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universal history of contingency Arrow vol 2 no 3 contents
About borderlands Volume 2 Number 3, 2003


A Universal History of Contingency:
Deleuze and Guattari on the History of Capitalism

Jason Read
University of Southern Maine


It would be a mistake to read Anti-Oedipus as the new theoretical reference (you know, that much heralded theory that finally encompasses everything, that finally totalizes and reassures, the one that we are told we 'need so badly' in our age of dispersion and specialization where 'hope' is lacking). One must not look for a 'philosophy' amid the extraordinary profusion of new notions and surprise concepts: Anti-Oedipus is not a flashy Hegel.

—Michel Foucault (1983)


1. One of the difficult characteristics of the writing of Gilles Deleuze, alone and in collaboration with Félix Guattari, is, in Deleuze's terms, its extremely "untimely" nature. Philosophical and theoretical positions that have generally been abandoned or rendered untenable by the passage of time are advocated by Deleuze and Guattari only to be subsequently twisted so as to be rendered unrecognizable. There are multiple specific examples of this: the turn to vitalism, to naturalism, or to pre-critical philosophical positions, but more generally it is possible to say that Deleuze and Guattari write as if the general breakdown of the lofty aspirations of philosophy, the critique of metaphysics and of the systematizing pretensions of philosophy, had not happened. Or do they? Even as Deleuze and Guattari seem to produce a metaphysics and even a cosmology that encompasses everything from the geological history of the earth to the contemporary technological and political transformations of capital they do so with such a perverse humor that it is impossible to assume what is at stake in such writing. Is this simply the worst sort of totalizing metaphysical philosophizing, or is it all just some sort of joke? Or is something altogether different happening - another practice of philosophy, that is neither a return of the grand systematic aspirations of philosophy nor the dismantling of it?

2. Perhaps the most perplexing philosophical position that Deleuze and Guattari assume is the invocation of universal history throughout the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Universal history would seem to be a mode of practicing philosophy incapable of being redeemed today. Has not universal history been exposed as, at best the fantasy of armchair historians and, at worst the apology for western imperialism? Yet Deleuze and Guattari insist on rewriting universal history. This rewriting of universal history is animated by questions which have been adopted from Marx, or Marxist history; namely, they are the question of the origin and formation of capitalism, its specific difference with respect to previous economic forms, or modes of production, and the relation of the formation of capital to the formation of the state. While Deleuze and Guattari pose and examine these questions which have been the bread and butter of Marxist theorizing they inflict them with an emphasis of a question which is somewhat novel - the examination of the relationship between the transformations of the mode of production and the production of subjectivity. In other words, Deleuze and Guattari ask the question: what sort of subject (what sort of desires and beliefs) does capital, or each of the other modes of production, require? How is this subject produced? What sort of limits or resistances does this production come up against? And, ultimately, what are the conditions for a different production, for new ways of living and desiring? It is this series of questions, questions which lead in the direction of what Foucault called a "historical ontology of ourselves" that end up having transformative effects on the more established 'Marxist" questions. Rather than see the universal history, a history of epochs of civilization or modes of production, and genealogy, a history of desires and subjectivity, as fundamentally opposed projects and perspectives, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that they are necessarily intertwined. The central (and not so central) questions of Marxist history and philosophy are engaged throughout Deleuze and Guattari's writing, but their sense and meaning has been fundamentally rewritten in light of the question of desire, of the generation and corruption of different forms of subjectivity.

3. The specific form that the borrowing of these questions take, as well as the texts and modes of inquiry chosen to respond to them, vary in each of Deleuze and Guattari's collaborative efforts, from the re-reading of the relationship between Marxism and anthropology in Anti-Oedipus to the use of the work of Fernand Braudel to construct a "geophilosophy" in What is Philosophy?, constituting something of a minor intellectual history in itself. Within this trajectory there are, however, several constant themes, most notably in Anti-Oedipus. Deleuze and Guattari announce against Hegel that "universal history is the history of contingencies, and not the history of necessity." This meditation on the contingent and the event runs throughout their writing on history (AO 140/163). It would seem that such an announcement would run against Marx as well, against the comprehension of history as the universal, necessary, and teleological passage from one mode of production to another culminating in communism (whether governed by class struggle or the conflict between the forces and relations of production as the determining instance). The gulf that separates Deleuze and Guattari's sense of history and Marx would appear to deepen as they add that universal history is "retrospective, …contingent, singular, ironic, and critical" (AO 140/164). In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari argue, however, that in thinking history as a series of singular encounters and accidents they are following exactly "the rules formulated by Marx." Moreover, in Anti-Oedipus, a text that I will argue sets down the basic problems and terms of Deleuze and Guattari's reflections on "universal history," they proceed through a reading of Marx's notebooks posthumously titled "Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations" [Formen, die der kapitalistischen Produktion vorhergehen] in the Grundrisse. In this regard Anti-Oedipus is more important for understanding the relationship of Deleuze and Guattari to Marx than A Thousand Plateaus (which is not to suggest that Marx, or an engagement with a Marxist conception of history entirely disappears from the later text - in fact, the discussion of capital in terms of the difference of code and axioms is one of the few things which persists in the later volume). Thus, the initial question provoked by Deleuze and Guattari's "untimely" return to universal history, a question of how to read such an invocation, ultimately becomes a question of how to read Marx as well. Reading Marx not for the necessity, universality, and dry seriousness that we are told awaits us there, but for contingency, singularity, and a critical sense of irony. For Deleuze and Guattari the name Marx and the texts of Marx do not constitute the invocation of proper pedigree, but rather are subject to selection, transformation, and ultimately the production of something new.


4. In Anti-Oedipus the selection of "Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations" as a central text of their engagement with Marx would already seem to locate Deleuze and Guattari at the margins of Marx's thought. They do not begin the problem of alienation, ideology, the labor theory of value, or commodity fetishism, problems or concepts that have a long history in Marxist social theory, but with the odd prehistory of capitalism. The text opens with a consideration of the basic historical preconditions and presuppositions of the capitalist mode of production, which are presented not as inevitable effects of the collapse of the previous (feudal) mode of production, but as something that is simply given. As Marx writes: "[Capital's] original formation [Urbildung] is that, through the historic process of the dissolution of the old mode of production, value existing as money-wealth is enabled, on one side to buy the objective conditions of labor; on the other side, to exchange money for the living labor of the workers who have been set free" (G 507/414). Of course this formulation could be understood as a historical shorthand, stressing the two fundamental elements of the capitalist mode of production, money and workers. In order for the capitalist mode of production to exist there must be, on the one hand, money that is no longer invested in land, and on the other, workers stripped of the means of production. What is emphasized in this text, however, is not the universality of the two constituent elements, but rather the singularity of the encounter. The conditions are necessary, but not sufficient to the formation of capital, as Marx demonstrates respect to the plebeians of ancient Rome:

Thus one fine morning there were to be found on the one hand free men stripped of everything except their labor power, and on the other, the owners of all the acquired wealth ready to exploit this labor. What happened? The Roman proletarians became not wage laborers but a mob of do-nothings more abject than those known as "poor whites" in the South of the United States, and alongside them there developed a mode of production which was not capitalist but based on slavery. Thus events strikingly analogous but taking place in different historical surroundings led to totally different results. By studying each of these forms of evolution separately and then comparing them one can easily find the clue to this phenomenon, but one will never arrive there by using as one's master key a general historico-philosophical theory, the supreme virtue of which consists in being supra-historical. (Marx and Engels 1955: 294)

The encounter takes place under certain determinate conditions, conditions that necessarily presuppose a series of other conditions, and it is only under these conditions that capitalism is formed. As Deleuze and Guattari argue: "The encounter might not have taken place, with the free workers and the money-capital existing 'virtually' side by side" (AO 225/266).

5. Marx gives contingency of this encounter of wealth and workers its clearest historical and philosophical illustration and elaboration in the chapters on "Primitive Accumulation" that end volume one of Capital. (These chapters simultaneously illustrate and complicate the remarks on the "original formation" of capital in "Pre-capitalist Economic Formations," providing historical specificity and depth to a general formula.) In these chapters Marx criticizes the moral narrative of thrift and greed of "so-called primitive accumulation" offered by classical political economy. This narrative is offered to answer a seemingly irresolvable problem: if all capitalist accumulation presupposes capital to invest and workers to hire in a seemingly infinite regress there must be an original or previous accumulation that makes capital possible. Classical political economy argues that it was the thrift of the first proto-capitalists that made capitalism possible. As Marx writes:

This primitive accumulation plays approximately the same role in political economy as original sin does in theology. Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race. Its origin is supposed to be explained when it is told as an anecdote about the past. Long, long ago there were two sorts of people; one the diligent, intelligent, and above all frugal elite; the other lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living. (C 873/741)

For Marx this moral or ideological presentation of the formation of capitalism fails to encompass the double-sided nature of the formation of capital, there must be both wealth (capital) and dispossed individuals (workers), a double-sided nature that on closer inspection turns out to be multiple. The saving or hoarding of wealth only accounts for one of the two elements of the encounter; there must also be a dispossession of the means of production, land, tools, etc., from those who own it. This process of dispossession is itself brutal and violent, as the old structures of property, such as the commons, are destroyed and a new form of right and property is created. These two different elements constitute two very different histories and strategies: on the one side there is the accumulation of wealth that includes the early emergence of mercantile capital, colonialism, and the beginning of the credit system, and on the other there is the destruction of the commons and the guild system (AO 225/266 - here Deleuze and Guattari are drawing from Étienne Balibar's contribution to Reading Capital: "in the examples analysed by Marx, the formation of free laborers appears mainly in the form of transformations of agrarian structures, while the constitution of wealth is the result of merchant's capital and finance capital, whose movements take place outside those structures, 'marginally,' or 'in the pores of society.'" (Althusser and Balibar 1970: 281). These two different histories cannot be reduced to a single logic, intention, or historical subject, but must be thought as themselves constituted by a multiplicity of encounters. (In a provocative essay written in the 1980's Louis Althusser argues that "primitive accumulation" constitutes a different thought of materialism than the one generally attributed to Marx; a materialism of the "encounter" and the event, rather than a materialism of necessity and teleology, working from some of the same passages and texts that Deleuze and Guattari draw from - see Althusser 1994.) The capitalist mode of production is not the simple result of the intention of a subject, or subjects, nor is it generated as if from the womb of the previous (feudal) mode of production, it is made possible by a series of events whose results must be seized and turned towards different ends. These events take place at the margins of the previous mode of production; they only take center stage retroactively as the "pre-history" of the mode of production that follows.

Althusser calls the process by which the effects of a particular process are seized and turned to other purposes and other ends détournement: "This 'detouring' is the mark of the non-teleology of the process and the inscription of its result in a process which has rendered it possible and which was totally alien to it." (Althusser 1994: 572)

6. In "Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations" the contingency of the encounter, the fact that every mode of production must begin from presuppositions which are not produced by it but are presupposed by it, is immediately intertwined with a second problem - the manner in which every mode of production conceals its own contingency, its historicity, and, ultimately, its vulnerability. Thus, what is being proposed here, placing the contingent encounter of money and workers at the center of Marx's account of the constitution of the capitalist mode of production, is not to be confused with the simple assertion that "everything is contingent." Such a statement would have as its necessary political correlate the statement "everything is possible," and would thus be tantamount to an idealism of political practice. At the core of Marx's thought is the investigation into the material conditions and limits of any practice and activity (one possible definition of the mode of production), and this is not changed by the stress placed here on the contingency of the encounter. It is not that one is catapulted from a world of necessity to a world of contingency, but that the relation between the necessary and contingent must be rethought from the ground up. As Althusser writes: "Instead of thinking of contingency as a modality of or an exception to the necessary, one must think necessity as the becoming-necessary of contingent encounters." (Althusser 1994: 566) A "becoming necessary", a process, and not a simple transition from contingency to necessity, because the different elements of a mode of production the social, technological, and political conditions have independent histories and relations, and this independence threatens any mode of production with its dissolution or transformation. Therefore, while it is possible to think of each mode of production as entailing certain dimensions of necessity (for example in capital it is necessary to valorize existing capital, to reproduce a docile and competent labor force, and so on), the contingent encounter that formed the mode of production haunts it as the threat of its dissolution. As Althusser writes: "[Primitive accumulation] continues today, not just in the visible example of the third world, but as a constant process that inscribes the aleatory at the heart of the capitalist mode of production." (Althusser 1994: 573)

7. Deleuze and Guattari name this threat of dissolution "desiring-production," which can be at least provisionally defined as desire that is at odds with the goals and presuppositions of social production. "To code - desire and the fear, the anguish of decoded flows - is the business of the socius" (AO 139/163). In translating the general problem of the possible dissolution of the capitalist mode of production into the problem of the coding of desire, Deleuze and Guattari underscore the fact that what threatens a specific mode of production most of all is not some objective fact, war, disaster, or famine, but the failure of a mode of production to reproduce the subjective desires necessary for its reproduction. Thus "coding" entails a wedding of desire to the particular mode of production. This in part involves a particular presentation or engagement with the historical preconditions of the mode of production. One way to code desire, to identify its goals with the goals of social reproduction, is to foreclose the contingency and historicity of the specific mode of production. As Marx demonstrates with respect to the critique of "so-called primitive accumulation" the presentation of the complex and violent history of the formation of capital as a moral narrative of thrift and waste serves not only to justify the existing class divisions of capital, but to present capitalism as an ever present possibility. That is not to suggest, however, that this illusion is a sort of "noble lie" invented to keep the exploited in their place; rather, and here we come closer to Deleuze and Guattari's concept of coding, this misrecognition of the historical conditions of capital is produced by the very structures and relations of capital. It should be noted that the term "coding" is not entirely accurate with respect to capitalism. Deleuze and Guattari follow Marx's project in the notebooks in developing a general theory of the mode of production, within which the specificity, economic, political, and cultural of capitalism can be articulated. While every mode of production must conceal its contingency, historicity, and instability, only precapitalist societies do so through a code, which could also be understood as a dominant ideology or mythology. In capitalism there is no one such structure of beliefs, rather, the various codes are broken down by the abstract rules of exchange (which accept not higher authority), becoming privatized (the terms that Deleuze and Guattari use for this privatization of code - the breakdown of the unifying belief system of a society into private beliefs that are all the more effective, in terms of social regulation, in that they are private - are "recoding" and "reterritorialization"). Capitalism cannot offer, or tolerate, a new mythos other than that of the market itself - it can only offer private moralities.

8. "So called primitive accumulation," the narratives and myths of the formation of capital offered by classical political economy, replaces history with memory, the conditions of accumulation within capital for the conditions of the formation of the capitalist mode of production. A narrative of private success, saving rather than spending, becomes not only a moral rule - save rather than spend - but also a general representation for historical transformation of capitalism - as if the entire lengthy history of the transformation from pre-capitalism to capitalism could be understood as the expression of rational self-interest. In other words, in capitalism the only representation of all of society or the common good is that of individual self-interest (Massumi 1992: 140). As Étienne Balibar writes: "The analysis of primitive accumulation thus brings us into the presence of the radical absence of memory which characterizes history (memory being only the reflection of history in certain predetermined sites - ideology or even law - and as such, anything but a faithful reflection)." (Althusser and Balibar 1970: 283) So called primitive accumulation is not just a moral justification of the class divisions of capitalism, but an inability to grasp the historicity of the capitalist mode of production, the fact that capital was formed through a particular conjunction of events, desires, and processes, a conjunction which exceeds the moral difference between saving and squandering. This inability to grasp the historicity of the mode of production is not simply disseminated through the ideological structures and relations of the mode of production, but is inscribed as what Deleuze and Guattari call an "apparent objective movement" in the very structures and institutions of the mode of production itself.

9. The theme of an "apparent objective movement," or an illusion that is neither hardwired in the structures of human consciousness, as in the Kantian aporias, or perpetrated by a knowing subject operating behind the scenes, but is produced by a particular social formation, runs throughout Marx's writing. It underlies the idea of ideology as an "objective" illusion both produced and necessitated by the division of labor, specifically the division of mental and manual labor, and commodity fetishism as an "objective" illusion produced by the pervasiveness of market relations. Étienne Balibar has argued that these two problems, the problem of ideology and the problem of fetishism, are perhaps two different problems. In the former, there is the combination of objective conditions such as the division between mental and manual labor and a subjective class point of view, the ideas of the ruling class, while in the latter, the fetish is objectively produced by the mechanisms of commodity production (Balibar 1995a: 60). It is perhaps for this reason that while Deleuze and Guattari dispense with the notion of ideology, and its corresponding ideas of false and true consciousness, they retain the term "fetishism" to refer to this "apparent objective movement."


10. In "Pre-capitalist Economic Formations" Marx offers not so much a general theory of the production of this "objective" illusion, but rather shows how in the various pre-capitalist modes of production this illusion bears on the historical presuppositions of the mode of production. In all modes of production the conditions of existence are produced and reproduced as the practical effects of labor and desire, but this production and reproduction starts from certain presuppositions. At the very basis these presuppositions include the earth as the natural conditions of labor. "The earth is the great workshop, the arsenal which furnishes both means and material of labor, as well as the seat, the base of the community" (G 472/385). That the earth is not itself produced but is the precondition of all productive activity would seem to be a simple and banal fact hardly worth mentioning. Marx argues, however, that this basic condition of all production never appears in its pure form - it is always-already mediated by the particular social relation, the particular community that one enters. What is presupposed, placed at the origin is not simply the earth, and the fact of biological existence, but the social conditions which assume the responsibility for this "divine gift."

The real appropriation through the labor process happens under these presuppositions, which are not themselves the product of labor, but appear as its natural or divine presuppositions [natürlichen oder göttlichen Voraussetzungen erschein]. This form, with the same land-relation as its foundation, can realize itself in very different ways [kann sich selbst sehr vershieden realisieren]. (G 472/385)

The different ways that this "divine presupposition" can realize itself includes at the most basic level the tribe or community of a primitive communism, but it also includes Asiatic despotism. Marx argues that in the Asiatic mode of production it is the despot himself and not simply the earth that appears to be the necessary precondition for labor and the existence of social relations. In placing Asiatic despotism within "this same form" Marx passes from a banal problem, that there are always preconditions that one starts somewhere in history, to a different problem—that of the social and political reproduction of the mode of production.

11. The Asiatic mode of production is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of Marx's thought, and the history of its development is a history of debate and controversy. Although in some sense this history is inseparable from its own particular pre-history of presuppositions, in that the image of a despotic "Orient" dates back to at least Aristotle been continually reasserted by Western philosophy from Montesquieu to Hegel, all the while shifting from Persia to India and China, following the trajectory of western imperialism (it is due to this rather tainted intellectual history that Perry Anderson argues that this "notion should be given the decent burial that it deserves" - Anderson 1974: 548). Within Marxism the concept of a specifically Asiatic mode of production initially seemed to violate the linear progression that ran from ancient to feudal to the capitalist mode of production. This violation took on added importance in Russia and China, countries that were at one point or another identified with the "bureaucratic commune" of the Asiatic mode of production, and for which the question of their place within Marx's historical periodization took on immediate political importance. Moreover, the Asiatic mode of production not only stands outside of the history of pre-capitalism; keeping in mind that for Marx all considerations of feudalism and other modes of production are only genealogies of the present, but also stands outside of the general conceptual scheme of this history - it is posited as static, as a political formation which remains stubbornly the same as all else changes (Spivak 1999: 91). The Asiatic mode of production, in that it has as one of its defining characteristics despotic state power prior to the formation of capital, also suggests another thought of the genesis and function of the state form, one which is not grounded on class struggle or reducible to an instrument of the ruling class. This made it possible to utilize the Asiatic mode of production to criticize the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union and China, to turn one of Marx's concepts against the revolutions carried out in his name (e.g., Wittfogel 1957). Finally, a third moment in the history of the concept of the Asiatic mode of production entails the project to expand Marxism into a general theory of social relations, beyond the criticism of the capitalist mode of production, a project which involves an encounter with anthropology (e.g., Hindess and Hirst 1975). Deleuze and Guattari's point of entry into these debates is oblique (and almost guaranteed to be overlooked by many readers). What matters for them is less a decision about these various questions, and more a use of the Asiatic mode of production to interrogate the logic and limits of the Marxist conception of history.

12. What Marx is outlining with this idea of an Asiatic despot, and what Deleuze and Guattari underscore, is the fact that because a mode of production is constituted as a contingent encounter of different political and social processes, an encounter which is continually threatened by its own unraveling, it must produce, artificially as it were, its own stability. This production of stability entails in part a coding (or recoding) of desire; or rather, a production of a particular subjectivity that recognizes itself and its desires in the mode of production. Marx refers to this production of subjectivity through what he calls the "inorganic body" from which subjectivity is produced; that is, the mode of production reproduces itself by providing the raw material of subjectivity in the form of "inorganic" material of beliefs, language, and desires (G 490/398). Althusser names this dimension, or problem, the "society effect" (l'effet de société).

The mechanism of the production of this "society effect" is only complete when all the effects of the mechanism have been expounded, down to the point where they are produced in the form of the very effects that constitute the concrete, conscious or unconscious relation of the individuals to the society as a society, i.e., down to the effects of the fetishism of ideology (or 'forms of social consciousness' - Preface to A Contribution….), in which men consciously or unconsciously live their lives, their projects, their actions, their attitudes and their functions as social. (Althusser and Balibar 1970: 66)

In one of the un-credited citations of Reading Capital Deleuze and Guattari rename this problem the socius. Deleuze and Guattari stress what the definition offered above eclipses - that this society effect, or socius, must also and at the same time be a cause; that is, it must have its own particular effects and productivity.

…the forms of social production, like those of desiring production, involve an unengendered nonproductive attitude, an element of anti-production coupled with the process, a full body that functions as a socius. This socius may be the body of the earth, that of the tyrant, or capital. This is the body that Marx is referring to when he says that it is not the product of labor, but rather appears as its natural or divine presuppositions. In fact, it does not restrict itself merely to opposing productive forces in and of themselves. It falls back on [il se rabat sur] all production, constituting a surface over which the forces and agents of production are distributed, thereby appropriating for itself all surplus production and arrogating to itself both the whole and the parts of the process, which now seem to emanate from it as a quasi-cause. (AO 10/16)

Every society, or social machine, has an aspect that appears as the condition, or cause, rather than the effect of the productive relations, the desires and labors of society. Paradoxically, this "quasi-cause" appears to be a cause of production, because it is itself not productive, or, more precisely, "anti-productive." It appropriates the excessive forces of production, distributing some for the reproduction of society and wasting most (in the form of tribal honors, palaces, and ultimately war). Eugene Holland underscores the centrality of "anti-production" of an expenditure that is at once useless (constituting a vast appropriation of productive forces for excess and expenditure) and useful (reproducing the relations) and thus does not fit within a neat Marxist conceptualization of "forces" and "relations" of production (Holland 1999: 62-63).

13. The socius is not an effect, but a cause, a production of authority, prestige, and belief, what is referred to as both the recording of production and the production of recording. However, Deleuze and Guattari's reinscription of the society effect as cause is not an actual deviation from Althusser, but rather a return of Althusser's concept of the "society effect" to his most important theoretical innovation "immanent causality." While several Althusserians dismiss the idea of the "society effect" as a wrong turn for Althusser (e.g., Callari and Ruccio 1996: 2), Balibar continues to utilize and expand on this concept, arguing that the "society effect" and the particular mode of subjection it entails must be thought in terms of its own particular materiality and effectivity (Balibar 2002).

The reading that Althusser performs in Reading Capital has more than superficial similarities with Deleuze's reading of Spinoza in Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. In each case there is a reading that produces a concept that is not named as such but functions or is illustrated through the entire organization of the work; "immanent causality" in the former and "expression" in the latter. Moreover, in which the concept in question both functions immanently in relation to the text, as the unnamed articulation of its movement, and is a question of immanence in the world. As Pierre Macherey notes with respect to Deleuze’s book on Spinoza, the inability for the respective authors (Marx and Spinoza) to name the concept is not simply an error or subjective failure, but has more to do with a concept which is more of function, or a producer of certain effects, than an object of representation (Macherey 1996).

14. In Reading Capital Althusser argues that Marx's Capital, at least the first volume completed by Marx in his lifetime, produces a concept which is never named as such, but accounts for the very organization and structure of the volume. The cause or structure is immanent in its effects because it is nothing outside of its effects. This cause is both immanent and absent, because to be immanent and present in its effects is also to be un-localizable. This cause cannot be present or empirically given at any one point, hence the other name that Althusser gives it: "metonymical causality" (Althusser and Balibar 1970: 191). Althusser argues that Marx breaks decisively with the two dominant models of causality within the western philosophical tradition: "expressive causality" (Hegel), in which a single cause, or contradiction, expresses itself in various effects which are merely epiphenomena of this cause, and mechanical causality, in which causes and effect interact, all the while remaining completely independent of each other. This break with all pre-existing thoughts of causality is not so much announced by Marx but is illustrated by the entire presentation of Capital. What is illustrated and put to work by the particular combination of philosophical arguments, critiques of existing works of political economy, historical accounts of struggles, and descriptions of the factory is a particular thought of causality in which every effect of the capitalist mode of production must also and at the same time be a cause. There is thus a relation between this "new" thought of causality and the entire presentation [Darstellung] of Capital.

Now we can recall that highly symptomatic term "Darstellung" compare it with this 'machinery' and take it literally, as the very existence of this machinery in its effects: the mode of existence of the stage direction [mise en scène] of the theatre which is simultaneously its own stage, its own script, its own actors, the theatre whose spectators can, on occasion, be spectators only because they are first of all forced to be its actors, caught by the constraints of a script and parts whose authors they cannot be, since it is in essence an authorless theatre. (Althusser and Balibar 1970: 193)

In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari criticize not only psychoanalysis but also Althusser for reintroducing a "theatrics of representation" after their respective critiques of the idealist protocols of representation. As Deleuze and Guattari write: "Even in Louis Althusser we are witness to the following operation: the discovery of social production as a "machine" or "machinery," irreducible to the world of objective representation (Vorstellung); but immediately the reduction of the machine to structure, the identification of production with a structural and theatrical representation (Darstellung)" (AO 306/365). However, Deleuze and Guattari's criticism traces the line of Althusser's own self-criticism, Althusser cut many of the passages referring to a theater in the second edition of Lire le Capital (Montag 1998: 71 - for more on the importance of "theater" in Althusser's thought see also Montag 2003). Specifically, Althusser cut all of the passages in which the metaphor of the theater reintroduces a concealed or latent structure, the script or the direction, existing behind or beyond the immanent taking place of the specific actions and interactions on stage. Thus in each case, the rewriting of the socius as both effect and cause and the critique of "theatrical representation," Deleuze and Guattari offer not so much a criticism of Althusser, but sketch out internal lines of demarcation between different tendencies within the same "problematic".

What do we mean here by immanent cause? It is a cause which is realized, integrated and distinguished in its effect. Or rather the immanent cause is realized, integrated and distinguished by its effect. In this way there is a correlation or mutual presupposition between cause and effect, between abstract machine and concrete assemblages (it is for the later that Foucault most often reserves the term "mechanisms" [dispositif]). If the effects realize something this is because the relations between forces, or power relations, are merely virtual, potential, unstable, vanishing and molecular, and define only possibilities of interaction, so long as they do not enter into a macroscopic whole capable of giving form to their fluid matter and their diffuse function. But realization is equally an integration, a collection of progressive integrations that are initially local and then become or tend to become global, aligning, homogenizing and summarizing relations between forces…. (Deleuze 1988: 37)

15. In each case this demarcation is drawn in relation to production. For Deleuze and Guattari a general ontology or an expansive sense of production must conceptually underwrite immanence and immanent causality.

…[T]he real truth of the matter…is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and a recording process [enregistrement], without any sort of mediation, and the recording process and consumption directly determine production, though they do so within the production process itself. Hence everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions; production of recording processes, of distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference; productions of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pain. (AO 4/10)

The conceptual precursor of this expansive sense of production is found in Marx's "1857 Introduction." In that text Marx critically reexamines the three concepts of classical political economy: production, distribution, and consumption. These three concepts contain the logic of political economy, a logic that is not without its specific anthropology and ontology.

Thus [in political economy] production, distribution, exchange and consumption form a regular syllogism; production is the generality, distribution and exchange the particularity [Besonderheit], and consumption the singularity [Einzelnheit] in which the whole is joined together. This is admittedly a coherence, but a shallow one. Production is determined by general natural laws, distribution by social accident, and the latter may therefore promote production to a greater or lesser extent; exchange stands between the two as a formal social movement; and the concluding act, consumption, which is conceived not only as a terminal point [Endziel] but also as an end-in-itself [Endzweck], actually belongs outside of economics except in so far as it reacts in turn upon the point of departure and initiates the whole process anew. (G 89/25)

In this logic it is only distribution, the property relations of a given society, which has a history that is not determined by nature. It is thus only distribution that has any real history or effectivity. Production is an ontological and anthropological given. The effect of consumption is only to start the process anew, to set the wheels of the economy in motion. Against this articulation of the relation between the three concepts Marx proposes an understanding of production, consumption, and distribution in which all three are historical, and all three act on and determine each other. As Marx indicates, production and consumption seem to have an immediate identity, as well as an opposition, in the simple fact that all production involves consumption of raw materials and at the same time all consumption would seem to immediately produce something, if only the energy for production. Beyond this immediate identity Marx asserts that there is a more intimate relation of co-implication that encompasses and enfolds the supposed exterior and a-historical ground of need and nature. As Marx writes:

Production not only supplies a material for the need, but it also supplies a need for the material. As soon as consumption emerges from its initial state of natural crudity and immediacy - and, if it remained at that stage, this would be because production itself had been arrested there - it becomes itself mediated as a drive by the object. The need which consumption feels for the object is created by the perception of it. The object of art - like every other product - creates a public which is sensitive to art and enjoys beauty. Production thus not only creates an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object …Consumption likewise produces the producers inclination by beckoning to him as an aim determining need. (G 92/27)

Production produces consumption, producing not only its object but its particular mode and subject, and in turn consumption acts on production, in effect producing it. As Marx explains: "consumption ideally posits the object of production as an internal image, as a need, as a drive and a purpose. It creates the objects of production in a still subjective form" (G 92/27).

16. Marx's concept of a mode of production, of the manner in which production, distribution, and consumption all act on each other delineating a particular form of life, breaks with both the economism and the humanism of classical political economy. It breaks with economism because it is no longer possible to take the relations of distribution - property relations and exchange - as the determinate conditions of production. These relations are effected and determined by the technological, cultural, and political transformations of production and consumption. At the same time it is no longer possible to ground the economy on either the natural needs or the given productive capacities of an assumed human subject, needs and desires are transformed (and transforming) along with the development of the mode of production (on the "anthropology" of classical political economy, see Althusser and Balibar 1970: 162).


17. Deleuze and Guattari appropriate Marx's general problem, lifting it from its Hegelian terminology toward a general problematic of production, or rather a problematic of generalized production. Every aspect of social existence, from technological conditions to desires, dreams, and fantasies, insofar as they have effects on each other must be considered productive. At the same time, Deleuze and Guattari recognize the risk underlying this formulation; the risk that an insistence of "everything is production" can be the equivalent of a "night when all cows are black." As much as the insistence of productive, or effective dimensions, breaks with any pre-given schema of causality, such as the relation between base and superstructure, it risks flattening the distinctions between the various dimensions out to the point where there is only a vague assertion that everything has effects. Deleuze and Guattari thus reinsert differences internal to production, not a difference which would posit a history against and outside of nature or a difference that would inscribe a hierarchy of effectivity between base and superstructure, but in Deleuze and Guattari's terms the difference between "desiring production" and "social production." These two concepts do not correspond to the distinction between any of the three types of productive relations above, consumption, distribution, and production, however, it is through these concepts that we can understand the particular articulation or relation of these three activities within a given social formation. If one wanted to search Marx for conceptual precursors to "desiring" and "social" production one would have to turn to the relation between "abstract labor" and "living labor."

18. In Marx's writing, "abstract labor" refers to the abstraction necessary to quantify the activity of diverse bodies. In order for commodities to be exchanged, labor must be organized so that it is indifferent to who performs it. Abstract labor is not simply a mental generalization necessary for the record books and calculations of political economy, but it is a real abstraction necessary to the functioning of capital. Abstract labor implies a deterritorialization, a separation of the body from any code or tradition that would tie it to a particular body or type of knowledge and a practice of discipline that renders every body indifferent and interchangeable. The concept of "abstract labor" is inseparable from a political and economic strategy - the reduction of all labor to simple abstract labor, and the destruction of skills. Abstract labor is a reduction of the worker, of subjectivity, to the minimum required for the reproduction of the capitalist system. This strategy, sometimes called "proletarianization," which Marx at times identified as the dominant tendency if not the destiny of capitalism, runs up against certain limits, not the least of which is "living labor" as the internal limit of abstract labor. Living labor is the inverse of abstract labor, it can be described by the same attributes - indifference to the content of activity, flexibility, even poverty - but these qualities now appear as sources of its strength.

This living labor, existing as an abstraction from these moments of its actual reality [raw-material, instrument of labor, etc.] (also, not value); this complete denudation, purely subjective existence of labor, stripped of all objectivity. Labor as absolute poverty; poverty not as shortage, but as total exclusion of objective wealth…Labor not as an object, but as activity; not as itself value, but as the living source of value. … Thus, it is not at all contradictory, or, rather, the in-every-way mutually contradictory statements that labor is absolute poverty as object, on one side, and is, on the other side, the general possibility [allgemeine Möglichkeit] of wealth as subject and as activity, are reciprocally determined and follow from the essence of labor, such as it is presupposed by capital as its contradiction and as its contradictory being [gegensätzliches Dasein], and such as it, in turn, presupposes capital. (G 296/217)

Living labor, however, is not just the terminological opposite of abstract labor. Unlike "concrete labor", which is defined as the specific form labor takes in this or that trade performed by this or that individual and thus stands in nearly static opposition to abstract labor, "living labor" is only occasionally named by Marx as another way of understanding the flexibility and force of labor, as antagonistic force (for a more detailed discussion of "living labor," and its role in Marx's thought, see chapter 2 of Read 2003). It appears throughout Marx's writings at every point that capital necessarily develops and relies upon the subjective capacities of labor, its ability to not only produce wealth but to communicate and constitute new social relations. From the assemblage of bodies under the same roof in the factory to the flexible and cooperative networks of labor required for contemporary capitalist valorization, capitalism necessarily develops the power of living labor (for a reading of Marx that draws out the political and philosophical implications of "living labor" see Negri 1999). What is important here in making the transition from the concepts of "abstract" and "living" labor to "desiring production" and "social production" is that this distinction is fully immanent and fully internal: there is no spatial or temporal division or distinction between abstract or living labor. Just as "living labor" is both the internal condition and potential disruption of abstract labor, desiring production is the internal condition and limit of social production.

19. At the same time that Deleuze and Guattari adopt the general thought of an immanent and internal antagonism from Marx they expand it beyond its limited application to capital (for Marx abstract and living labor are strictly terms which can be applied within capital) to generalize it as the problem of every social machine. For Deleuze and Guattari "human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape": the conflict between the flexibility and relationality of living labor and the discipline, goals and norms of abstract labor can, with some modification, be extended backwards in time as a general social conflict (for Deleuze and Guattari Marx's discovery of abstract labor, or abstract subjective potential, is similar in many ways to Freud's discovery of the drives - see A0 270/322). More precisely, it is not that the conflict between "living" and "abstract" labor can be turned into the supra-historical condition of universal history, but that all social machines prior to capital dread what "abstract" and "living" labor have in common - a thoroughly abstract potentiality of desire and productivity, free of any tradition, code, or value. The previous social machines, tribal and despotic, dread the leveling potential of money and the disruptive desires it brings, it is for this reason that they limit its use and application through "code," through a set of prescriptives and limitations bearing on power, knowledge, and desire. For Deleuze and Guattari capital is the relative limit of all previous social formations. While other social formations code, or, in Marx's terms, tether production to the reproduction of a particular social relation, capitalism decodes, playing fast and loose with the sacred meanings of past societies - ancient religions, temples, and beliefs become commodities. The capitalist social machine is not, however, the absolute limit or the completion of the conflict between desire and uncoded flows - the "end of history." It has its own conflict one that illustrates and exemplifies the distinction between desiring and social production.

20. It is from the difference between desiring production and social production that Deleuze and Guattari reinterpret the difference and indices of effectivity of the different productions, productions of production, consumption, and distribution. There is a fundamental difference between the "recording" and "production" of production. "Production is not recorded in the same way it is produced, however. Or rather, it is not reproduced within the same way in which it is produced within the process of constitution." (AO 12/18) This difference would, at first glance, appear to be grounded on an almost phenomenological impossibility, the impossibility of presenting or imagining the immanent relations and potentials of desiring production. Just as the mode of production effaces the contingency, force, and difference at origin, it also effaces the material conditions of its existence by continually coding, or relating, its existence to particular images and ideals. Production, the force and activity of bodies and actions, is unrepresentable, in excess of any image society may have of itself. At the same time, however, it is possible to understand this difference to stem from the fact that all labor, even that undertaken under the most rudimentary conditions, is always "superadequate" to its own reproduction and thus to the goals and aims of social production, there is always a surplus (Spivak employs the term "super-adequate" to draw our attention to a simple but overlooked element of Marx's thought of "labor-power": at the basis of this concept is the power to exceed the givenness of its condition – see Spivak 1988: 154). This surplus is not just a surplus of objects, wealth, or commodities, but of meaning and desire. The "recording of production" is a fundamental displacement or misrecognition of the productive capacities of living labor made possible by the relations and structures of the mode of production, it is the mystified image that the mode of production produces of itself.

"Let us remember once again one of Marx's caveats: we cannot tell from the mere taste of the wheat who grew it; the product gives us no hint as to the system and relations of production. The product appears to be all the more specific, incredibly specific and readily describable, the more closely the theoretician relates it to ideal forms of causation, comprehension, or expression, rather than to the real process of production on which it depends." AO 24/31).

21. Deleuze and Guattari provide two examples of this, in the first case, "the Asiatic mode of production," the mode of production is characterized by large collective works, dams, irrigation, temples etc., large works that appear to emanate from the despot himself, to be products of his divine authority and not the thousands of hands which have produced them. "He is the sole quasi cause, the source and fountainhead and estuary of the apparent objective movement" (AO 194/224). There is a misrecognition of the source of production, production is recorded differently than it is produced, but this mystification is in turn productive, producing obedience and docility. The temples, pyramids, and irrigation projects produced for the despot become palpable symbols of his power. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean by "quasi-cause." It is an effect of particular social and political conditions that in turn acts on those conditions as cause - appearing to preexist its conditions.

Étienne Balibar offers a schema that captures some of what is implied here with respect to the quasi-cause, or the effectivity of "imaginary" or representational elements. "I even think that we can describe what such a schema would ideally consist of. It would not be the sum of a "base" and a "superstructure," working like a complement or supplement of historicity, but rather the combination of two "bases" of explanation or two determinations both incompatible and indissociable: the mode of subjection and the mode of production (or, more generally, the ideological mode and the generalized economic mode). Both are material, although in the opposite sense. To name these different senses of the materiality of subjection and production, the traditional terms imaginary and reality suggest themselves. One can adopt them, provided that one keep in mind that in any historical conjuncture, the effects of the imaginary can only appear through and by means of the real, and the effects of the real through and by means of the imaginary; in other words, the structural law of causality in history is the detour through and by means of the other scene. Let us say, parodying Marx, that economy has no more a "history of its own" than does ideology, since each has its history only through the other that is the efficient cause of its own effects." (Balibar 1995b: 160)

22. In the capitalist mode of production "capital" - in the form of both fixed capital (machinery) and money - appears to be productive apart from and without the productive capacity of labor, without the networks of desire and production which make capital possible:

Capital is indeed the body without organs of the capitalist, or rather of the capitalist being. But as such it is not only the fluid and petrified substance of money, for it will give to the sterility of money the form whereby money produces money. It produces surplus value, just as the body without organs reproduces itself, puts forth shoots, and branches out to the farthest corners of the universe. It makes the machine responsible for producing a relative surplus value, while embodying itself in the machine as fixed capital. (AO 10/16)

In each, the Asiatic mode of production and the capitalist mode of production the socius, or quasi-cause, is at one and the same time a displacement of the productive capacities of desire and a materialization of these capacities in some other instance or institution. This legitimates Deleuze and Guattari's use of the term "fetish" as another name for the socius or quasi-cause (Massumi 1992: 187). In the famous chapter on commodity fetishism Marx demonstrates how (exchange) value appears to be an attribute of things, rather than the product of a specific social and political order; in short, a relation between people appears as a relation between things. This process is one both of idealization (the displacement of a quality of social relations onto some object or representation of social relations) and of materialization (this object is material, it is a thing in the world), a process that in capitalism culminates in money as the "real abstraction" (Balibar 1995a: 63). This misrecognition of the productive powers of labor and desire, as it is displaced onto a quasi-cause (capital or the despot) also entails a prescriptive dimension: it determines not just what individuals should perceive but how they should act.

23. Deleuze and Guattari's idea of the socius as a necessary condition of the coding of desire and subjectivity would seem to eclipse the difference between the Asiatic and capitalist mode of production. Would this not constitute the worst sort of denial of history, in which historical difference is only the difference of different institutions or structures filling the same roles or place holders, in this case the despot or capital as socius? In the first place it should be noted that the "structural" similarities that Deleuze and Guattari point to here have their condition of possibility in Marx's own writing. Despite the fact that the Asiatic mode of production was often presented as the complete other of capitalism, Marx also suggested that there is a fundamental similarity between the two at the level of mystification. As Marx writes: "The power of Asiatic and Egyptian kings, of Etruscan theocrats, etc. has in modern society been transferred to the capitalist, whether he appears as an isolated individual or, as in the case of joint stock companies, in combination with others" (C 452/353). As much as its seems Marx inherited the Eurocentric distinction between the West as the land of freedom and history and Asia as static and despotic this inheritance is complicated by the (mostly polemical) parallels that Marx draws between capitalism and the Asiatic mode of production. While Marx's statement has in the first place an immediate polemical significance (exposing the mystification and tyranny at the heart of enlightened and democratic capitalist modernity) it also points to a more basic similarity of the two modes of production. Capitalism and the Asiatic mode of production are both totalities structured according to a singular determinant instance, the economy in the case of the former and political power in the case of the latter. According to Balibar the similarity between the Asiatic mode of production and capitalism is to be explained by their relative simplicity at the level of determination. Other modes of production, such as the feudal mode of production, are founded on a distinction and difference between the dominant instance, or the instance determined as dominant, for example the church or politics, and the determinate instance, which is the economy (Balibar's distinction between determinant and dominant is founded almost exclusively on one passage from Marx's Capital, where Marx states that "it is the manner in which [societies] gained their livelihood [Die Art und Wiese, wie sie ihr Leben gewannen] which explains why in [the ancient world] politics, in [the middle ages] Catholicism, played the chief part [die Hauptrolle spielte]." - C 176/96). As Balibar writes: "In different structures, the economy is determinant in that it determines which of the instances of the social structure occupies the determinant place. Not a simple relation, but rather a relation between relations; not a transitive causality, but rather a structural causality" (Althusser and Balibar 1970: 224; see also his discussion in Balibar 1996). Another way of understanding this is that in other modes of production, such as feudalism, there is a palpable distinction between necessary and surplus labor that is lived in the form of a spatial and temporal division between work performed for survival and work performed for the state. Capital and the Asiatic despot efface this difference. Capital does so through the wage, which effaces any difference between necessary and surplus labor, and the Asiatic despot does so through generalized slavery in which all labor is labor for the despot. Determination is not displaced to another scene, such as religion or politics, but what is "fetishized" is the determinant instance itself in that it appears to be entirely self sufficient and autonomous, not to mention transcendent and perhaps even metaphysical. The socius in the form of the Asiatic despot and capital thus bare a stronger resemblance to fetishism than to ideology, there is no attempt to conceal or evade the relations of determination, rather the determining instance is elevated to the point where it appears to be the sole cause and not the effect of actions – it appears to transcend its conditions.

24. For Marx any similarity between the Asiatic and capitalist mode of production must be complicated and qualified by the fact that the most significant historical break in a history of breaks and encounters is the one that separates capitalism from pre-capitalism. The pre-capitalist modes of production should be more accurately called modes of reproduction in that productive activity is subordinated to the reproduction of particular social and political relations, a particular community - that is also a particular form of subjectivity. It is only in capital that production becomes unfettered from the reproduction of a particular social relation, or form of life, and is subordinated to nothing other than the production of more wealth, production generates production. Marx is thoroughly "dialectical" on this point; revealing to the extent to which this production for the sake of production is both "alienation" and the precondition for liberation.

Thus the old view, in which the human being appears as the aim of production, regardless of his limited national, religious, political character, seems to me to be lofty when contrasted to the modern world, where production appears as the aim of mankind and wealth as the aim of production. In fact, however, when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of human needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as humanity's own nature? The absolute working out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historical development… In bourgeois economics - and in the epoch of production to which it corresponds - this complete working-out of the human content appears as a complete emptying out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing down of all limited, one-sided aims as sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end. (G 488/396)

Thus, in "Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations" Marx elaborates and expands upon a historical argument that is given its most famous theoretical elaboration in The Communist Manifesto: that capitalism washes away the old relations of hierarchy and subordination with a tide of abstract money. Whereas the other modes of production were intrinsically conservative, capitalism is intrinsically revolutionary. "Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguished the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones." However, the slight difference is that while in the latter text this historical transformation is characterized a shift in power relations, as the final chapter in the long history of class struggle in which the masks and illusions of hierarchy are finally stripped away, in the former the transformation is presented as completely modifying the production of subjectivity. While the subject (slave to the despot or peasant) of pre-capitalist mode of production is immersed in a social space or world (the inorganic body) that sustains and subjugates him or her, the subject in capital is stripped bare and exposed to the necessary contingency of having to sell his or her labor power. "The positing of the individual as worker, in this nakedness, is itself a product of history" (G 472/385).


25. In many ways, some of Deleuze and Guattari's conceptual innovations (deterritorialization, reterritorialization, codes, and axioms) can be at least initially or provisionally understood as an interpretation of this epochal divide and an examination of its political, social, and libidinal effects and conditions (Fredric Jameson has recently insisted on the centrality of Marx's account of the transition from pre-capitalism to capitalism to the concept of deterritorialization, an intuition that can be found in many readers of Deleuze and Guattari – see Jameson 1997). While there is not enough space here to follow all of these intersections it is at least possible to demonstrate how Deleuze and Guattari reconceptualize the distinction between pre-capitalist and capitalist modes of production as the difference between societies which stave off the threat of contingency and desire through "code" or through "axioms." In doing so it is possible to show how Deleuze and Guattari follow the line of thought of "Pre-capitalist Economic Formations" by focusing on the difference of the production of subjectivity in each, rather than the line of thought of The Communist Manifesto, in which the history of capitalism is understood the simplification of class antagonisms. Deleuze and Guattari develop their understanding of code from Althusser and Balibar's distinction between dominant and determination. As Deleuze and Guattari define code:

All of these code characteristics - indirect, qualitative, and limited - are sufficient to show that a code is not, and can never be economic: on the contrary, it expresses the apparent objective movement according to which the economic forces or productive connections are attributed to an extraeconomic instance as if they emanated from it, an instance that serves as a support and an agent of inscription. That is what Althusser and Balibar show so well: how juridical and political relations are determined as dominant - in the case of feudalism, for example - because surplus labor as a form of surplus value constitutes a flux that is qualitatively and temporally distinct from that of labor, and consequently must enter into a composite that is itself qualitative and implies noneconomic factors … That is why the sign of desire, as an economic sign that consists in producing and breaking flows, is accompanied by a sign of necessarily extraeconomic power, although its causes and effects lie within the economy. Or - what amounts to the same thing - surplus value here is determined as a surplus value of code. (AO 248/295)

The subordination of productive activity to the reproduction of a particular social relation, and its corresponding forms of hierarchy, has as its effect what Deleuze and Guattari call a "surplus value of code." The surplus that is produced is turned over to some other social practice or instance, the chief, church, or despot, and this surplus bestows this practice with particular value or meaning. Thus it is possible to say that code produces a certain kind of belief or meaning as an after effect of this appropriation of surplus, however, it is necessary to add that this belief in turn becomes a cause in that it is belief in the symbolic powers of the surplus that sustains the pre-capitalist mode of production. Axioms are distinct from codes in that they do not require belief in order to function. It might be more accurate to say that axioms are concerned more with what should be done rather than what must be believed. Axioms relate to no other scene or sphere, such as religion, politics, or law, which would provide their ground or justification. They are merely differential relations between abstract and quantitative flows. In capitalism two such flows are the flow of labor power available on the market and the flow of capital. These two flows conjoin at a particular time and place, and this conjunction establishes a differential relation between the two flows (AO 249/296). Once such a relation is established, setting up a particular relation between a specific quantity of labor and a specific quantity of capital, or wage, the axiomatic is effective. It cannot be avoided; one can only add new axioms to the system. Deleuze and Guattari utilize the formula Dx/dy to express a relation between two values that is indifferent to their specific content. "Dx and dy are nothing independent of their relation, which determines the one as a pure quality of the flow of labor and the other as pure quality of the flow of capital" (AO 249/246). There is no possible contestation at the level of code or belief, in fact the differential relations and their concrete effects remain in place; they are functional whether or not they are believed. This is why Deleuze and Guattari refer to capitalism as "the age of cynicism." The "setting up" of axioms between abstract quantities is an aspect of what Deleuze and Guattari call "reterritorialization," the regulation of the abstract quantities as abstract quantities. "It may be all but impossible to distinguish deterritorialization from reterritorialization, since they are mutually enmeshed, or like opposite faces of one and the same process" (AO 258/306). To return to the example of commodity fetishism, the equivalence between a quantity of abstract labor and money displaces the abstract potentiality of labor onto money itself, setting up an artificial territory - it now appears as if it is money itself that is productive. The epochal distinction between pre-capitalist and the capitalist mode of production is not only a distinction between subjective and objective domination, but a shift in how this domination is lived. Whereas prior to capitalism it is lived through the coded structures of belief and personal subjugation, in capitalism it is lived through abstract operative rules, which are not necessarily believed or even grasped.

26. Returning to the question of the odd similarities of the Asiatic despot to capital it seems that both the "structural" interpretation of this overlap provided by Balibar, as two modes of production constituted by a single site of determination and difference, and the merely rhetorical relation proposed by Marx, the ancient mysticism at the heart of capital, would seem to miss the point. The responses of both Balibar and Marx overlook what has to be explained: the resurgence of mystification of an almost divine power at the heart of capital. Deleuze and Guattari identify this "return of the repressed" with the problem of the state:

The special situation of the State as a category - oblivion and return - has to be explained. To begin with, it should be said that the primordial despotic state is not a historical break like any other. Of all the institutions, it is perhaps the only one to appear fully armed in the brain of those who institute it, "the artists with the look of bronze." That is why Marxism didn't quite know what to make of it … It is not one formation among others, nor is it the transition from one formation to another. It appears to be set back at a remove from what it transects and what it resects, as though it were giving evidence of another dimension, a cerebral ideality that is added to, superimposed on the material evolution of societies, a regulating idea or principle of reflection (terror) that organizes the parts and the flows into a whole. (AO 219/257)

Deleuze and Guattari thus break not only with the linear account of Marxist history, the progression of the different modes of production one after the other, but with the totality and closure that such a progression implies (Deleuze and Guattari's understanding of history is indebted to Althusser's critique of historicism – see Patton 2000: 88). History is not the history of bounded and clearly defined unities that pass into each other without remainder, anticipation, or residue, but is a much more fundamentally "anachronic" process in which the present contains elements of the past and future (however, "past" and "present" are not entirely useful here since they imply what Althusser calls "an ideological base time" as the standard against which something can be identified as "residual" or "emergent", and given the absence of a present against which differences can be measured, Althusser suggests we think in terms of differential temporality – see Althusser and Balibar 1970: 105-106).

"To speak of differential historical temporality therefore absolutely obliges us to situate this site and to think, in its particular articulation, the function of such an element or such a level in the current configuration of the whole; it is to determine the relation of articulation of this element as a function of other elements, or this structure as a function of other structures, it obliges us to define what has been called its overdetermination or undertermination as a function of the structure of the determination of the whole." (Althusser and Balibar 1970: 106)

27. This temporal torsion is already at work in the various ways in which each mode of production effaces its own conditions of emergence; producing its own images of eternity - capital has always been possible, the despot has always ruled. Moreover, it is exemplified in the manner in which elements of bygone modes of production continue to outlive their usefulness. This is precisely the problem that any historicism or functionalism cannot explain, seemingly archaic elements - the state, roman law, the family, and various tribal identities - show no signs of being washed away with the axioms of capital, but remain and even resurface in more virulent forms. Deleuze and Guattari locate in "Pre-capitalist Economic Formations" a universal history that not only gives center stage to contingency and the event, but also breaks with the linear model of progress espoused in The Communist Manifesto (Claude Lefort argues that there is tension between the linear version of history in the Manifesto and what he argues is a cyclical version in "Pre-capitalist Economic Formations" - see Lefort 1992: 139-180). The fetish, the despot, money, all of these supposedly bypassed images and their corresponding relations of power resurface and are reanimated by capital making it a "motley painting of everything that has ever been believed" (AO 34/42 - Deleuze and Guattari citing, with some modification, Nietzsche here - compare Nietzsche 1969: 143).

28. At this point it is possible to interpret the difference and identity of the Asiatic despot to capital, or the return of the cold tyranny of the despot in the impersonal flows of money. As Deleuze and Guattari write there are two fundamental elements of the constitution of capital, of its massive deterritorialization of the old beliefs and systems, these two elements are: commodity and private property. These two elements are in tension: the tension between the releasing of unfettered forces of production no longer subordinated to any code or authority on the one hand, and on the other, the need to continually tie this productivity to the realization of surplus value and the maintenance of existing wealth, the bourgeois limitations indicated above. This tension can be understood as an interpretation of Marx's famous statement regarding the contradiction between "forces" and "relations" of production, in which the productive forces are continually exceeding the existing legal and political limitations eventually arriving at communism. Or, and this is the direction Deleuze and Guattari generally work in, this tension can be presented as "the tendency of the rate of profit to fall," that is less as an inevitable telos and more as tension without end, or tendency which cannot be separated from its various counter-tendencies. Thus, Deleuze and Guattari prefer to frame it as a tension between two poles, rather than a contradiction:

The social axiomatic of modern societies is caught between two poles, and is constantly oscillating from one pole to the other. Born of decoding and deterritorialization, on the ruins of the despotic machine, these societies are caught between the Urstaat that they would like to resuscitate as an overcoding and reterritorializing unity, and the unfettered flows that carry them toward an absolute threshold. They recode with all of their might with world wide dictatorship, local dictators, and an all powerful police, while decoding - or allowing the decoding of - the fluent quantities of their capital and their populations. They are torn in two directions: archaism and futurism, neoarchaism and ex-futurism, paranoia and schizophrenia. (AO 260/310)

Thus Marx may have been correct in identifying capitalism with its own specific temporality, but was perhaps incorrect in identifying, as he did in the Manifesto, this temporality with unfettered transformation - "everything solid melts into air." This famous statement only covers one pole of capital, the pole corresponding to the continual transformations brought about by the abstract potentiality of labor, and the commodification of new spaces and desires; there is also at the same time the need to subordinate this potentiality to existing wealth and values. It is in order to preserve these old values that the power of the despot continually returns.

29. The despot returns, but it is impossible for it to do so exactly the same way as it did when it left. The breakdown of codes, of belief as a collective and social phenomena investing all dimensions of the body politic is an irreversible event. Belief and desire have not only become abstract, subordinated to money that unique object which can stand in for any object whatsoever, but have been "privatized" as well - disinvested from the public works and spectacle of the despot. The codes that used to dictate and control social life and invest it with belief have become privatized and interiorized, retreating into the private space and desires of the home.

Civilized modern societies are defined by processes of decoding and deterritorialization. But what they deterritorialize with one hand, they reterritorialize with the other. These neoterritorialities are often artificial, residual, archaic; but they are archaisms having a perfectly current function, our modern way of 'imbricating,' of sectioning off, of reintroducing code fragments, resuscitating old codes inventing pseudo codes or jargons … These modern archaisms are extremely complex and varied … Some of these archaisms take form as if spontaneously in the current of the movement of deterritorialization … Others are organized and promoted by the state, even though they might turn against the state and cause it serious problems (regionalism, nationalism). (AO 258/306)

Thus, as much as the temporal torsion between capital and the state takes place publicly it also exists as a private interiorized struggle, a struggle at the heart of subjectivity, between the possibility for a new future and the ghosts of the Old World.

30. The despot returns but he is split in half, in a division that corresponds to the dual origins of capital, the two facets of deterritorialization - "commodification" and "privatization" - the flow of money and the flow of labor power. As quasi-cause or displaced representative of the productive power of desiring production he appears in the form of capital, as a pure quantity to which one responds without necessarily believing. As the over-coding unity of desires and social activity he appears in the form of the private codes that restore meaning to existence. Thus, it is possible to understand Deleuze and Guattari's argument on an existential level in which the return of codes is an attempt to compensate for the "cynicism" or absence of meaning imposed by the abstract quantities of money and labor power. "These are the two aspects of a becoming of the State: its internalization in a field of increasingly decoded social forces forming a physical system; its spiritualization in a supraterrestrial field that increasingly overcodes, forming a metaphysical system" (AO 222/263). The first of these poles makes possible the second; it is only once the specific codes of belief and desire as conditions for social production and reproduction have been replaced by the abstract conditions of money and labor that anything like a private life is possible (see AO 251/298, Massumi 1992: 136). It is between these two poles that "we moderns" live.

It is no longer the age of cruelty or the age of terror, but the age of cynicism, accompanied by a strange piety. (The two taken together constitute humanism: cynicism is the physical immanence of the social field, and piety is the maintenance of a spiritualized Urstaat; cynicism is capital as the means of extorting surplus labor, but piety is this same capital as God-capital, whence all the forces of labor seem to emanate.) (AO 225/266)

This interplay of cynicism and piety, of the cold, hard facts of life and moral belief, can be found in the ideological narrative of "so-called primitive accumulation," which combines a recognition of the necessity of exploitation with a moral justification of that necessity. If someone is going to be exploited it might as well be those who are lazy. Thus, if one wanted to depart from the specific language and concepts of Deleuze and Guattari's thought, it is possible to argue that Deleuze and Guattari's specific provocation here is to posit the privatized and closed off realm of individual desire as a from of subjection no less pervasive and powerful than that wielded by the legendary despot.

31. "In a word, universal history is not only retrospective, it is also contingent, singular, ironic, and critical" (AO 140/164). It is ironic in the sense that it ends not in the completion of spirit, or the realization of communism, but it ends in the privatized spaces of the family where we all reinvent our own codes and recreate our own little despots. However, this is not the only possible end, as Deleuze and Guattari argue universal history must also be self-critical, able to grasp its own contingency and limits. Deleuze and Guattari present something like a genealogy of the contemporary subject, a genealogy that although it takes the desires of the oedipalized psychoanalytic subject as its object it would be quite at home in the age of the "return to family values" or the reign of self help, anything that elevates the interiorized and privatized space of the family into a transcendental conditions for subjectivity. Thus it might be possible to understand Deleuze and Guattari's relationship to these narratives of the constitution of subjectivity to be similar to Marx's relationship to the idyllic narratives of primitive accumulation: in each case an ahistorical narrative, a narrative what has always existed or what has always been possible, is historicized by a narrative of contingency and force. Such an analogy is strengthened by the fact that primitive accumulation in Marx was not simply an accumulation of wealth and laboring bodies, but an accumulation of obedience to the new system—a primitive accumulation of subjectivity (Albiac 1996). As Marx writes: "The advance of capitalist production develops a working class which by education [Erziehung], tradition, and habit [Gewohneit] looks upon the requirements of that mode of production as self-evident natural laws" (C 899/765). Deleuze and Guattari show how this subjectivity is produced between the flows of money, which incorporate the "desire of the most disadvantaged creature" into the capitalist system as a whole, and the private space of the home, where one is left to tinker with one's own little codes. Moreover, Deleuze and Guattari produce a reading of Marx which extracts the strongest elements of his understanding of the difference between pre-capitalist and capitalist modes of production, the fundamental transformation of the form and function of power and obedience, without reproducing Marx's particular prejudices and limitations with respect to this difference, capital as the progressive "becoming-transparent" of social conflicts, as modernization without remainder. At the center of Deleuze and Guattari's neologisms and conceptual inventiveness is an attempt to produce a reading of Marx that is not only adequate to the production of desire necessary to so-called consumer society, but to the various "neo-conservatisms" that seize hold of desire. Beyond these possible uses, Deleuze and Guattari present us with a new possibility of thinking history after Marx not a history of necessity, or even a historicism of completed epochs, but a contingent and differential history of the lines of force, and desire making and unmaking us in the present. It is these lines of force and their relations that are the precondition for a future different from the present.


Jason Read is an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine. He is the author of The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory of the Present, as well as journal articles published in Rethinking Marxism, Pli, and Crossings. Email:


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