The Black Winding-Sheet: On Labor, Meat, and Form

[this is the text of the talk I gave in Zagreb recently.  Audio is available here, but given that I was having one of those days in which I speak far too quickly, it's perhaps better read than heard.  Large parts of this have appeared here previously, as they were in the process of getting folded into what became this text (and a longer work in process on substance and form), which aims to draw a red thread through them and, in so doing, revisits a number of my ongoing preoccupations.  The text largely sets its own ground, but it's worth framing this as part of a general attempt to develop a theory of communist pessimism.  

This is perhaps similar to the arguments about hostile objects, in which the concern was to move from the seeming hyperbolic figure of a "built world of hatred and spent time" to a demonstration that such a thing is far closer to a correct capture of our world than a fantastic and overextended description of how it might feel.  As in that instance, my point is not that we should paint political economy or political analysis in gore-smirched tones to ramp it up.  It's that a palette that leans heavily toward the black and red end of the color spectrum is far more likely to give some sense of the mechanisms and relations at stake.  The generic parceling off of such appearance and tropes into something called horror is a distancing mechanism, transposing the everyday into more safely delineated shapes that have things like fangs and knives.  

The point is, therefore, not to illustrate communist theory with Grand Guignol tricks.  It's to understand that dark times call for dark theses.  It's to try to become unlike ourselves, to not flee toward the vacancy of the other direction.

And I think a single image will suffice to visually frame this...]

Recently, a British woman was arrested for theft. She had taken spoiling food – primarily meat, specifically ham – thrown out by a Tesco supermarket after a power outage. After her arrest, Mrs. Hall said: "Tesco clearly did not want the food. They dumped it and rather than see it go to waste, I thought I could help feed me and my family for a week or two." However, in the case of Hall and Tesco, the shop said the contents of the bin belonged to them, even though it had been tossed out. And, we should note, Tesco has stated that they work to "minimise waste and where possible will seek to reuse and recycle it.” Of their green measures, most notable is the fact that every year, they send thousands of pounds of leftover meat to be burned for electricity.

Unsurprisingly, property – as relation – is thicker than hunger – as caloric need. And the material fact of having been discarded isn't enough. As a property lawyer commented on the case, "It isn't enough to throw it out. One needs to intend to abandon it.” Although this is wrong, as intention alone won't cover it. It is owned straight through the process of decomposition, until the ham goes green and liquifies, until it pools in a sludge at the bottom of the bin, seeping a bit out into the street on which there are bodies that have little meat and less work. That declaration of property and potential valorization is a form that clings to its object beyond any transformation of matter, barring one: only exchange (only M-C), an exchange between two parties, can affect this belonging. Without circulation, it cannot go properly unowned, even as it goes unvalued, wet and reeking. There is a tie that binds beyond the weave of sarcomere.

All the more as it does not rot but burns: not charred on a grill, not consumed in the furnace of a body, but burned plain and simple. Like the raising of food to be eaten by those who could work, this is caloric expenditure in the name of productive energy, yet without having to route back through living labor and all its complaints and requests. Just straight back into circulation, maintenance, upkeep, and reproduction. Into the electrical circuits, for example, that keep the Tesco lights burning white, to bathe the rest of the unbought meat as if in blue milk, where it waits to be burned and never to be disowned.
It's there, this triangulation between 

1) the rotting ham, letting loose caloric energy into an inedible puddle, between 2) her attempt to feed herself and her family, to take in calories in order to keep living, thereby requiring more activity to be undertaken to gather more calories, and between 3) the next batch of meat to come, which will require energy and exertion to maintain it, to get it turned into money, and perhaps energy, before it is fully devalorized,

that I want to address. For the sake of clarity, I'm addressing only a single text at length, namely Marx's 1857-1858 notebooks gathered as the Grundrisse. I'm not interested, in the least, of proving, disproving, or insisting that we need to “go back to”, Marx. Only that the hot mess that is the Grundrisse, inconsistent, wild, and provocative as it remains, is the occasion for these thoughts, although they bear beyond it.

To add a specific framing of my target to the one I share with Ben, it is that tendency which understands our living labor as an originary vital force of praxis and material transformation hemmed in, restrained, and dominated by the form of the wage relation, yet which remains always in excess to it, a boundless potential bent and pent up by the chronometrics and abstractions of value. As my title indicates, I'll approach this via three main notions: labor, form, and meat (or substance, in the less nekro version). As will become clear, I'm not engaging substantivelty with vitalism as a philosophical tradition. I am countering a set of notions that still, after all these years, after all this blithering idiocy we call the last three centuries, want to valorize labor as something worth doing and life something worth dying for.

Let us get back to meat, to a footnote late in the Grundrisse.

"In regard to the reproduction phase (especially circulation time), note that use value itself places limits upon it. Wheat must be reproduced in a year. Perishable things like milk etc. must be reproduced more often. Meat on the hoof does not need to reproduced quite so often, since the animal is alive and hence resists time; but slaughtered meat on the market has to be reproduced in the form of money in the very short time, or it rots."
To be alive - meat on the hoof, rather than just meat (in-itself, if you wish) - is to resist time. To reproduce oneself, as a continuation of a life, is to stave off another reproduction, a reproduction that will liquify frozen form. Rot being the failure of circulation, just as much as not decomposing (i.e. the frozen hoard) would be, in that it isn't a reproduction, transposition, and accumulation, through intitial decomposition, of the value bound in one form into another. Money, of course, is just such a correct liquidation, the necessary one: it's the universal commodity that bridges decomposition and recomposition. More prosaically, it's just a way to keep said meat animated after the fact, to recoup its loss and recuperate its supposed generative potential, via

1. The preservation of the meat: money exchanged for refrigeration, workers to make sure no one shoplifts a rack of beef, butchers to cut into smaller pieces
2. The monetary consumption of the meat: the cash exchanged before the point of no return (the "sell by date"), the meat as a vector or medium for other activities involving money (unwaged work of cooking, energy bought to grill it up)
3. [optional] The physical consumption of the meat: the caloric energy frozen in that meat is processed, albeit by an initial caloric expenditure of chewing and cutting, and thereby reproduces the potential labor-power of the eater. If unused, it will gather in convenient storage units around the thighs and belly.
4. [optional] The application of the meat: that caloric energy gets used by the one who ate it, thereby joining the ex-life of the meat with the life of the human "meat on the hoof" busy resisting time and rot.

As marked by the optional status of the last two, the mode of the meat's destruction is utterly irrelevant, provided that the first two conditions occur. It's "supposed" to get plowed back into circulation not just as money but also as caloric input into the reproduction of a body, preferably one that might do some work. But it does not matter. Only that it has been reproduced. That is to say, utterly transformed.

It might seem, then, that "we" humans are the exception here, not only because we are the source of value. Rather, because we are, in general, they whose reproduction requires a preservation of that existing thing in its distinct life and form (read: body able to sell labor-power, perhaps to actually expend some energy toward a hypothetically productive end, economic subject of getting paid, and point of transfer/proper name through which money flees back into the market). Would that it were so. Our reproduction, as subset of the circulation and accumulation of capital, cares not a whit about the preservation of these specific things, these individual bodies we are.

No: what matters is only the perpetuation of the life of these things in general. That's the core of the difference between living labor and labor-power: it is always a distinct I who does the laboring, but what is exchanged is labor-power as such, in a prescribed duration of time. This is a key difference to be stressed and clarified. As David Harvey puts it,

There is, in Marx’s theory, therefore, a vital distinction between labor and labor power. ‘labor,” Marx asserts, ‘is the substance, and the immanent measure of value, but has itself no value.’... What the laborer sells to the capitalist is not labor (the substance of value) but labor power – the capacity to realize in commodity form a certain quantity of socially necessary labor time.” (from Limits to Capital, 23)

[I want to mark this reference to the “substance of value” now, because one of my points is to consider the variegation and overdetermination of this substance.]

But if the point drawn out is the gap between the labor performed (a quantity of that universal measure) and the capacity to generate value, this gives a certain optic onto the strength of the historical workers movement, in its apexes and nadirs: namely, in the degree to which it tried to insist on the inseparability of these two things, insisting that labor-power not be understood via a general calculation of the factory's total hours of socially necessary potential surplus-labor but in terms of the concrete labor, the conditions and length of the working days, and the caloric-social requirements of these specific laborers. This is short, to tie labor to the lives of distinct instances of the working class, not the life of the working class – and all those else without reserves – as aggregate.

Yet this direction of the workers movement produced, in its very success (putting the brakes on the continued extension of the working day and thereby absolute surplus value), a major stumbling block: in binding the calculation of the wage to the costs of reproducing those individual workers (and, in certain periods [say, in the US and continental Europe, from the mid-19th century until the 1960s] generally including their wives and children as part of that cost), it forfeited the possibility of a more equivalent and ultimately disruptive caloric calculation. Namely, between the living labor expended and the total costs of the reproduction of that labor power (which, necessarily, includes 1. the continued existence of those who are not employed, as downward pressure on the wage, and 2. the continued existence of those who literally reproduce the species and frequently wipe its asses, namely, women). Such that in insisting on the rights of workers, it necessarily accepted a far lower amount of remuneration than requisite for the continued life of the class.

 This isn’t to assert a counter-factual or that to venture that it was historically “possible” to do so, although given the counter-public sphere emerging in the worker’s clubs, self-organized class welfare, and the union in its widest incarnation of the industrial and Fordist period, we can nevertheless glimpse a different trajectory that, in fact, would demands wages for the class as a whole (or of a region or company), rather than for individual workers, an amount that can only be higher than a tally of the plausible wages of those actually employed. 

[Such a notion was posed, briefly, in the theoretical output of the Italian long 70s, in the social wage, although ultimately, their obsession with the wage did not serve them well, particularly since what I describe is compelling only insofar as it would be intended to rupture the very category of the wage by the impossibility of this demand, not extend it wider.]

Clearly, none of this came to pass, and therein the disavowal, on the part of the workers movement, of the necessary function for capital of those who do not work and who merely “are alive”: by not focusing on their cause, as part of the calculation of the wage, the workers movement could not adequately conceive of the total costs of reproduction of life, of value, and of the gray areas in between.

However, the impetus remained initially correct for a system in which there are not slaves (i.e. workers as fixed capital). And despite the attempts to yoke together labor-power (as a form in time) with the expendable capacity to work of those who did, or to join together a laboring life with living labor as a mass of exertion irrespective of the divisions of this or that body, it remains a real, structuring separation.

Unlike, say, a bandsaw in factory, which indeed aids in the production of value and the circulation of capital. Yet insofar as it is reproduced/maintained (with electricity, new parts, and living labor poured through it), it is in the name of this particular bandsaw continuing to work and do its job. Because it has already been bought in full, it is in the interest of its owner that this very distinct instantiation of the category of bandsaw keep functioning, as long as it performs competitively. It must, therefore, be cared for. (To telescope, from the the general perspective of capital, though, the sooner it busts, the better.)

I want to pause here, on this saw, and its relation to those who use or get used by it, to mark briefly the relation to automation. This is a far longer account that could be given, but it retains its shape in a sketch. Namely, in my reading of Capital, one born out elsewhere, in the long account given of the development of the full “machinic assemblage” of the factory, Marx lays out out how, initially and in line with formal subsumption, the technology employed was that which didn't fundamentally disrupt the flows of handicraft. It mimed that manual work, an equivalent tool/productive organ to machine of worker + tool, such that the worker still functioned as the “transmission mechanism” and “the motive force”, the latter of which to be quickly replaced by the “Promethean” power of steam and coal behind it. 

It is an imitation of labor: once set it motion, the machine “performs with its tools the same operations as the worker formerly did with similar tools.” Yet as more complex factory flows developed, which distanced further from an organization of bodies and materials inherited from craft production, the “similar tool” in question comes to be the laborer herelf, inserted into the machinic process as if mere implement, the pace and rhythm of labor time forced into accordance with that set by the factory. What this means, in short, is that living labor comes to imitate the machine, to ape its speed and patterns. Given that the machine was, first and foremost, an imitation of living labor, factory work is, it turns out, an imitation of an imitation of living labor.

In my immediate context, it is the general dynamic that's of particular interest, in which a form of structuring productive time emerges first as a description and imitation of a set of material processes, yet does not remain a labile, recalibrating capture adequate to the heterogeneous material falling beneath its sign. Rather, it unfolds its own formal logic, becoming instead into a structuring abstraction, such that, in this case, machinic labor comes to ape the working of machines that, in their initial incarnation, aped these relatively skilled humans.
In the present context, there are two versions of “giving form” to be brought out, versions which ultimately cannot be separated, least of all into an opposition of active and passive. First, in a rather infamous turn of phrase: “labor is the living, form-giving fire; it is the transitoriness of things, their temporality, as their formation by living time.” (361) Accounts concerned to locate a liberatory potential in the liberation of labor from the constraints of value find much ammo here, as it accords with a general sense of the creative potential to remake the world in our image, such that “all” it would take is to turn productive apparatuses off their current course and into fluid, “nomadic,” experimental applications of our never-fully exhausted capacity to give form in time.

Second: “labor also is consumed by being employed, set into motion, and a certain amount of the worker's muscular force etc. is thus expended, so that he exhausts himself. But labor is not only consumed, but also at the same time fixed, converted from the form of activity into the form of the object; materialized; as a modification of the object, it modifies its own form and changes from activity to being.” (300) This description, of the development of the product as frozen concretion, is not opposed to the first formal mode of labor, insofar as it represents a turn of the dialectical screw and insofar as it gives backing to that line of argument which understand the first mode as primary or originary, falsely captured by the commodity form and its material output.

However, there is, in Marx, another way to grasp the emergence of form that comes closer to articulating the fundamental tendency of what Sohn-Rethel understood as “real abstraction”. Take the rather notorious example from The Poverty of Philosophy. Marx writes, “Time is everything, man is nothing; he is, at the most, time's carcass.” This appears, initially, as just a conveniently catastrophic metaphor. However, two relevant interpretations.

1. In the loosest and more standard interpretation, that takes it primarily as a ramped up modifer of the preceding sentence concerning how “one man during an hour is worth just as much as another man during an hour,” man is “time’s carcass” in that man’s specificity is killed, leaving man a carcass animated by value and made to labor, simply a material unit of potential activity subordinated to labor time. Man is as if dead labor.

2. If we recall the particular dialectic of form and content in Marx, we approach a different perspective. The active development, via the laboring of man as labor power (the content) produces the material conditions for labor time (the form). However, the perversity of capital is that this form does not remain adequate to its content. It becomes divorced from it and increasingly autonomous. But this is not the story of a form that simply takes leave from its content and “becomes everything,” merely dominant. Rather, it comes to determine the content in a relentless passage back and forth, to force it to accord with the divorced development of that form, such that any opposition between form and content becomes increasingly incoherent. As such, man is time’s carcass in that labor power is valued only in accordance with its form: it is that formal relation of exchange, fully developed into the general equivalence of value, alone which is of worth. Man, as that which labor, as the material grounding of that form, is a husk dominated by an abstraction with no single inventor. Form fully reenters and occupies the content as if it were dead matter, rendering it incapable of generating further adequate forms. And when it is productive to do so, time makes those bones dance.

Very well: what of that carcass? What of this substance? As mentioned previously, and throughout Marx's work, the most common notion of the “substance of value” is labor (as unspecified living or objectified): the most general substance which, in terms of labor time, forms the measure of all value. Substance is an unruly and slippery notion in Marx's thought, though: consider elsewhere in the Grundrisse, where money is both Gemeinswesen (real community) and the “general substance of survival” (225). More widely, substance is, I'd argue, one of the ways that Marx is able to think through an impasse in thought, an impasse that gives fundamental shape to the relations of capital: how are we to square capital's indifference to particular material form while nevertheless producing a set of limits and strictures in which the range of formal expressions of matter are, on the one hand, radically heterogeneous and, on the other, utterly interchangeable? Substance is the subtending that allows this emergence and flattening, the realm of formal potential and potential forms.

In the Grundrisse, though, there are two notions of substance raised powerfully. First, there is:

The communal substance of all commodities, i.e. their substance not as material stuff, as physical character, but their communal substance as commodities and hence exchange values, is this, that they are objectified labor.” (271-272)

While the determination is not material, and their character not physical (because it is the quality of being past labor, hence a temporal fact of a duration of once-labor persisting into the present), it appears in that present as as “present in space,” as opposed to living labor which is “present in time.” Space-time turns out to be, then, just degrees of living labor. However, labor – in the present – cannot sustain itself untethered from something that lives, for it must be present not as a mass of labor (that would be objectified/dead labor) but as a present capacity:

If it is to be present in time, alive, then it can be present only as the living subject, in which it exits as a capacity, as possibility; hence as worker.” (272)

Immediately, though, this raises the prospect of another substance: the one that makes up that worker in question, who is, at first glance, not exactly just an accretion of labor. There is, then, a second general substance:

For the use value which he offers exists only as an ability, a capacity of his bodily existence; has no existence apart from that. The labor objectified in that use value is the objectified labor necessary bodily to maintain not only the general substance in which his labor power exists, i.e. the worker himself, but also that required to modify this general substance so as to develop its particular capacity.” (282-283)

The second substance at hand is that of the flesh and bones of the worker, quite literally: the bodily frame that is the medium, matter, and basic content to be developed/shape/betrayed by the specific forms living labor takes. However, we should account for the precise relationship between these two substances, and this is an aspect that I've yet to make explicit. Namely, that the real purpose of living labor is to preserve, maintain, and animate the dead, or objectified/past living labor, that absorbs it. Living labor is employed in that race against time and rot. For left alone, objectified living labor is a “mere thing at the prey of processes of chemical decay.” In a crucial passage:

The dissolution to which its substance [here meaning literal material that can decay] is prey therefore dissolves the form [material form, and, in this case, form of value value] as well. However, when they are posited as conditions of living labor, they are themselves reanimated. Objectified labor ceases to exist in a dead state as an external, indifferent form on the substance, because it is itself again posited as a moment of living labor.” (360)

The point, then, is not merely that living labor reawakens the value embedded in objectified labor (as raw materials and instruments of production which transfer value across the duration of their use or consumption): that is, not just a relation of present labor toward past labor. It goes in the other direction as well, as objectified labor is posited, materially, as a “moment of living labor.” Elsewhere, Marx speaks of this as the “living quality of preserving objectified labor time by using it as the objective condition of living labor in the production process” (364). In short, the condition of living labor, which “preserves the material in a definite form, and subjugates the transformation of the material to the purpose of labor,” is that dead labor as such. So while living labor “add a new value to the old one, maintains, eternizes it” (365), it is far from a unidirectional process. Rather, there is a total collapse of the dividing wall between the two zones: the process of production is an indistinct muddling of living and dead labor.

What I want to propose is that we can start to venture a third general substance, between that of the worker (that baseline of literal flesh) and that of value (i.e. the product of already objectified living labor). This third general substance, which is the meat of my argument, is the terrain of living labor as the impossible mediation – a relation, formalized in the shape of labor-power – between the two. It is, in short, the expenditure of life in the name of holding off the rotting of life already spent. It is an immanent relation, with an increasingly blurry line, of living labor to itself in two modes: objectified and present. It incorporates, at once, those two other general substances: the reproducing bodies of the working class and the materially fixed remainders of past labor which needs constant reproduction, in terms of a) maintenance, b) living labor as transmission mechanism and source of surplus value, or c) complete transfer of value across an extended period of production.

[Let me note quickly that this is not just a problem for meat theorists: it also represents a difficulty for political economy, in the calculation of the value composition of capital. Namely, at what point in the production cycle do you stop considering living labor – with its rate of surplus-value – living? As these two charts borrowed from Harvey's Limits to Capital show, we get a very different portrait of the composition [fixed vs. relative capital] if a commodity is produced entirely in one plant as opposed to passing between industries.]

Here we can double back around toward some crucial general positions.
  1. Recall first that what is particular about the generative power of living labor is not that it produces more use-values, or that it bears any resemblance other than coincidence to the production of materials that would help it live. The point of living labor is that it produces surplus value. As such, when considered in terms of this third general substance (that is, living labor as a total medium, in the present but including the full range of accreted values and labor required presently to reawaken them), we gain a very different portrait of living labor, that cuts against the dominant fantasy of it as a generative potential to be freed from the regime of value. Namely, it is living labor not because it is active, and not because those who labor are living. It is because it makes what is already dead almost live again.

  1. Of course, this substance involves things that seem – at least politically and juridically – very different: living human beings and “dead” non-human material.
And it is there we see just how they relate, and the inversion of care for those things. For while it matters that the objectified living labor already present in the factory be maintained in its particularity (this machine, this pile of once living labor, in which capital is already invested), for living laborers, this is flatly not the case, from either a local or system-wide perspective. It is of no grand importance if a particular one breaks down, and it just slows down circulation to have to keep it running (via the insistence of political pressures to keep manufacturing at home, via the rarer insistence of other workers to strike if this busted one is not given a modicum of attention or remuneration). Especially when there are new, cheaper models elsewhere (read: Asia, Latin America, the global South). What matters is the reproduction of labor-power in general, both in its local instance (the labor pool in a particular zone) and in its global scale (the hypothetically employable portion of the species). So while it demands there be particular workers (obviously, there can be no such thing as labor-power, and hence no surplus labor, without laborers), it is opposed, violently, to them in their particularity.

Instead, it is only in the name of that human in general. And in a very, very perverse analogue to the incorrect demand that communism be the flowering of the universal or the common, the reproduction and requirement of living labor is in the name of a) past life of the collective [the maintenance and remobilization of a mass of living labor already past but not gone], and b) life to come [ the general expansion of the ranks of the species, I.e things that could contribute living labor],

But it is directly – and far from accidentally – opposed to the upkeep of the individual humans who make up part of the species that labors productively, and it is opposed to the continued animation of the individual humans that make up the other part that does not produce value. All this is to say, living labor is literally, not figuratively, opposed to particular lives. Unfortunate, then, that we know no other way to live. For it is in the name only of a generalized life, a substance that is, ultimately, like our meat, off the hoof but not yet off the hook, required to keep hustling.

So if there is any “life” to speak of here, it is first and foremost surplus-life: too much of it, and incapable, coerced, badgered into keeping itself still fresh, in pretending that it, like that bin of ham, could still be sold. I've written about this elsewhere, in a context I don't particularly want to breach today, namely, films of the undead, specifically about zombies, for the basic reason that I'm sick of that topic. But the structural condition I detected in those films remains relevant. That is, what drives especially the genre-founding films of George Romero isn't that the dead suddenly come back to life, nor is it that all that have ever died stand up, a rather literally earth-shattering prospect. Rather, there is an unnoticed event that effects the totality, that brings about a new general state of affairs, after which the living will not stay dead, cannot truly die. In short, the fundamental problem of the films is that of surplus-life, not the living dead. It is the conatus gone haywire.
The connection more broadly with horror as a genre and mode, particularly when concerned around the practice and figure of the economic misuse of the body, deserves two further points.

  1. The strongest versions of labor horror have not been those openly focused on the contradictions and brutality of capital as such: they have either been allied to state socialism (Platonov, Pilnyak, Müller), to mechanized warfare (Walter Owen's criminally underread Cross of Carl, in which a British man left dead on the battlefields is bundled up to be salvaged in a rendering plant that will plow the dead back into the war effort; elsewhere, David Jones' In Parenthesis, Kurzio Malaparte), or “technology” as a self-determining force of domination (a good half of robot and cyborg oriented horror, Tobe Hooper's The Mangler). The full hostility of dead labor, in films from the heart of developed capitalism, have been best articulated in slapstick (see here Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill, Jr.) or, and this is my temporary focus today, on the figure of the cannibal or the butcher (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for instance, in which they find a creative solution to three things at once, a meat shortage, an influx of lost teens, and the loss of their jobs.)
  2. However,what's at stake in this horror of the cannibal is not so much disgust, in Baumgarten's sense, of the proximity and incorporation into the body of the excresent or dead, and still less some violation of a fundamental taboo. Rather, it is in the thought that one's dead body will not be given the chance to simply rot away, to finally sever itself from the third substance. Instead, it will contribute to the reproduction – calorically, and potentially in terms of monetary exchange – of the species and the capital relation.
It's for this reason I've spoken of meat. For as opposed to flesh, meat designates that which is not alive, yet which is destined, or intended, to participate in the reproduction of life: it is to be consumed. More than that, the word is linked etymologically to the notion of measure: it is, in this way, the general substance of labor living and lived, in various degrees of animation, across which our time is splayed out. We're part of an order of being in which it is neither the reproduction of what resists time nor the suspended pseudo-animation of that poised between rot or money: rather, it is the continual reproduction of slaughtered meat.

Regarding the “political stakes,” I want to buck the natural progression of this kind of argument in which I would give some prescription for communist thought, or, far worse, for “the left.” I won't do that, in part because I doubt that a unified meat theory is unlikely to find much popular support, in part because the conclusions that follow, I believe, point not to how we'd like things to go but to a central blockage of our epoch. As such, it resists prescription.

In this sense, then, the “political” upshot of my comments can be only that it's high time to further sever the ties between labor and communist thought. Not because those who work are remotely excluded from real struggles of seizure and appropriation. Rather, because insofar as communism bears a relationship and commitment to any sense of “life” that isn't merely plowed back into circuits of reproduction, it bears it to a fully contradictory life that insists on the end products of the labor relation - we want food, we want roofs, we want medicine – yet which refuses to play the dwindling game of living labor. It is the imposition of communist measures, not because they are theoretically correct, but because other measures show themselves to be voided of adequacy and effectivity, capable only of replicating the very bonds that necessitate such a severing to start. Whatever we mean by communism certainly won't be a new mode of production, and not a new society either. The only sure thing is that it will be very messy.

I want to end elsewhere, though, further back in the 19th century than the Grundrisse, with Byron's “Song to the Luddites,” sent in a letter to Thomas Moore on December 24, 1816:

. . . Are you not near the Luddites? By the Lord! If there's a row, but I'll be among ye! How go on the weavers--the breakers of frames--the Lutherans of politics--the reformers?
As the Liberty lads o'er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!

When the web that we weave is complete,
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,
We will fling the winding-sheet
O'er the despot at our feet,
And dye it deep in the gore he has pour'd.

Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud,
Yet this is the dew
Which the tree shall renew
Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!

Of course, if we read with a close eye, what is the actual horror here? It's the slipping hinge between "the gore he has pour'd" and the "black" heart of the machine/despot, with its "veins corrupted to mud."
That is, the dyeing of the shroud - black - is done in the gore already spilled (read: that of lives destroyed in the course of being employed as living labor), not in that of the slain master. The shroud is not oil-slicked. No, it is dyed in the dying that had been happening, such that even at the point of the despot/machine's death, it lies cloaked in the winding-sheet that was the very product it made all along. From absorption of labor power, in the name of production, to the sopping up of life lost, in the name of the mocking burial of what never lived.
But if it is not its blood but our own in which it is dyed, then we too must have those same black hearts (“Though black as his heart is its hue”), that busted pump that shoves our cheap gore around worked veins, the same general flesh of labor. To truly exchange shuttle for swords, we lay ourselves down next to the slain machine, pulling the wet shroud over us all, tuck us all in, and open a vein.

Let the living bury themselves as, and with, their dead.

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