism, class, as a
social place where people
. . . occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation . . . to the means
of production, by their role in the social organization of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions
of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it . . . (Lenin 1965, 421)

is transformed into a technical and political-subjective class composition (Wright 2002), and
the objective economic relation of labor and capital is displaced by an autonomous (subjective)
antagonism of labor to capital. However, the relations of labor and capital are dialectical: labor is
never autonomous from capital, nor is capital independent from labor; the two are always in a
dialectical antagonistic relation over the social surplus. The representation of labor as an autonomous self-valorizing subjectivity that stands against capital is an activist mask for the deep social
passivity that the new cognitive capitalism actually institutes in the proletariat. The discursive
activism in left theory marginalizes human agency in ending capitalism by claiming that the
new techno-ontology, what Hardt and Negri (2000, 61) call technological metamorphoses,
acts as a transforming power that mutates capitalism beyond the mediation of history (socialism)
into a new communism and obviates the need for revolution (Negri 1990, 166 68). Technology
(informatization) makes history. The social in left theory is a biopolitical machine: cognitive
capitalism-as-new-communism is a Vitalist technological determinism.

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Cognitive-capitalism theory is a stabilization of capitalism under a different name and on new

grounds, and this is what has made it the preset explanation of the contemporary situation.
Dialectical analysis of capitalismwhich demonstrates the inseparability of value from labor
(time) and, by marking their internal contradictions, shows the falling rate of prot and thus
the instability of the system of wage labor (Marx 1991, 317 75)is suspended in North Atlantic
left theory. The dialectic is shit! Negri writes, because, he says, it brings everything together
(Casarino and Negri 2008, 122); it is a theory of capitalism in totality. In the dogma of the North
Atlantic left, the whole is the false (Adorno 1974, 50). However, dialectically, a determinate, a
nite being, is one that refers to another; it is a content that stands in the relation of necessity to
another content, to the whole world (Hegel 2010b, 62).
The death of the law of value, the exhaustion of dialectics and the end of industrial capitalism
in North Atlantic left mythologies mean that we are in a new era with a new reality, and therefore We need new theories for the new reality (Hardt and Negri 2004, 140). The new theory is
grounded in an imaginarythat What Marx saw as future is our era (Hardt and Negri 2000,
364). The future, they believe, is already here, and thus there is no need for class struggle to transform capitalism to communism. Communism, which is the most radical rupture with traditional
property relations (Marx and Engels 1976, 504), is itself reformed so that it is no longer an economic but a political regime: the epoch of wages is nished and . . . the struggle has moved from
the level of a ght between capital and labor regarding the wage, to a ght between the multitude
and the State (Negri 2008, 162). New communism is a left capitalism.

Labor Time Matters

Proof of the deliverance of value from labor and its immeasurabilitywhich marks the transformation of capitalism to a cognitive stage in left theorieslies in the condition of its immaterial
production. Carlo Vercellone writes:
Where the time of labour directly dedicated to the production of commodities intensive in knowledge
becomes insignicant; or, to put it in the language of neoclassical economic theory, where the
marginal costs of reproduction are practically nothing or extremely low, these commodities should
be given for free. (Vercellone 2007, 33 34)

The empirical ground of Vercellones argument is that while the labor time in immaterial labor
is close to zero, software and other cognitive commodities are not usually given out freethe
transvaluation of value through open source movement and the digital disruption of value
(piracy) notwithstandingwhich means value is not produced by labor time. But, as such thinkers as George Caffentzis (2013), Christian Fuchs (2014), Max Henninger (2007) and Hessang
Jeon (2010) among others have pointed out, the theory of the immeasurability of value and its
autonomy from labor time is not only awed conceptually but also empirically. It does not
seem to refer to what billions of people across the planet do every day under the surveillance
of bosses vitally concerned about how much time the workers are at their job and how well
they do it again and again (Caffentzis 2005, 97).
Vercellone and other cognitivists use Marxs (1993) argument about general intellect in
Grundrisse as the basis for their arguments. However, Marx is making a historical materialist
argument about changes within capitalism not writing a myth, as the cognitivists do, about the
ahistorical mutation of capitalism beyond itself to a spontaneous communism. Marxs concepts
of social brain (1993, 694), general intellect (706), and social intellect (709), in other
words, are elements of a historical materialist morphology of the subsumption of labor by
capital within capitalism. Under formal subsumption, Marx writes, surplus value is extracted

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by lengthening the working day (Marx 1990). With the unfolding of an ever more violent relation
of labor and capital, real subsumption supplements formal subsumption, and subsequently,
surplus value is extracted from labor by high productivity in the working day through new technologies that add to the intensity of labor. In other words, under real subsumption (which cognitivists regard to be the precondition for immaterial production), the organic composition of
capitalnamely, the ratio between its active and its passive component, between variable
and constant capital (Marx 1991, 244)changes.
Change in the organic composition of capital which increases productivity in The Working
Day is interpreted by Negri and others as meaning that the law of value is no longer current or
functional (Negri 2003, 43) and that labor (time) has lost its standing as the objective measure of
value. This is another way of saying that, under capitalism today, exploitation as the effect of
direct production is no longer quantiable (Negri 1996b, 153 54, 157). Real subsumption is
said to have ushered in the biopolitical products that tend to exceed all quantitative measurement (Hardt and Negri 2009, 135 36). The immeasurable, we argue, is the digital metaphysics of cognitive capitalism. By deploying the Vitalist fantasies of Deleuze and Bergson, it
normalizes the alienated reality of contemporary capitalism as freedom-without-bounds.
Writing in Capital (after the Grundrisse), Marx undoes the metaphysics of the immeasurable
through a dialectical critique that marks the interrelation of labor and value-prot. We
focus especially on his concept of the equalization of the prot rate as well as his notion of
the intensity of labor. In Capital volume 3, he writes:
A complex social process intervenes here, the equalization of capitals, which cuts the relative average
prices of commodities loose from their values, and the average prots in the various spheres of
production from the actual exploitation of labour by the particular capitals involved (quite apart
from the individual capital investments in each particular sphere of production). The average prices
of commodities not only seem to differ from their value, i.e. from the labour realized in them, but actually do differ, and the average prot of a particular capital differs from the surplus-value this capital
has extracted from the workers employed by it. The value of commodities appears directly only in the
inuence of the changing productivity of labour on the rise and fall of prices of production; on their
movement, not on their nal limits. Prot now appears as determined only secondarily by the direct
exploitation of labour, in so far as, given market prices that are seemingly independent of this exploitation; it permits the capitalist to realize a prot departing from the average. Normal average prot as
such seems immanent in capital independently of exploitation; abnormal exploitation or even average
exploitation under exceptionally favourable conditions seems only to determine divergences from
average prot, and not this average prot itself. (Marx 1991, 96768)

As Ernest Mandel points out, although Marx had not yet developed the concept of price of
production when he wrote Grundrisse (1993, 338 39, 549 50), it is an active analytic in its argument. In this last passage, Mandel (1971, 101 2) writes, Marx uses the wording of general
price which is identical with the wording used later, price of production. Analyzing the role
of price of production in equalizing the rate of prot (the measurability of value), George Caffentzis (2005, 105) argues that the introduction of high technologies into the production process
leads to a variety of vertical spectrum of organic composition possibilitiesfrom labor-less to
highly labor-intensive production. Capitalists who invest in these different enterprises
. . . demand an equal rate of prot . . . even if their workers produce next to no surplus value. In other
words, these capitalists will demand the price of production (i.e., the sum of their constant capital and
their variable capital plus the product of this sum and the rate of prot) in value terms instead of the
actual value of their commodities. (Caffentzis 2005, 105)

Caffentzis goes on to emphasize that this

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. . . is why Marx writes in the Grundrisse that the notion of value explodes in the period when science
and technology takes an increasing role in the production process in many industries. For in these industries there is no correlation between the labor-time expended there and the price of the commodities sold.
But it is not that the value of these commodities is immeasurable. Marx introduces a notion of price of
production after the Grundrisse to point out that this situation will not automatically lead to a fundamental breakdown in capitalism. On the contrary, the prices of the commodities produced in many
branches of production with relatively little labor have a mathematically determined character: their
price of production includes surplus value created in other branches of production of lower organic composition in proportion to the capital invested in the industry. . . . General Intellect and immaterial
labor are not invitations to go beyond capital, . . . [they] have always been part of the work capital
has exploited whether it was waged or not. . . . [T]he amount of labor involved in computerized labor
does not change the dynamics of capitalist accumulation. . . . In fact, the Law of Value has been most
tyrannical in the current neoliberal period! (Caffentzis 2005, 1056)

The law of value is not blown apart as Negri claims. It continues to determine the economics of The Working Day:
. . . entrepreneurs continue to measure, compare, and remunerate labor-power in terms of clearly
dened units of time. Recognizing this means recognizing that the law of value is anything but
defunct when it comes to issues as quotidianand as importantas paying ones rent, obtaining
ones means of subsistence, and conquering for oneself and others a measure of individual and
collective autonomy that allows for combating the wage relation and the mechanisms of exploitation
inherent in it. (Henninger 2007, 174)

The reduction of labor-time in production is deployed by theorists of cognitive capitalism to

shift the analysis of capitalism from direct production to reproduction and is attributed to the
new role of knowledge. Cognitivists insist that knowledge is a new element of labor. It is what
turns the material into immaterial labor as the hegemonic form of labor today, and, they claim,
it is the absent element in Marxs labor theory of value. Contrary to this cognitivist logic, the dialectics of labor and knowledgewhat Marx (1990, 129) calls intensityis in fact the very
grounding of Marxs theory. Knowledge, as Hessang Jeon (2010, 101) argues, is a virtual intensication of commodity producing labour. However, the dialectics of labor and knowledge is
obscured in the theories of cognitive capitalism. They conceal the relation of knowledge and
labor by what Jeon (2010, 100) describes as a naturalistic interpretation of value theory which
considers abstract labour as pure expenditure of human energy. The ahistoricity of this view
of abstract labor (time) is clear in Hardt and Negris (2004, 144) Multitude, in which they
declare that all the different (concrete) industrial labors are equivalent or commensurable
because they each contain a common element, abstract labor, labor in general, labor without
respect to its specic form. Like most theorists of cognitive capitalism, they do not seem to
recognize the social logic of the conversion of concrete labor time to abstract labor time.
For Marx abstract labor and its time are historical and social processes. Like all social processes, they are dialectical and differential: concrete and abstract labor are not, in other words,
in direct correspondence. An unskilled worker produces less value in an hour than a skilled
(knowledge-able) worker. Abstract labor, to say it differently, is constructed socially:
. . . the labour time which is necessary on an average, or in other words is socially necessary. Socially
necessary labour-time is the labour-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of
production normal for a given society and with the average degree of skill and intensity of labour
prevalent in that society. (Marx 1990, 129)

The time of abstract labor is a socially folded time; it is a time within timethe time in which
the worker has acquired knowledge and skill within labor time. Socially necessary time is the

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T. L. Ebert and M. Zavarzadeh

expression of general intellect (Marx 1993, 704 11), namely, historically existing social
knowledge and skill and the technologies historically available to workers. Cognition and
execution are dialectically interlaced. However, in theories of cognitive capitalism, the folded
time of abstract labor is reduced, as Jeon argues, to a simple linear (execution) time, and historical
time and its social dimensions are suspended. Cognitivists talk a great deal about general intellect (Moulier-Boutang 2011; Lazzarato 1996) and its formative role in production, but in their
interpretation of labor theory of value, they isolate knowledge (the social processes embedded
in skill, which is an integral part of all labor time) from labor (execution). General intellect
thus becomes more an ideological topos in their theory than an active concept for analysis of
the relation of labor, knowledge, value and time, which in some of their writings, actually acquires
mystical propertiesas in, for instance, Negris notion of kairos (Negri 2003, 147 80).
Theorists of cognitive capitalism suspend the social constitution of abstract labor time and
treat execution and cognition as separate modes of labor. Justifying the separation, Andrea
Fumagalli (2011, 11) states that, in cognitive biocapitalism, the separation between abstract
labor and concrete labor is not as clear as it was in industrial-Fordist capitalism. He goes on
to suggest that,
. . . concrete labor, or labor producing use value, can be renamed today creative labor. This term
allows us to better understand the cerebral contribution inherent in such activity, while the term . . .
concrete labor, though being conceptually its synonym, refers more to the realm of making
than to that of thinking, with a closer allusion. (Fumagalli 2011, 11)

The non-dialectical class ideologic of opposing, without contradiction, making (proletariat)

and thinking (petty bourgeois intellectual worker) is deployed to construct a new typology of
capitalism. As Jeon (2010, 103) argues, the two are represented as mutually exclusive: one uses
knowledge and is an expenditure of human energy, the other produces knowledge and is conceptual; one is bound by time and is measured by time, the other is extra-temporal and, to use Hardt
and Negris (2000, 354) word, outside measure. Material labor is planned (and enforced) by
capital; immaterial labor is an expression of labors creativity and the workers independence
from capital and thus is inherently a resistance to capital (Aufheben 2006).
Deploying these binaries, cognitivists construct an anti-dialectical typology of capitalism that
claims the labor theory of value is a local theory (of industrial capitalism). Unlike pre-capitalism
(the formal subsumption time of a putting-out system) in which knowledge was produced by
workers, knowledge in industrial capitalism is designed by capital and imposed on workers. In
cognitive capitalism (post-real subsumption), workers reclaim knowledge and achieve autonomy from capital. Only in industrial capitalism, according to cognitivists, does the time of
labor become the measure of value.
Cognitive capitalism, in many ways is a re-appearance of the putting-out system of labor,
the regime of small producers. It is, in other words, the expression of the class interests of the new
petty bourgeoisiethe intellectual workerswhose class interests are antagonistic not only to the
proletariat but also to large-scale capitalism. The opposition to capitalism in the revolutionary
vocabularies that Negri, Zizek and other new communists use to describe their antagonism
to capitalism is only the opposition of the new petty bourgeoisie to big capitalism. It is not an
opposition to capitalism. New communism and its cognitive economics are reformist projects
to secure a place for intellectual workers within existing capitalism and not to overthrow the
system. Theories of cognitive capitalism, in other words, are what Radhika Desai (2011, 205)
calls the twenty-rst century avatar of the Proudhonism of the 19th century.
Outside this class imaginary, the objective reality of accumulation in actually existing capitalism is that in direct production, Knowledge plays an important, even if varied, role in the

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determination of value through . . . the virtual intensication of commodity producing labour

(Jeon 2010, 101). Material labor, like immaterial labor, is always an expression of knowledgethe collective social cognition (general intellect). Breaking the dialectical relation of
execution and cognition in the labor theory of value, the cognitivists fail to understand that
Qualitatively different concrete labours are equalised, but with quantitative differences (Jeon
2010, 107):

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If worker A produces three desks and worker B produces two desks in an hour, one-hour work of
worker A is counted 1.5 times as much as that of worker B . . . due to a more productive use of knowledge, . . . [T]his conversion is not a technical process . . . , but is a result of social processes. . . . The
everyday practice of exchange between commodities assures that the conversion works well. (Jeon
2010, 106)

To be clearer, it is worth repeating Marx (1990, 129) who, in theorizing abstract labor, indicates
that, Socially necessary labour-time is the labour-time required to produce any use-value under
the conditions of production normal for a given society and with the average degree of skill and
intensity of labour prevalent in that society.
Intensity of labor in Marxs theory is broadly, as Jeon notes, the knowledgesocial
processby which labor produces more value in the same amount of labor time. In support of
his reading that labor theory of value is not an execution-labor theory of value in which
there is no role for knowledge, Jeon quotes Marxs words that exceptionally productive
labour acts as intensied labour and [m]ore complex labour counts only as intensied, or
rather multiplied simple labour (Marx 1990, 435, 135). Jeon terms knowledge a virtual intensication of commodity producing labour (2010, 101) and argues that,
. . . as the skill and/or intensity of labour varies, the same concrete labour times are converted into
different abstract labour times. . . . Thus the more intense work has the same effect as an extension
of the working day. . . . Introducing new production methods can have the same result as intensication, creating more value in a given period of time, without any changes to the intensity of commodity-producing labour. . . . Virtual intensication refers to such social processes by which the same
amount of labour time produces more value . . . due to, for example, the use of better knowledge.
. . . Whereas commodity-producing labour produces value, knowledge labour does not create value,
but determines the value-producing capacity of commodity-producing labour. . . . [A]lthough concrete
direct labour time to produce a unit of microprocessor of computer software is close to zero, . . . the
abstract labour time required to produce a unit of microprocessor of software, or the direct labour
portion of the value of microprocessor of software, can be higher than zero. (Jeon 2010, 1078)

It is abstract labor time that determines value, and therefore the reduction of concrete labor
time in immaterial production does not mean that the value of an immaterial product is close
to zero, or that the time of labor is no longer determinant of value. The reduction of production
time is the historical effect of the development of collective social knowledge (general intellect), the increased skill of labor that produces more value in a given time. Knowledge is
already written into the labor theory of value. The theoretical violence of cognitivists separates
knowledge from labor and undialectically posits cognitive capitalism as reclaiming knowledge
for labor as they represent it as a breaka radical leap as Moulier-Boutang (2011, 48) calls
itin the history of capitalism. Cognitive capitalism is assumed to be a mutation that is ontologically outside the dialectics of history and class struggles and thus beyond capitalist exploitation in
direct production. The theories of cognitive capitalism cover over the bloody history of capitalism, which, in Marxs words (1990, 926), is dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with
blood and dirt. They construct contemporary capitalism in the bourgeois imaginary as a transcendence (without transcendentalism) of capitalismthe arrival of the Vitalist social as a new


T. L. Ebert and M. Zavarzadeh

biocommunism now: The future is already here for those who know how to read it (MoulierBoutang 2011, 8). On the other side of this Nietzschean afrmation of what is as the site of difference, is the dialectical reality:
The law of value operates as long as capitalism exists: it does not stop operating because of the emergence of social or knowledge work. . . . High productivity is a precondition of communism, but it is
not communism itself and does not automatically lead to communism. There are communist potentials
within capitalism; however, communism can only be established by struggles. (Fuchs 2014, 264)

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Antagonisms without Resolutions

In cognitive capitalism, command (power) fashions the economic (Hardt and Negri 2000, 266,
355), and political (power) becomes the value form of our society (Negri 1996b, 166). The
social after dialectics is the scene of the microphysics of power (Negri 1984, 14). Through
the microphysics of power, the economic relationship between exploiter and exploited is
suspended, and exploitation is quietly turned into an empty signier that rearranges chains
of equivalences (Laclau 1996, 36 46) and critiques capitalism as a power relation but legitimates
it as an economic system.
Capitalism is not normal. The twin deaths of dialectics and the law of value are necessary for
restoring normality to contemporary capitalism. Negris theories, as we have pointed out, dismantle dialectics; blow apart the law of value; displace class by class composition; replace the proletariat with the multitude; obscure material labor through immaterial labor, and thus are one of the
most effective restorative cultural discourses in capitalism. They discredit all analytical concepts
that can provide knowledge of direct production (class, labor, dialectics, law of value . . .) and
put in their place a poetics of the affects of a joyous life, including all of being and nature, the
animals, sister moon, brother sun, the birds of the eld (Hardt and Negri 2000, 413). By dissolving
dialectics, Negris theories restore capitalisms normalcywhich constantly slips under the pressure
of emerging class contradictionsand substitute A Reformist Program for Capital for revolution.
Instead of abolishing wages, reform universalizes them through the establishment of a minimum
guaranteed income (Hardt and Negri 2009, 30611). It is Negris restorative discourses that have
brought him what he calls world wide success (Negri and Dufourmantelle 2004, 114).
Negris suspension of dialectics in social analysis relies on a left commonsense in which
dialectics is depicted as a synthesis (Casarino and Negri 2008, 118 21) and then is seen as
treating contradictions as simply two sides of the same reality and thus as equal opposites
without difference. The role of mediation, for Negri, is then to reconcile the two. Dialectics, in
other words, always tries to recombine and reconcile everything, to bring everything together
(Casarino and Negri 2008, 122). Dialectics fails, he maintains, because it is a totalization
that erases differences. This critique, however, is hard to take seriously because Negris own
anti-dialectical writings are nothing but totalizations and squashing of differences. Empire,
for instance, is not only a totalization, but its underlying arguments are also chains of totalizations
relying on other totalizations from counter-empire, through two modernities to smooth
space to the totalization of all totalizations: the multitude. Negris portrayal of mediation
(as resolution through totalization) was quite common among left Hegelians, whose philosophical
arguments Negri, like most contemporary left thinkers, often repeats. But this view of mediation
has been thoroughly critiqued by Marx. In a line-by-line reading of Hegels investigation of civil
society and monarchy, in which Hegel proposes the legislature as the mediator between the
two, Marx writes that such a middle term is mixtum compositum [a melange] of the two
extremes: The middle term is the wooden sword, the concealed opposition between generality
and singularity (Marx 1975a, 84; emphasis added).

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Quite contrary to Negris representation of materialist dialectics, mediation, for Marx, is not a
peaceful process of reconciliation, John Rees (1998, 64) argues, but the elaboration of the
different forms in which the central contradiction of the age is played out in every aspect of
social development.
In his critique of Hegels narrative of master and slave in The Phenomenology of Spirit, Marx

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As one can see, this is a society pugnacious at heart but too afraid of bruises to ever really ght. The
two who want to ght arrange it so that the third who steps between them will get the beating, but
immediately one of the two appears as the third, and because of all this caution they never arrive
at a decision. (Marx 1975a, 88)

The question of mediation, of course, has been a source of contestation both in Western Marxism
(e.g., Adornos [1977] notion that synthesis is an illusory solution and enforced reconciliation) and
in Chinese Marxisms debates over one and two. Is the unity of the two in one the essence of
dialectics as Yang Xianzhen (Harmin 1986, 1991) argues, or is it explained, as Mao argues, by
Lenins thesis that The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts . . .
is the essence . . . of dialectics (Lenin 1976, 357; Mao 1967, 31147; Mao 1977, 384421)?
Negris anti-dialectical statements, in other words, are a rehearsal of the already said.
However, he presents his interpretation of dialectics with the triumphalist tone of one who
thinks he has gone beyond dialectics. Like all beyond-ers, he nds that what he has just discovered (as Marxs critique indicates) has been part of the theories of dialectics all along. The historical history of dialectics in Hegels and Marxs writings, however, is irrelevant to Negri. He needs a
narrative in which dialectics is seen as reconciling everything and establishing equilibrium rather
than as sharpening antagonisms and propelling revolution. He then uses it to structure his logic
of separation because the grand conclusion of his interpretation of mediation as synthesis is
that contradictions no longer express the relation of capital and labor in cognitive capitalism,
in which there has been a mutation, he argues, From Contradiction to Antagonism (Hardt
and Negri 1994, 133 35):
Why does it appear today that the dialectic of capitalist development which we have experienced historically, has been broken? The response to this question is determined around a phenomenologically
supported afrmation: at the point in which capital yielded the command over associative productive
labor to the social worker, it was no longer capable of the synthesis of development. The social worker
has begun to produce a subjectivity that one can no longer grasp in the terms of capitalist development
understood as an accomplished dialectical movement. (Hardt and Negri 1994, 282)

Labor and capital, under the conditions of real subsumption for Negri, are irresolvable antagonisms: We must see in these two spaces the formation of opposed subjectivities, opposed wills and
intellects, opposed processes of valorization: in short, an antagonistic dynamism (Negri 1984,
93). He goes on to say that on this plane, antagonism, renders mediation useless (Hardt
and Negri 1994, 134) since there is now a denitive separation between the two subjects (283).
Negri suspends dialectics through irreconcilable antagonismwhich is, of course, a reection of Marxs (1975a, 86) materialist concept of irreconcilable contradiction. However, Negri
produces a logic of self-directed antagonisms separated by the force of their subjectivities, thereby
turning Marxs concept inside out. As a sign of the autonomy of labor, he argues that within this
space wages are separate from economic conditions:
It is worth pausing briey to consider . . . proletarian self-valorization. . . . [A]t this point, the wage is
no longer, in its economic identity, an independent variable. It is completely subordinated to the entire


T. L. Ebert and M. Zavarzadeh

dynamic of power, to the entire framework of the political autonomy of the state. The wage is reduced
to the hierarchy of command, in a process that is the counterpart, the obverse of the repression of
proletarian unity at the social level. (Negri 2005, 249).

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The undoing of dialectical totality and the formation of the logic of separation, is not philosophical or political: it is an expression of the economic interests of the owning class. Not only does
it make the falling rate of protwhich Marx (1991, 317 75) argues is an effect of the changing
composition of capitalinto an outcome of the subjectivities of workers (Hardt and Negri 2000,
261), but it also disconnects wages from the economics of capital. In Marxs dialectical theory,
wages are a dependent variable (Rosdolsky 1968, 282 313). Or, as Callinicos explains, wages
are variable,
. . . relative to the accumulation of capital because capitalists, through their control over the rate of
investment, also determine the rate of unemployment. When confronted by militant workers they
can shift the balance of class forces in their favour by staging an investment strike and thereby
forcing up unemployment. Workers, faced with the threat of the dole, come under pressure to
accept lower wages and more generally an increase in the rate of exploitation. This is precisely
what happened in Italy (and indeed in Britain, the other weak link of European capitalism) from
the mid-1970s onwards. (Callinicos 2001, 41)

What Negri represents as a sign of the autonomy and power of the subjectivity of workers, as
we have already implied, is in fact a strategy for protecting capital: capitalism, according to
Negris discourse, is not accountable for lower wages; it is the weakness of workers that has
kept them low. The mutation of contradictions into antagonism makes mediation useless and
maintains antagonism as an eternal irreconcilability. It is, in effect, an ontological shielding of
contemporary relations of capitalist production from an analysis that would unmask them as a dialectical totality in the grip of internal contradictions as they develop into their other.
Negri often obscures the signicance of the dialectical totality by setting it against materialism: materialism, he writes, is an active force because The path of materialism passes precisely
through subjectivity (Negri 1984, 154) whereas dialectics is, for him, an objectivist instrumentality: The dialectic is returned to capital. Materialism becomes the only horizon, entirely
animated by the logic of antagonism and by subjectivity (Negri 1984, 168). Here and in
almost all of his more recent writings, Negri (2010) puts dialectics against materialism: The
new constitution of the common, no longer dialectical but still materialist.
However, his materialism, as the passages we have quoted indicate, is a biomateriality, an
idealist Vitalism that, in a Nietzschean move and following Bergson and Deleuze, situates the
social, the political and the economic outside the dialectics of history and as ontological
expressions of what Bergson calls elan vitallife force. In other words, he proposes (while in
his usual double-sidedness critiquing Bergsons views) an immaterial materialism that identies
materiality with the matter-ity of life as the concrete, the tangible, the body, language, strike, and
self-reduction of prices. But materialism is not matterism. Rather, it is the ultimate determination
by the mode of production (Jameson 1981, 45).
As a materiality, life for Negri is an afrmation that does not need justication since, for him
as for Deleuze (1983, 16), life is essentially just. Life afrmation becomes an ontological means
for Negri to not only abandon dialectics (as the negative) but to, in effect, afrm the way things are
as the way they ought to be (and thus always will be). But, dialectics is the negation of life as is; it
is the analytics of contradiction, showing how seemingly static (separate) antagonisms are historical contradictions, which are the dynamics of social change. Contradiction is the real nucleus
of dialectics, its central category (Ilyenkov 1977, 320). It is the dynamic of a materialist totality
that by negation it is transformed and through the negation of negation transforms the

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transformed. The dialectical marks the struggles between labor and capital as a materialist totality
and not as unresolvable (static) isolated and everlasting antagonisms of two separate subjectivities. In short, it understands the two in unity in their opposition. This move is what concerns
Negri (2010) most, and this is why he denounces the dialectical as imposing of the coexistence
of the opposites.
Having reached the limits of his philosophical arguments against dialectics, Negri, in his
Moscow lecture, appeals to newness, in order to suspend it. Dialectics, he claims can only
deal with old materialism and this is the time of a new materialism: the ontology of materialism
itself had changed. Materialism, today, is the biopolitical context. Materialism is a new commodity for him beyond the reach of the negation of the dialectics; it is an afrmation, a biopolitical excess of living labor expressed in the gures of cognitive and immaterial productivity
(Negri 2010).
In dialectics, labor is the negation of the world as is; the subject transforms the world and is
transformed by it. Through labor, the human acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this
way he simultaneously changes his own nature (Marx 1990, 283).
Negris suspension of dialectics is a means for keeping antagonisms always as antagonisms,
namely, to block any moving away from the perpetual conicts that are constitutive of bourgeois
society. His irreconcilable antagonisms naturalize class conicts. To say it differently, Negris
opposition to dialecticswhich is an economic not a philosophical questionis an opposition
to communism as a post-antagonism society without classes. Communism is a radical rupture
with traditional property relations. As the transcendence of private property (Marx 1975b,
293 306), communism has crossed the narrow horizon of bourgeois right and boldly
inscribes on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
(Marx 1989, 79 90). Negri displaces this communism of needs with one of desirecelebrating
desire as liberatory when it is desire that normalizes the increasing demands for commodities,
prodigality and expenditure without reserve (Bataille 1985, 116 29) that sustain capital.
Negris communism is constructed not out of the class struggles of workers over the social
surplus but by the militant prayers of Saint Francis of Assisi (Hardt and Negri 2000, 413) over
bliss. His is the bourgeois fantasy of the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist
as a joyous life, including all of being and nature, the animals, sister moon, brother sun, the
birds of the eld (Hardt and Negri 2000, 413; emphasis in the original).
Irreconcilable antagonisms are Negris poetics of the irrepressible lightness and joy of life.
They are produced by freeing what he assumes to be a state of dialectical equilibrium imposed on
them by the state. This poetics of antagonisms without resolution, however, is a reication of an
in-between-ness: the space between Kants antinomiesirreconcilable differencesand Mao
Zedongs (1977, 384 421) antagonistic contradictions. It is a space that rebels against its
own in-between-ness with an aggressive revolutionary vocabulary but remains at a permanent
halt. This is the hybrid re/de-territorialized space of the North Atlantic left in which dialectics
is at a standstill (Benjamin 1999, 457 88): the space of a radical tailism that, in a vocabulary
of rebellion, refusal, exodus, and strike, has always insisted on the spontaneity of the masses,
negated the necessity of a Marxist party and denied the signicance of class consciousness
(Illes 2000, 42 43).
In his analysis of materialism, Georg Lukacs (1971, 11) refers to thinkers who have sought to
ignore or show that social contradictions are surface phenomenon, unrelated to capitalism, by
either the thorough-going elimination of dialectics from proletarian science, or at best its critical renement. He then gives the exemplary case of Max Adlers (2012) interpretation of the
dialectics in which Adler, like Negri, reduces dialectical contradictions to mere antagonism.
Adlers dialectics-as-antagonism, Lukacs argues, simply asserts the existence of oppositions.
By reducing dialectics to antagonism, Lukacs (1971, 11) writes, the objective economic


T. L. Ebert and M. Zavarzadeh

antagonism as expressed in the class struggle evaporates, leaving only a conict between oppositions. Dialectics reduced to antagonism, means that neither the emergence of internal problems,
nor the collapse of capitalist society, can be seen as necessary. Moreover,

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. . . the central problem Max Adler tackles of the real dialectics or, better, antagonism is nothing but
one of the typical ideological forms of the capitalist social order. But whether capitalism is rendered
immortal on economic or on ideological grounds, whether with naive nonchalance, or with critical
renement is of little importance. Thus with the rejection or blurring of the dialectical method
history becomes unknowable. (Lukacs 1971, 11 12)

The displacing of dialectics in contemporary social theories of the North Atlantic left is done in
the name of accounting for, The nature of the radical leap that separates the earlier transformations from the present one (Moulier-Boutang 2011, 48). What is represented as unprecedented, however, is unprecedented only because it is treated as an event beyond the reach
of history by a void in timea time without time, what Negri calls kairo`s:
6.5 Kairo`s rests then in the eternal. Better still: kairo`s is the eternal that creates. This eternal is prior to
us, because it is at its edge that we create and that we augment being, that is to say, eternity. All that
kairo`s opens is eternal. And so we are at once responsible for eternity and for producing it.
7.1 If the before is eternal and the after is to-come, timein the arrow that constitutes itis the
immeasurableness of production between this before and this after. (Negri 2003, 167)

Although the immeasurable, Negri adds, is neither indenite, nor indeterminate, the
product of the expression of kairo`s is indeed always singular (the hcceitas) (Negri 2003, 167).
The singular, for the North Atlantic left, is the means for untying the dialectical through a
time without time, a leap into the immeasurable, and a reication of what is as a self-standing
positive antagonism that dees the negative. But the dialectical is the negation of the is-ness of
what is in the double temporalities of necessary and surplus labor time.
Notes on Contributors
Teresa L. Ebert is the author most recently of The Task of Cultural Critique as well as such books as Ludic
Feminism and After. Her essays have appeared in such journals as Rethinking Marxism, Cultural Critique,
Textual Practice, Womens Review of Books and College English. She is professor of cultural theory at the
University at Albany, State University of New York. Teresa L. Ebert and Masud Zavarzadeh are co-authors
of Class in Culture and the forthcoming Marxism and the Work of (Post) Humanities.
Masud Zavarzadeh has written on Marxist theory, contemporary critical thought and capitalism. He is the
author of Seeing Films Politically, The Mythopoeic Reality and The Class Imperative. He has taught at a
number of universities, including Syracuse University in New York. Teresa L. Ebert and Masud Zavarzadeh
are co-authors of Class in Culture and the forthcoming Marxism and the Work of (Post) Humanities.

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