Unequal development

One of the brilliant insights of Marx is that unequal development or the struggle of workers is not accidental to capitalism but essential to its composition. Given Marx’s indebtedness to Hegel we might understand this in dialectical terms; that is, that any given term shows a perpetual tendency to pass into its opposite. The dialectical, in other words, reveals the inherent self-contradiction to any abstract proposition of understanding. According to Žižek, we might also call this a parallax view. A parallax view is one in which two opposing terms are in all actuality inherent to a larger whole that encompasses them both. Or, what is the same, they are separated by a minimal difference or gap. Jastrow’s Duck-Rabbit and the Moebius strip are both prime examples of expressing an incommensurable dialectic of two terms that are excruciating close yet never touch; such is the antagonism between labor and capital. To recap briefly, from a proper Hegelian perspective, one subverts the standard given-ness of a concept by means of redoubling its hidden counterpoint.

Returning to the issue of capitalism, and following the trajectory of Hegelian dialectics, we can add that the difference and independence of unequal development in no way compromises the integrity of the capitalist world market. Or, as Deleuze and Guattari have argued in A Thousand Plateaus, “[C]entral capitalism needs the periphery constituted by the Third World, where it locates a large part of its most modern industries. It does not just invest capital in these industries, but is also furnished with capital by them” (p. 465). To be sure, and it goes without saying, this shows a strong resemblance to the “old colonialism.” As the authors go on to argue, the so-called First World States necessarily require the so-called Third World States in order to subsist as they do. In brief, the marginal Third Worlds are partially organized and completely inseparable from “the States of the center.” According to Deleuze and Guattari, they provide “a substitute for colonization” (ibid.).

More insightful, I think, is their formulation of designating peripheral worlds inside the center. And again, this unequal exchange is not accidental or incidental but indispensable to the functioning of capitalism. As the authors put it, “And the States of the center deal not only with the Third World, each of them has not only an external Third World, but there are internal Third Worlds that rise up within them and work them from the inside” (p. 468). To be more precise, these “peripheral zones of underdevelopment inside the center” include masses that “are abandoned to erratic work (subcontracting, temporary work, or work in the underground economy)” (p. 469).

Deleuze, for one, has a long history of thinking difference itself; that is, difference that is irreducible to a predetermining identity. To put it in the simplest possible terms, all self-contained identities and stable systems presuppose unstable and unstructured differences. Otherwise put, “both chaos and cosmos are reciprocally presupposed” (Jeffrey Bell, Philosophy at the Edge of Chaos, p. 34). In this sense, Deleuze (and Guattari) are in line with the Kantian transcendental project of determining the limits or conditions whereby new beings or identities emerge and come to be. However, they diverge from Kant insofar as they do not fabricate predetermined and permanent identities. Deleuze and Guattari also share a strong affinity with Hegel. Like Hegel, they have a proclivity for thinking the uncommon and novel as parts subordinate to the whole system (what Hegel refers to as the Notion or Spirit). That is to say, there is nothing truly other. However, the open system of Deleuze and Guattari is in contradistinction to Hegel’s system that is closed and complete. As Bell repeatedly puts it, the dynamic system of Deleuze and Guattari is one at the edge of chaos.

Returning to A Thousand Plateaus we may once again consider the intrinsic coexistence of disparate parts in capitalism. At the manifest level it appears that capitalism tends towards the homogenization of social formations. This is, however, only partially accurate according to Deleuze and Guattari. There is, of course, one capitalist world market, but it is one “in which even the so-called socialist countries participate” (p. 436). It’s an economy in which even noncapitalist States are integrated. Rather than use the word homogeneity to describe the international capitalist axiomatic, the authors prefer the term isomorphy to explain the international economic relations between heterogeneous social formations as diverse as democratic, totalitarian, and, especially, “socialist” States. Moreover, to continue the trajectory begun earlier, the capitalist international organization “continues to imply a heterogeneity of social formations” especially as “it gives rise to and organizes its ‘Third World’” (p. 441).

From this standpoint it might appear that capitalism could do without the State altogether, but again this is only partially true. Rather than abandon nation-states, the capitalist axiomatic redeploys the State in a different capacity: that of policing the economy to keep capital circulating. States, in other words, come to serve capitalism. “Each of them [States] groups together and combines several sectors, according to its resources, population, wealth, industrial capacity, etc. Thus the States in capitalism, are not canceled out but change form and take on a new meaning: models of realization for a worldwide axiomatic that exceeds them” (p. 454). No doubt, enormous multinational organizations are more powerful than most States and go untouched by governmental decisions. Moreover, there is no privileged State in the capitalist world market. Although it would be inaccurate to consider all States as interchangeable, as Deleuze and Guattari put it, all of them are complimentarily dispersed and encompassed—from neocolonial tyrannies to Western democracies.

As a final and sobering note, capitalism is something we are born into. Given its universal cosmopolite capitalism is preestablished in the sense that singular actors only ever fill positions that are already created.

From a standpoint within the capitalist mode of production, it is very difficult to say who is the thief and who the victim, or even where the violence resides. That is because the worker is born entirely naked and the capitalist objectively “clothed,” an independent owner. That which gave the worker and the capitalist this form eludes us because it operated in other modes of production. It is a violence that posits itself as preaccomplished, even though it is reactivated every day. This is the place to say it, if ever there was one: the mutilation is prior, preestablished (p. 447)

Given this thought, no doubt, it would be indefensible to blame greedy business elites for socio-political ills. As the case with BP, we all share in the responsibility for demanding cheap accessible oil.


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