A critique of the ideas of Jacques Camatte and the journal Invariance originally published in French in 1977. This translation appeared in "Ruins of Glamour, Glamour of Ruins", a pamphlet published by Unpopular Books to accompany an exhibition at Chisenhale Studios in London in 1986.
The concept has been knocking around for a few years. The confusion is pretty much the same wherever it turns up. The pretext for vast volumes of theoretical hot air has been the disclosure of a great mystery: What produces capital. For Baudrillard, it's a sign, Lyotard pretends it's libidinal and Cardan makes out it's imaginary. The whole load of them misunderstand it, but it is Camatte who we shall deal with, as it is in Invariance that this theoretical decomposition is most elaborately expressed as a theoretical breakthrough. We merely go over a few points of a necessary critique.
From the myth of the party to the myth of humanity via fictive capital
When Camatte was an orthodox bordiguist, the party was the official depository of proletarian consciousness. In the face of the compromises and confusions of the reformists, only the party preserved the programme which the class would be forced to realise by historical necessity.
But then this class consciousness was slow to accomplish its task. Some people became impatient and started questioning the formal party and then affirmed that only the historic party, the party-class, is an arm of the communist revolution. The Party, the distinct Organisation of the class in its totality, is ill-fated; it no longer fits the requirements of the future revolution. Up to this point the critique carried out by Invariance was able to deal with some useful points.
But soon the historic party came to be seen as still too rigid. It is humanity, mankind, who have the task of destroying capitalism. This slide into metaphysics wasn't accidental. It comes from the "supercession" of marxism which is based on the view that capital has become independent of the law of value. Thus capital used to produce and reproduce value, but now it produces representation. We shall now go into this illusory reasoning.
The essential mechanism for this artificial construction is fictive capital. This covers interest, credit and money-capital.
"Here we have money which creates money, value which engenders value (....) The social relation finds itself realised in the relations of a thing, money, with itself. Instead of the real transformation of money into capital, here we find a form without content"
(Capital Vol.III, Chapter 15).
Invariance continue by pretending that this form is the final outcome of a metamorphosis that capital has undergone in the course of its development. Let's follow this bowdlerisation of Marx:
"With interest bearing capital, the realised IDEA of the capitalist fetish is found"
(Capital Vol.III, Chapter 15).
This is cunningly transformed by Invariance: "Not just the idea of the capitalist fetish, but its reality is found" (Invariance No.1, Series 3)
So the reality of valorisation is no longer production. Valorisation takes place through the indirect means of fictive capital which is presented as the centre of the reproduction of social capital. Here we can recognise the old bourgeois humbug about the primacy of the circulation of money over the production of money, even if it appears to be expressed in a more rigorous way.
With this major mystification Invariance hopes to provide a marxist analysis applied to the modern conditions of production. Camatte certainly has a sense of humour!
Thanks to this sleight of hand, Invariance can quietly state that the proletariat is no longer necessary to capital for its self-valorisation. It can do this by itself: the spontaneous generation of value. Capital is no longer a social relation, it's a concept. But that's not all. This representation, which has lost all reference to its material basis, is "anthropomorphised': human beings are its biological support.
This is what the material community of capital is to be, a community which no longer has contradictions, which ignores history. The contradiction which the proletariat consists of has been swallowed up;
"If it - capital - seems to have been eliminated the class which contests it from inside, it hasn't abolished the movement, which although negated within it, in turn negates it from outside […]”
But who is outside? The hippies, the marginals etc. Talk about Marcuse, Adorno and all that crowd. But now it's a matter of biological, macro-biotic, pre-frontal revolution……… extra-terrestrials, UFO's, palm reading, telepathy all escape from capital - see "This World We Must Leave".
- Long Live the communist struggle of ghosts and martians!
We no longer have to criticise (just as our good friends Lyotard and Baudrillard discovered). No, we have to stroll down a positive pathway, the affirmation of life. Enough of violence - the cops and priests are human after all. Religion is an attitude which escapes capital, which expresses human wealth still intact.
Fictive valorisation and real devalorisation
We must briefly go into how fictive valorisation works to know the extent of Invariance's mystification.
When Marx said that “the real barrier to capitalist production is capital itself” he summarised the actual contradiction which runs through this world. The goal of capitalist production is the introduction of the maximum amount of value into capital, i.e. the realisation of the highest rate of profit. To attain this goal capital uses methods which tend to promote an unlimited development of production, an unconditional development of social productivity. But the use of these methods involves ever increasing investments of fixed capital (machines, modern production processes) and implies a fall in the level of living labour embodied in each commodity. On top of this, we move to a period of the real domination of capital over labour where the extraction of relative surplus value predominates over that of absolute surplus value. This further excelerates the fall of living labour embodied in each commodity to an important extent.
This process manifests itself as the famous tendential fall in the rate of profit, which today is empirically obvious with the crisis. The basic movement of the value process is best summarised as devalorisation. But this is not the ABSENCE of the introduction of value, as Invariance maintain, but the FALL of this valorisation.
This fall of value is at the same time manifested by the non-utilisation and destruction of a part of capital during the crisis over-accumulation. Resulting from a contradictory process, it itself has contradictory consequences,
But Camatte has nothing to say about these contradictions. He reckons that devalorisation is absolute, and so he can speak of fictive valorisation as being autonomous and of interest-bearing capital as the expression of the independence of capital.
How does fictive valorisation work? The action of credit and interest bearing capital consists of the appropriation by past labour (capital) of future surplus work –
"(...) the produce of accumulated work in the form of money discounts all the wealth in the world"
(Capital Vol.III, Chapter 15)
Interest appears as a relation between two capitalists and not between a capitalist and a worker. The increase of financial capital gives the faulty impression that interest has acquired an absolute autonomy.
In fact interest
"is a part of profit, i.e. of surplus value that the active capitalist, whether industrial or commercial, must return to the owner and loaner of any capital they have had to borrow"
(Capital Vol.III, Chapter 15).
It is linked to the production of surplus value and its independence is only a dream of bankers who have read Invariance.
However we wouldn't deny the banker. As the Scottish banker M. Bell wrote:
“His friendly advice has no more importance than the loan."
(The Banker's Philosophy, 1840).
Credit equally appears as the relation between two capitalists. It allows for the regulation of the speed of rotation of capital. It has the advantage of dispensing with hard cash, which becomes overwhelmed and overburdened with a multiplicity of rapid exchanges. The extension of credit, as with interest, can lead us to believe that its enormous inflation is its independence. But we just have to look at the present situation where credit is granted according to the profitability of each capital to see that this independence is a myth. Credit creates nothing of itself, it can only aid the movement of surplus value, acquired in the course of production, towards accumulation.
The role of the state principally consists of playing with the levers of credit and the interest rate in a way very much dependent on the state of accumulation. So the inflation of the money supply cannot simply be indefinitely increased to the detriment of global surplus value. The inflation arising from private capital, and the "collective capitalist ideal" which constitutes the state has as its goal the maintenance of the rate of profit, and hence it has precise limits.
In fact all the constituent elements of fictive capital (interest, credit, budgetary deficit, inflation) are responses to the difficulties of valorisation. More precisely their effects are felt everywhere in the domain of circulation where value is realised. The contradictions between production and realisation of value are inherent to the very functioning of capital. Real domination requires enormous quantities of capital, and so it exacerbates these contradictions to an unsupportable degree. To ease the tensions, the massive recourse to fictive capital at first appear to be a solution. But gradually this "solution" starts to aggravate the disequilibriums it was supposed to solve. Like any apologist for capital, Camatte jumps on the contradictory development that this "solution" implies but only to take a look at its primary effects. Because he sees capital as an abstract mechanism rather than as a social relation he takes an abstract ideal as reality. A regrettable confusion!
From the crisis of exploitation to the critique of alienation
We have seen. how capital devalorises itself through its own movement and that it secretes counter-tendencies which initially can limit, but finally aggravate, the consequences of devalorisation. This movement appears to be purelyeconomic but properly understood this is not the case. The fundamental expression is not "economic" but social: the fall of living work in the production of value. "At all times we know that the preservation - and so equally the reproduction - of the value of the products of past labour is in fact the SOLE contact with living labour." Capital is increasingly invested particularly in the sectors where the organic composition is high, i.e. where living labour is increasingly excluded from the production process. The global re-organisation of this process always functions more concentrically as regards the mass of objectified labour, of accumulated capital. Thus capital tends to reduce the "use-value" of the proletariat i.e. its capacity to produce exchange value. But it can only reproduce itself if it always reproduces more accumuable value. When it is always ejecting more living labour from the production process, in accordance with its own laws, it dissolves the basis of all re-accumulation. This is no escape via fictive capital which can allow it to leave this material contradiction which permanently poses the problem of proletarianisation.
As a product of the alienation of human work, capital shows in an ever clearer way , that it can no longer develop in a way sufficient to its needs. So the need for proletarianisation collapses and the capitalist relation shows its inability to perpetuate the socialisation of human activity according to its conditions.
The development of fictive capital linked to the development of devalorisation can for a while be a counter-tendency, but then it profoundly accentuates the contradictions. But Invariance has with a stroke of the pen struck out these contradictions which create the difficulties of proletarianisation in order to affirm the disappearance of all social dialectic. Along with their colleagues in the theoretical decomposition, all idealogues of circulation, they can only always increasingly reveal that which they try to hide with the greatest care: their miserable acceptance of the modern conditions of slavery. The appearance of their radicality shrivels away to nothingness when faced with the reality of their submission.
GUERRE SOCIALE NO.1 1977