In the previous chapter we argued that anti-power is both ubiquitous and the driving force of power. Now we must take
a further step in understanding the materiality of anti-power.
The third point in understanding the reality of anti-power is that capital depends absolutely upon labour for its
existence, that is, upon the transformation of human doing into value-producing labour.
This, surely, is the specific contribution of Marx to oppositional thought, that which takes Marxism beyond other
forms of radical thought. The radical negation of society typically starts as an external negation, as us-againstthem: women against men, blacks against white, poor against rich, multitude against Empire. Our negativity meets
their positivity in external, and potentially eternal, confrontation. It is clear that the rich oppress us, that we hate
them and fight against them, but the approach tells us nothing of our power or their vulnerability. In general, radical
theory tends to focus on oppression and the struggle against oppression, rather than on the fragility of that
oppression. Feminist theory, for example, has been extremely forceful in throwing light on the nature of gender
oppression in society: what it has not developed is a theory of the vulnerability or historicity of that oppression.
Against this 'us-against-them' of radical theory, Marx cries out: ‘But there is no 'them', there is only us. We are the
only reality, the only creative force. There is nothing but us, nothing but our negativity.’
The essential claim of Marxism, that which distinguishes it from other varieties of radical theory, is its claim to
dissolve all externality. The core of its attack against 'them' is to show that 'they' depend on us because 'they' are
continually created by us. We, the powerless, are all-powerful.
The critique of the 'them-against-us' externality of radical theory is not some abstruse theoretical point but the core
of the Marxist understanding of the possibility of revolutionary transformation of society. It is through understanding
that 'they' are not external to us, that capital is not external to labour, that we can understand the vulnerability of
capitalist domination. To move beyond the externality of 'them-against-us' is at the same time to go beyond a
radical theory of oppression to the concern of Marxism: understanding the fragility of oppression, and
understanding that fragility as the force of our scream.
We have spoken much of the way in which power permeates anti-power, the damaged, alienated character of our
insubordination. But the opposite is equally true. Fetishism is a two-faced process. It points not just to the
penetration of opposition by power, but also to the penetration of power by opposition. To say that money, for
example, is the thing-ification of social relations means equally that the antagonism of social relations enters into
the ‘thing’ which money presents itself as being. To talk of money as disciplining social relations is equally to talk of
social relations as subverting money. If power penetrates its negation, anti-power, it is equally true (and possibly
more interesting) that anti-power penetrates its antithesis, power.
The permeation of power by anti-power is the stuff of crisis theory.
The idea that a theory of crisis is important to support the struggle against capitalism has been a central argument
of the Marxist tradition: the importance of Marxism lies in giving support to the struggle for communism by showing
that a transition from capitalism to communism is materially possible, that is to say, that the struggle for
communism is founded in the material contradictions of capitalism and that these contradictions are concentrated
in capitalist crisis. Marxists have always looked to crisis for reassurance that we are not alone in our struggle.
There are, however, two ways of understanding this 'we are not alone'. The orthodox understanding of crisis is to
see crisis as an expression of the objective contradictions of capitalism: we are not alone because the objective
contradictions are on our side, because the forces of production are on our side, because history is on our side. In
this view, our struggle finds its support in the objective development of the contradictions of the capitalist economy.
A crisis precipitated by these contradictions opens a door of opportunity for struggle, an opportunity to turn
economic crisis into social crisis and a basis for the revolutionary seizure of power. The problem with this approach
is that it tends to deify the economy (or history or the forces of production), to create a force outside human agency
that will be our saviour. Moreover, this idea of the crisis as the expression of the objective contradictions of
capitalism is the complement of a conception that sees revolution as the seizure of power instead of seeing in both
crisis and revolution a disintegration of the relations of power
The other way of understanding the 'we are not alone' is to see crisis as the expression of the strength of our
opposition to capital. There are no 'objective contradictions': we and we alone are the contradiction of capitalism. History is not the history of the development of the laws of capitalist development but the history of class struggle
(that is, the struggle to classify and against being classified). There are no gods of any sort, neither money nor
capital, nor forces of production, nor history: we are the only creators, we are the only possible saviours, we are the
only guilty ones. Crisis, then, is not to be understood as an opportunity presented to us by the objective
development of the contradictions of capitalism but as the expression of our own strength, and this makes it
possible to conceive of revolution not as the seizure of power but as the development of the anti-power which
already exists as the substance of crisis.
In any class society, there is an instability deriving from the ruler's dependence on the ruled. In any system of
power-over, there is a relation of mutual dependence between the 'powerful' and the 'powerless'. It appears to be a
one-way relation in which the dominated depend on the dominator, but in fact the dominator's very existence as
dominator depends on the dominated. In any society based on exploitation, a certain instability arises from the fact
that the maintenance of the relations of exploitation, and hence the position of the ruling class, depends on the
work of the exploited. In any class society there is an asymmetry between exploiting and exploited class: although
there is clearly a sense in which each class depends on the other, the exploited class depends on the exploiting
class only for the reproduction of its status as exploited, whereas the exploiting class depends on the work of the
exploited class for its very existence.
The social instability inherent in any class society takes different forms in different forms of society. The notion of
capitalist crisis is based on the idea that capitalism is characterised by a particular instability, which finds vent in
periodic upheaval. It is necessary, therefore, to go beyond the instability resulting from the general dependence of
ruling classes on the work of the exploited, to ask: what is it about the particular capitalist form of dependence of
the ruling class on the work of the exploited class that makes capitalism as a system of domination peculiarly
What is peculiar in the relation of dependence of capital upon labour that makes capitalism inherently unstable?
Freedom. The answer is both obvious and slightly disturbing. It is the freedom of the worker that is the peculiar
feature of the relation between capital and labour. It is the freedom of the worker that distinguishes capitalism from
earlier class societies.
This freedom is, of course, not the freedom dear to the liberal imagination, but freedom in a "double sense": "For
the conversion of his money into capital ... the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free
in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the
other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labourpower" (Marx 1965, p. 169). Where the liberal notion of freedom sees only the first aspect, Marxists have tended, in
opposition to liberal theory, to emphasise the second aspect, the 'reality' of freedom in capitalist society, the fact
that the worker has no option but to sell her labour power. The exclusive emphasis on the second aspect, however,
suggests an image of the worker as victim, as object, and misses completely the importance of freedom as an
expression of the anti-power of the opposition to capital.
To emphasise also the first aspect, the freedom of the worker ‘to dispose of his labour-power as his own
commodity’ is not in any sense to suggest a liberalisation of Marxism. It is important to bear in mind that all class
societies rest on the subordination of insubordinate workers, and hence on violence: what distinguishes capitalism
from other class societies is the form which this subordination takes, the fact that it is mediated through freedom.
Marx does not examine ‘the question why this free labourer confronts [the owner of money] in the market’, but
notes that ‘one thing, however, is clear - Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or
commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural
basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical
development.... This one historical condition comprises a world's history’ (Marx 1965, pp. 169-170).
If feudalism and capitalism are seen as different historical forms assumed by the relation of domination, then the
essence of the transition from feudalism to capitalism is the freeing of the serfs and the dissolution of the personal
power of the feudal lords, the creation of the 'free labourer' who confronts the owner of money (also newly created)
in the market. The 'freeing of the serfs' is not the simple transition from bondage to freedom suggested in liberal
accounts. The 'freeing' is rather a dis-articulation of the relation of domination.
Under feudalism, the relation of domination was a personal one: a serf was bound to a particular lord, a lord was
limited to exploiting the serfs that he had inherited or could otherwise subjugate. Both sides of the class divide were
bound: the serf was tied to a particular lord and a particular place, the lord was tied to a particular group of serfs. If
the lord was cruel, the serf could not decide to go and work for another lord. If the serfs were lazy, unskilled or
insubordinate, the lord could not simply fire them. The result was revolt on the one hand, the pursuit of other ways of expanding wealth and power on the other. The personal bondage of feudalism proved inadequate as a form of
containing and exploiting the power of labour. Serfs fled to the towns, the feudal lords accepted the monetisation of
the relation of domination.
The transition from feudalism to capitalism was thus a movement of liberation on both sides of the class divide.
Both sides fled from the other: the serfs from the lords (as stressed by liberal theory), but also the lords from the
serfs, through the movement of their monetised wealth. Both sides fled from a relation of domination which had
proved inadequate as a form of domination. Both sides fled to freedom.
Flight to freedom is thus central to the transition from feudalism to capitalism. But there are, of course, two different
and opposing senses of freedom here (a dualism which is the central contradiction of liberal theory). The flight of
the serfs was a flight from subordination to the lord, the flight of those who, for one reason or another, no longer
accepted the old subordination, the flight of the insubordinate. The flight of the lords was just the opposite: when
they converted their wealth into money, it was a flight away from the inadequacy of subordination, a flight from
insubordination. On the one side, the flight of insubordination, on the other side the flight from insubordination:
viewed from either side, it was the insubordination of labour that was the driving force of the new mobility of the
class relation, the mutual flight of serf and lord.
The flight of-and-from the insubordination of labour, the mutual repulsion of the two classes did not, of course,
dissolve the class relation. For both serf and lord, the flight to freedom came up against the reassertion of the bond
of mutual dependence. The freed serfs found that they were not free to stop work: since they did not control the
means of production, they were forced to work for a master, someone who did control the means of production. To
survive, they had to subordinate themselves again. However, this was not a return to the old relation: they were no
longer tied to one particular master, but were free to move, to leave one master and go and work for another. The
transition from feudalism to capitalism involved the de-personalisation, dis-articulation or liquefaction of the
relations of domination. The relation of exploitation was not abolished by the dissolution of the ties of personal
bondage, but it underwent a fundamental change in form. The particular bond that tied the serf to one particular
master was dissolved and replaced by a mobile, fluid, disarticulated relation of subordination to the capitalist class.
The flight of insubordination entered into the very definition of the new class relation.
On the other side of society, the erstwhile lords who converted their wealth into money found too that freedom was
not all they had imagined, for they were still dependent on exploitation, and therefore on the subordination of the
exploited, the workers, their former serfs. Flight from insubordination is no solution for the lords turned capitalists,
for the expansion of their wealth depends on the subordination of labour. They are free to abandon the exploitation
of any particular group of workers (for whatever reason - laziness, inappropriate skills, whatever) and either
establish direct links of exploitation with another group of workers or simply participate through non-productive
investment in the global exploitation of labour. Whatever form their particular relation to the exploitation of labour
takes, the expansion of their wealth can be no more than a part of the total expansion of wealth produced by the
workers. Just as in the case of their former serfs, flight to freedom turns out to be flight to a new form of
dependence. Just as the serfs' flight from subordination leads them back to a new form of subordination, the lords'
flight from insubordination leads them back to the need to confront that insubordination. The relation, however, has
changed, for capital's flight from insubordination is central to its struggle to impose subordination (as, for example,
in the ever-present threat of factory closure or bankruptcy). The flight from insubordination has become a defining
feature of the new class relation.
The insubordination of labour is thus the axis on which the constitution of capital as capital turns. It is the
centrifugal mutual repulsion of the two classes, the flight of and from subordination, that distinguishes capitalism
from previous class societies, that gives a peculiar form to the exploitation on which capitalism, like any class
society, is based. The restlessness of insubordination enters into the class relation as the movement of labour and
From the start, the new class relation, the relation between capitalists and workers (or, more accurately, since it is
a depersonalised relation, between capital and labour) is a relation of mutual flight and dependence: flight of-andfrom insubordination, dependence on re-subordination. Capital, by its very definition, flees from insubordinate
labour in pursuit of more and more wealth, but can never escape from its dependence upon the subordination of
labour. Labour, from the start, flees from capital in pursuit of autonomy, ease, humanity, but can escape from its
dependence upon and subordination to capital only by destroying it, by destroying the private appropriation of the
products of labour. The relation between capital and labour is thus one of mutual flight and dependence, but it is
not symmetrical: labour can escape, capital can not. Capital is dependent on labour in a way in which labour is not
dependent upon capital. Capital, without labour, ceases to exist: labour, without capital, becomes practical
creativity, creative practice, humanity.
The rise of capitalism thus involves the de-personalisation or, better, dis-articulation, dis-jointing or dis-location of
the relations of domination. The dissolution of the ties of personal bondage does not abolish the relation of
domination but it dis-articulates it. Both serf (now worker) and lord (now capitalist) remain as antagonistic poles of a
relation of domination-and-struggle, but that relation is no longer the same. The insubordination of labour has
entered into the relation as restlessness, mobility, liquidity, flux, fluidity, constant flight. The relation has been disarticulated; it has been ruptured and re-composed in dis-articulated form. The dis-articulation of the class relation is
the form in which the power of labour is contained, subjected to the continuing exploitation of the ruling class. The
dis-articulation of the class relation is simultaneously the form assumed by the ruling class's dependence on labour.
That is the meaning of capitalist freedom.
The key to the dis-articulation of the class relation is its mediation through money, or the exchange of commodities.
The freedom of the serf from personal bondage is the commodification of her labour power, the acquisition by the
labour power of a value-form. The means by which the worker can move from one master to another is by offering
her labour power for sale and receiving in return a wage, the monetary expression of the value of the labour power.
The means by which the capitalist participates in the global exploitation of labour is through the movement of his
capital, in the form of money. Value, or money, is inseparable from what liberal theory refers to as freedom - the
dis-articulation of social relations.
The dis-articulation of the relation of exploitation/ domination brings with it a dis-articulation of all social relations.
The existence of labour power as a commodity implies a generalisation of commodity relations in society, the
mediation of social relations in general through the exchange of commodities, through money.
The dis-articulation of class relations is simultaneously the dis-articulation of work itself. Work, from being a general
concept denoting creative activity, becomes defined as work performed as a result of the sale of labour power to
the capitalist: a process of labour subject to the direction of the capitalist. Other forms of practical activity come to
be seen as non-work (as expressed in the distinction commonly made between working and non-working mothers,
or in the notion that someone who is not employed is 'out of work'). The same dis-articulation implies also a disarticulation of the relation between worker and the content of work. Where the serf lived by performing a certain
type, or certain types, of work, the capitalist worker lives by selling her labour power: the sale of the labour power
as a commodity, that is, the mediation of money, introduces a relation of indifference between the worker and the
work performed. The disarticulation of class relations is, in other words, simultaneously the abstraction of labour.
The abstraction of labour implies also a separation between the exploiter and the content of exploitation. Whereas
the well-being of the lord depended on the performance of certain types of work by his serfs, the mediation of
money makes it a matter of absolute indifference to the capitalist what type of work is performed by his employees
- his well-being depends not on the quality of the work done but on the quantitative expansion of value.
The dis-articulation of the class relation is also the dis-articulation of production and consumption: where the serfs
produced most of what they consumed, capitalist workers produce only marginally for their own consumption - the
relation between production and consumption is mediated through money. The mediation of money implies both a
temporal and spatial separation of production and consumption.
Similarly, the mediation of the class relation through money/ value, implies also a dis-articulation of the economic
and the political. Where the feudal relation is indistinguishably a relation of exploitation and domination,
indistinguishably economic and political, the fact that the capital relation is mediated through the sale and purchase
of labour power implies a separation between exploitation (the economic) and the maintenance of the social order
necessary for the process of exploitation (the political). By the same token, there is a re-definition of territoriality, a
separation between the a-territorial process of exploitation, characterised by the mobility of labour and capital, and
the territorial organisation of coercion through the definition of national states (and their citizens).
The list could be continued indefinitely. The dis-articulation of the class relation implies a general fragmentation of
social relations, the refraction of relations through things - fetishism, in other words.
The question that interests us here is how this dis-articulation (or fetishisation) of the class relation introduces a
new instability into the world. If the distinguishing feature between capitalism and previous forms of class
domination is the dis-articulation of the class relation ('freedom'), then the peculiarly crisis-ridden nature of
capitalism must be explained in terms of this dis-articulation.
Most obviously, the dis-articulation of social relations introduced a new chaos into the world. It created a chaotic,
dis-articulated world in which nothing fits neatly with anything else. There is no necessary match between people
offering to sell their labour power and people wanting to buy it; there is no necessary match between consumption
and production; there is no necessary match between the political and the economic. That is precisely what disarticulation ('freedom') means. A world of non-correspondence was born, in which order is established, if at all, only through disorder, in which social connections are established through social dis-connection. The orderly world of
feudalism had collapsed, the ties of personal bondage had proved inadequate to contain and exploit the power of
work. Class domination had been maintained, but only through the dis-articulation of the class relation. The power
of labour had been contained, but at a terrible price. The cost of subjugating the power of labour was to introduce
chaos into the very heart of the society. That same fetishism which we previously saw as the penetration of antipower by power is simultaneously the irruption of anti-power into the very core of the functioning of power. The
existence of power-to against and in capital takes form as the uncontrollable force of value.
This seems upside-down. We are not accustomed to thinking of value in these terms. It is more common to think of
value as establishing order (the 'law of value'), as being the social bond in a society of autonomous producers. This
is correct, but only if the emphasis is on the critique of liberal theory. The notion of the 'law of value' says in effect:
'despite appearances, the apparently autonomous producers are bound together by a social connection which
operates behind their backs - the law of value'. If, on the other hand, we start not from the appearance of
fragmented individualism, but from the historical irruption of the insubordination of labour into the very definition of
subordination, then value expresses the fragmentation wreaked by this irruption upon the more cohesive
domination of feudalism. The law of value is simultaneously the lawlessness of value. Value is the politicaleconomic expression of the presence of the contradictory flight of-and-from insubordination within subordination
itself, just as freedom is its categorial expression in liberal political theory. Freedom, value and mobility are
inseparable expressions of the same dis-articulation of class relations.
The category of value, then, expresses the power of insubordination, the containment of doing as labour and the
terrible cost of that containment. The labour theory of value proclaims firstly the exclusive, all-constitutive power of
labour under capitalism. It is therefore simultaneously a theory of class (cf. Clarke 1982) - if labour is allconstitutive, then conflict can only be understood in terms of the control over, or exploitation of, labour.
Secondly, the theory of value proclaims the subjugation of doing, the fact that human, creative doing is reduced in
capitalism to the dehumanising process of abstract labour, of value-production. As Marx says of the fact that
"labour is represented by the value of its product and labour-time by the magnitude of that value": "these formulae
bear it stamped upon them in unmistakeable letters that they belong to a state of society, in which the process of ..
production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him" (1965, pp. 80-81). The fact that the
product of doing takes the form of value is an expression of the containment of the power of doing. When the work
of the serfs is freed from subordination to the lord, it does not become free creative activity, but is held in leash by
the requirements of value production. Unhooked from personal bondage to the lord, the former serf is nevertheless
bound through the articulation of value to exploitation by capital.
Thirdly, the theory of value announces the cost to the ruling, exploiting class of the containment of doing. It makes
clear that this form of the subjugation of work means that social relations are established 'behind the backs of the
producers', that society is subject to no social control. In capitalism, the ruling class, if it can be called such, rules
only in the sense that it tries to contain (and benefit from) the chaos of value. Value rules, as chaos, as the disarticulation of social relations. Value is the expression of the power of doing-contained, as disorder, as
In Capital, this loss of social control is expressed through the successive derivation of the dis-located, disarticulated, crazy (ver-rückt) forms of social relations. Each form of social relations expresses not only a connection
but a disconnection, a dis-articulation, dis-location. Each step in the progressive fetishisation of social relations
traced in Capital not only makes society more opaque, it also makes it more dis-located, more prone to disorder.
Each time the argument moves from one form to another, the point is made that the particular existence of each
form (of price as a form distinct from value, for example) means that there is no necessary correspondence, that
each form involves a dis-location, the introduction of unpredictability. Marx says of the relation between
commodities and money: "Commodities are in love with money, but 'the course of true love never did run smooth'"
(Marx 1965, p. 107). At each step, the derivation of each form of social relations is a tale of uncertain love. Against
the fragmentation of social relations, Marx traces their inner unity, traces the process by which that inner unity
(labour) assumes fragmented forms: important in Marx's discussion is not only the inner unity, but the real
fragmentation, dis-location, of the forms assumed by labour. Too often Marxism is reduced to a functionalism in
which it is assumed that the cogwheels of capitalist domination mesh together perfectly. Nothing could be further
from Marx's analysis. Capitalism is crucially a society of non-correspondence, in which things do not fit together
functionally, in which the law of value is inseparable from the lawlessness of value, a society based on the
maintenance-in-dis-articulation of class domination, the leashed unleashing of the power of labour.
The dis-articulation of society is the possibility of social dis-integration, the possibility of crisis. Crisis is simply the
extreme expression of social dis-articulation: the extreme manifestation of the non-correspondence of labour and
capital, of production and consumption, of the sale and purchase of labour-power and other commodities, of the political and the economic. In that (still limited) sense, the crisis-ridden nature of capitalism is already given in the
dis-articulation of the class relation.
If crisis is the extreme manifestation of the dis-articulation of social relations, then any theory of a tendency towards
(or 'inevitability' of) crisis must begin by asking why the dis-articulation of social relations should take extreme
forms. If crisis is not viewed as simply endemic in capitalism (an endemic dis-location of social relations) but is
seen as the periodic intensification of dis-articulation, then it is necessary to go beyond the argument so far and
ask how, in a society in which there is no inevitability, one can yet talk of a tendency towards crisis as the key to
understanding the fragility of capitalism
The problem is not just to understand crisis as a crisis of social relations, rather than as an economic phenomenon.
It is not simply a question of seeing crisis as a periodic intensification of class antagonism or of intensified social
change (and hence central to any understanding of social movement). This is important, but the issue at this point
of the argument is how it is possible to talk of a tendency to crisis (or even inevitability of crisis) without having
recourse to external, objective forces.
Any non-deterministic theory of crisis must locate the tendency to crisis in the dynamic of struggle. There must be
something about the relation of struggle in capitalism, something about the relation between capital and labour, that
leads it to recurrent crisis. This is not a question of seeing crisis as the consequence of a wave of struggle or
militancy (as, in different ways, neo-Ricardian and autonomist analyses do), but of seeing the tendency to crisis as
embedded in the form of the class antagonism.
It was argued above that the distinguishing feature of the capitalist form of class antagonism was the disarticulation of the class relation (expressed in freedom, value, mobility, etc), and that this dis-articulation is
expressed in all aspects of social relations. Now, if crisis is seen as this social dis-articulation taken to extreme, that
already suggests the question: what is it about the dis-articulation of class relations that makes it tend to extreme
So far the dis-articulation of social relations has been discussed in terms of the distinction between capitalism and
previous forms of class society, as though the dis-articulation had been completed at the dawn of capitalism. In an
antagonistic society such as capitalism, however, there are no states of being, only processes of movement. Disarticulation, then, is not a description of the state of class relations, but a dynamic of struggle. Dis-articulation does
not simply refer to the liberation of the serfs from the feudal lords and the liberation of the lords from their serfs, but
can be seen as the continuing centrifugal dynamic of antagonism, as workers fight against their dependence on
capital and capital fights against its dependence on labour. It is the centrifugal dynamic of struggle which is the
core of capitalism's tendency to crisis. Both labour and capital constantly strive to liberate themselves from their
mutual dependence: that is the source of capitalism's peculiar fragility.
The centrifugal nature of the struggle against capital is relatively easy to see. Our struggle is clearly a constant
struggle to get away from capital, a struggle for space, for autonomy, a struggle to lengthen the leash, to intensify
the dis-articulation of domination. This takes a million different forms: throwing the alarm clock at the wall, arriving
late for 'work', back-pain and other forms of absenteeism, sabotage, struggles over tea-breaks, for the shortening
of the working day, for longer holidays, better pensions, strikes of all sorts. Migration is a particularly important and
obvious form of flight, as millions of people flee from capital, in hope. Struggles over wages too can be seen as
struggles for greater autonomy from capital, for, although an intensification of work is often part of the deal for
higher wages, money is identified with 'freedom', in its capitalist sense, with the capacity to lead a life less subject
to external dictates. The struggle to get away from capital is obviously not confined to the place of employment:
struggles over health or housing, struggles against nuclear power, attempts to establish anti-capitalist forms of
living or eating all are attempts to get away from the domination of value. The struggle by labour (or, better, against
labour) is a constant struggle for autonomy from capital, whether understood in terms of collective revolt or as the
individual exploitation of opportunities. The struggle for autonomy is the refusal of domination, the NO which
reverberates in one form or another not only through places of employment but through the whole of society (cf.
That capital's struggle is also for autonomy is perhaps less obvious. It would seem that the opposite is true.
Capital's struggle is against the autonomy of doing. Where we seek to loosen the ties of capitalist domination,
capital seeks to tighten them; where we seek to extend in-subordination, capital must subordinate; where we seek
to escape, capital must contain; where we seek to arrive late, capital imposes the clock. It would seem that capital's
struggle is constantly against the dis-articulation of society, and that therefore the extreme manifestations of disarticulation (i.e. crises) are a matter of contingency, dependent purely on the particular outcome of the struggle
between dis-articulation and articulation.
Yet the matter is not so simple. Certainly, capital's survival depends on exploiting labour. What is distinctive about
capitalism, however, is the form of exploitation, the mediation of the relation of exploitation through money (value,
freedom, mobility). Capital's struggle to bind labour is mediated through the dis-articulation of the social relation.
The form in which capital imposes its discipline on labour is through actual or threatened flight from labour. The
worker who arrives late is faced with dismissal: not with the lash or the gallows, but with the movement of capital
away from her. The labour force that goes on strike or does not work at the pace required by capital is normally
faced not by the machine-gun but by the closure of the factory and the conversion of the capital into money. The
workers who raise the hand of insubordination are faced with dismissal and replacement by machinery - the flight
of capital from variable capital through money to constant capital. The joy of capitalism, from capital's point of view,
is that it is not bound to the subordination of any particular worker or group of workers, but only to the subordination
of labour in general. If one group of workers proves unsatisfactory, capital can simply spit them out, turn itself into
money and go in search of more subordinate ('flexible') workers. Capital is an inherently mobile form of domination.
The paradox of capitalism is that both workers and capital struggle constantly, in different ways, to liberate
themselves from labour. There is, in the peculiar form of the antagonism between capital and work, a centrifugality:
the two poles of the antagonistic relation repel each other. There is a mutual repulsion between humanity and
capital (obvious enough, but all-important). If one thinks of the dis-articulated bond of capitalism in terms of a dogowner walking a dog on a long leash, then the peculiarity of capitalism is that both owner and dog tend to run away
from each other.
To take the analogy a step further, crisis comes not when owner and dog run in opposite directions, but when the
unity of the relation asserts itself through the leash. Dog and owner may have forgotten about their attachment, but
eventually it asserts itself, independently of their will. It is the same with capital: no matter how much labour and
capital may wish to forget about their mutual relationship, eventually it asserts itself. Behind all the forms that the
relationship may take lies the fact that capital is nothing but objectivised labour.
The process of social dis-articulation does not in itself contitute a crisis. Hippies can opt out, workers can turn up
late to work, students can fritter away their time in the study of Marx, capital can turn to financial speculation or
handling drugs: all that does not matter too much as long as the production of capital (that is, the objectivisation of
doing) itself is not threatened. The dis-articulation of social relations means that the reproduction of capital depends
on one particular type of social practice - the production of surplus value. It is when the dis-articulation of social
relations threatens the production of surplus value (expressed through money as profit) that the underlying unity of
social relations asserts itself.
In this sense, those theories of crisis which are based on Marx's analysis of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall
can be seen as more relevant than underconsumption or disproportionality theories. Where the latter focus on
expressions of the extreme dis-articulation of social relations (the lack of correspondence between production and
consumption, or between diferent sectors of production), they do not address directly the relation between the
classes, the relation of ‘free’ mutual repulsion which is the source of non-correspondence. The contradiction of this
mutual repulsion is, on the other hand, the core of Marx’s theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.
A crucial form of capital's struggle for autonomy from living labour is the replacement of living labour by dead, past
labour, by machinery. In its struggle to maximise surplus-value production, ‘capital is constantly compelled to
wrestle with the insubordination of the workmen’ (Marx 1965, p. 367), to struggle with ‘the refractory hand of labour’
(1965, p. 437). Capital's response to the insubordination of labour is to dissociate itself from living labour, to replace
the insubordinate worker by the docile machine and to use the machine to impose order (‘Arkwright created order’,
Marx quotes Ure as saying) (1965, p. 368). The replacement of worker by machine is, of course, not necessarily a
direct response to insubordination: mediated through money, it may take the form of a response to the costs of
maintaining subordination, that is, it may simply be seen as cost-saving. Either way, the result is the same: capital's
struggle to maximise surplus-value, which can be produced only by living labour, takes the form of a flight from
living labour, the expulsion of living labour and its replacement by dead labour.
Paradoxically, capital's flight from labour intensifies its dependence upon labour. Capital's flight from labour means
that the reproduction of the material basis of its domination (value) depends on the exploitation of a relatively
decreasing number of workers (this is what Marx refers to as a rising organic composition of capital). For capital to
reproduce itself, there must be an ever intensifying exploitation of labour, which in turn pre-supposes an ever
intensifying subjugation of humanity. If the intensification of exploitation is not sufficient to counteract the effects of
capital's flight from labour, the consequences for the reproduction of capital will manifest themselves as a fall in the
rate of profit. What is expressed in the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is precisely the contradiction between
capital’s flight from labour and its dependence upon labour.
The endemic tendency to crisis is already given in the mutual repulsion of humanity and capital. This mutual
repulsion both imposes the necessity for capital constantly to intensify its exploitation of labour and makes it difficult for it to do so. A crisis can be said to exist when the insubordination or non-subordination of human life hinders the
intensification of exploitation required for capitalist reproduction to such an extent that the profitability of capital is
seriously affected. Through the process of crisis, capital seeks to reorganise its relation with labour in such a way
as to restore profitability. This involves the mobilisation of what Marx calls the counter-tendencies to the tendency
to the rate of profit to fall: raising the rate of exploitation, eliminating a number of the capitals that would otherwise
participate in the share-out of total social surplus value, restoring to some degree the proportional part played by
living labour by cheapening the elements of constant capital and reducing the unproductive use of surplus value.
This involves not just a reorganisation of the labour process itself but of all those conditions which affect the
process of exploitation, that is say, the whole of society. This 'mobilisation of the counter-tendencies' typically
involves bankruptcies, unemployment, wage cuts, curtailment of trade union rights, an intensification of work for
those still in employment, an intensification of competition between capitals and of conflict between states, cuts in
state expenditure on education, health and social welfare, a consequent change in the relation between old and
young, between women and men, children and parents, a change too in the relation between different aspects of
ourselves, and so on. In so far as these measures are successful for capital, a new subordination of life to capital is
The whole process of crisis involves a direct confrontation between capital and labour, between capital and the
insubordination and non-subordination of life. This confrontation means risks for capital: the confrontation could
lead not to greater subordination but to more overt insubordination and an intensification of capital's difficulties. The
dangers of confrontation are even more clear from the perspective of particular capitals or particular states which
run the risk of losing in the intensified competition and conflict which crisis implies. In other words, capital as a
whole, and also particular capitals and particular states, may have an interest in avoiding or modifying the
confrontation with the forces of insubordination.
To return to the metaphor of the dog and its master, crisis can be seen as the point in their mutual repulsion at
which the leash tightens, cuts into the dog's neck and the master's hand. It is clear that dog and master cannot
continue on their previous course. Yet still there is nothing pre-determined about the outcome. If the dog is
sufficiently strong and determined or has gathered sufficient momentum, it will either break the leash or knock the
master off his feet. Alternatively, the master may have sufficient strength and skill to bring the dog to heel. In his
struggle to subordinate the dog, the master has an important trick up his sleeve: he can extend the leash. This is
both an acknowledgement of the dog's strength and a manoeuvre to tire the dog into submission. Once the dog is
sufficiently tired and weakened, the owner can, if necessary, beat the dog to bring it to heel and shorten the leash.
The loosening of the leash, the avoidance of conflict with the aim of winning the conflict is the expansion of credit.
Crisis (and hence the materiality of anti-power) cannot be understood without discussing the role of the expansion
As profits fall, companies in difficulties seek to survive by borrowing money. Governments with economic and
social problems seek to avoid confrontation with their populations by borrowing. Workers too seek to alleviate the
effects of incipient crisis by borrowing. The increased demand for loans combines with the problems caused by
insubordination in production to make it attractive for capitals to lend their money rather than to invest it in
production. The onset of crisis gives rise to an expansion of credit and debt. Accumulation becomes more and
more fictitious: the monetary representation of value becomes more and more detached from the value actually
produced. Capitalism becomes more fictitious, more make-believe: workers make believe that our income is
greater than it is; capitalists make believe that their businesses are profitable; banks make believe that the debtors
are financially sound. All make believe that there is a greater production of surplus value than is actually the case.
All make believe that there is a greater subordination of labour, a greater subordination of life to capital than is
really so. With the expansion of credit and debt, all our categories of thought become more fictitious, more makebelieve. In a peculiar, fetishised way, the expansion of credit expresses the explosive force of the subjunctive, the
longing for a different society.
Classically, the expansion of credit reaches a point, however, at which, as a result of the avoidance of confrontation
with insubordination, the relative decline in the surplus value produced makes it impossible to maintain the fiction.
More and more debtors begin to default in their repayments, creditors (such as banks) start to collapse and the
crisis is precipitated in its full intensity, with all the social confrontation that that involves. There is a massive
destruction of fictitious capital and a massive destruction of the fictitious expectations and living standards of most
people. Such a destruction of a make-believe world can be seen, for example, in the stock market crash of 1929.
This classic process of crisis will, however, be modified if there is some 'lender of last resort' who is able to keep on
lending, to maintain the expansion of credit in such a way as to avoid the credit collapse. Credit then becomes
much more elastic, the world of make-believe more fantastic. The leash seems to be infinitely extendible, giving
both dog and master the illusion of freedom.
The seventy years or so since the crash of 1929 have seen a change in the shape of crisis. Credit has become
much more elastic, the role of the lender of last resort much more prominent. The constant expansion of credit and
debt is now a central part of capitalist development.
The extent to which the reproduction of capitalism now depends on the constant expansion of debt is the clearest
indication of capital's incapacity to adequately subordinate life into labour. The insubordination of life has entered
into the very core of capital as chronic financial instability.
The point was made clearly by the US politician Bernard Baruch, when Roosevelt abandoned the Gold Standard in
1933 in order to meet social pressures for more flexible economic and social policies: 'It can't be defended except
as mob rule. Maybe the country doesn't know it yet, but I think we may find we've been in a revolution more drastic
than the French Revolution. The crowd has seized the seat of government and is trying to seize the wealth.
Respect for law and order is gone.' The mob had been allowed into the very heart of capital. The government had
given in to social discontent by adopting policies that would undermine the stability of the currency.
That was the essence of the debates of the inter-War period surrounding the restoration and then the
abandonment of the Gold Standard. While Keynes and those of like mind argued that it was necessary to adapt
capitalist rule to incorporate the new strength of labour (manifested above all in the wave of revolutionary activity
associated with October 1917) by accepting a new, expanded role for the state and more flexible monetary
policies, their opponents argued that to do so would undermine the long-term stability of money and therefore of
capitalism. Baruch and his friends (the 'old-world party', as Keynes called them) were, of course, right, but in the
short term they lost the argument: the mob was allowed into the heart of money and monetary stability was
The problems that arise for capital from this type of development became clear in the 1960s and early 1970s. The
constant expansion of credit implies above all a weakening of the discipline of the market, a weakening of the
social discipline imposed by the law of value. By postponing or modifying crisis, it makes possible the survival of
inefficient capitals and, even worse from the point of view of capital, the survival of inefficient and insubordinate
workers. It also implies the autonomisation of financial markets from commodity markets. Credit feeds on credit. In
order to avoid defaulting in the repayment of loans and interest, debtors need to borrow more. An increasing
proportion of credit granted is recycling credit, credit granted just for the purpose of repaying loans (or, often, the
interest on loans). The more elaborate the structure of credit becomes, the more difficult it becomes to maintain,
but also the more difficult to undo. A full-scale 'credit crunch' (the destruction of fictitious capital) would not only
cause massive social hardship but also threaten the existence of the banking system, and, with it, the existing
structure of capitalism.
The criticisms which had been voiced by the opponents of Keynes in the 1920s and 1930s arose with force again
in the 1970s, when they formed the basis of the monetarist assault on the assumptions of the post-war
development of capitalism. The monetarist critique of Keynesianism was directed against the fictitious character of
capitalist development ('funny money', as they called it) and against the social indiscipline which the modification of
the market promoted. The monetarist prescription was essentially to reverse the Roosevelt-Keynes mistake and
throw the mob out of money. Baruch's argument was now repeated in the form of an argument about the need to
limit democracy (and the role of the state): the undermining of monetary stability was discussed in terms of the
'economic consequences of democracy'. More recently, the argument has taken the form of advocating greater
independence for central banks from government (and therefore formal-democratic) influence. In each case, the
struggle of capital has been to get the mob out of money. In each case, it has failed, simply because the integration
of labour through the expansion of debt and the avoidance of crisis has taken such proportions that the measures
required to restore capitalism to financial stability would be so drastic as to threaten the existence of capitalism
The attempt by the United States, British and other governments, to impose market discipline through tightening
the money supply (that is, restricting the expansion of credit), in the years 1979 to 1982, not only caused
considerable social hardship and economic destruction, but also threatened to destroy the international banking
system. The restriction of credit by raising interest rates in the United States created a situation in which it became
extremely difficult for some of the biggest debtors (such as the Mexican, Argentine and Brazilian governments) to
repay their debts or even to pay the interest due. When the Mexican government threatened in 1982 to default on
its payments, thus precipitating the so-called 'debt crisis' of the 1980s, it became clear that the attempt to eliminate
the expansion of credit threatened the survival not only of the debtors but also of the creditors, in this case the
world's major banks.
The attempt to precipitate the massive destruction of fictitious capital through tight monetary policies had proved
impossible to implement. The reproduction of capital required a new and massive expansion of credit. The problem
for capital was how to provide the credit needed for the reproduction of capital without alowing this credit expansion
to undermine the discipline needed for the exploitation of labour. The solution attempted was the so-called 'supplyside' economics of the 1980s: the combination of measures to discipline labour with an unprecedented expansion
of credit. The dangers involved in such a development were signalled by a number of critics of this 'voodoo
economics' in the mid-1980s. Although the critics were correct in pointing to the instability entailed by the
expansion of debt, the stock market crash of 1987, of which they had warned, simply increased the pressures to
expand credit in order to avoid a worse crisis. The response of the governments was the same: the expansion of
credit and the introduction of measures to avoid at all costs a massive destruction of fictitious capital.
The response to the recession of the early 1990s was the same 'Keynesian' response, especially on the part of the
United States and Japanese governments: to reduce the rates of interest to stimulate borrowing, to create money
through credit. In this case, however, a lot of the money borrowed in the United States (on the basis of the 3%
interest rate set by the Federal Reserve) was not invested in the US but in the international money markets, and
especially in the so-called emerging markets, where there were high profits to be won. The most important of the
emerging markets was Mexico, where the inflow of capital in the form of money contributed to the opening of a
huge abyss between the reality of the process of accumulation and its appearance, the abyss that was revealed in
the devaluation of the peso in December 1994.
The result of the constant postponement of crisis through the expansion of debt has been an ever growing
separation between productive and monetary accumulation. Money has been expanding at a far faster rate than
the value it represents. In other words, despite the very real restructuring of the productive process that has taken
place over the last twenty years or so, the survival of capitalism is based on an ever increasing expansion of debt.
Many statistics can be used to tell what is basically the same story. Public debt, for example, which was the central
theme of the monetarist attack against Keynesianism, continues to expand: the OECD calculates that the net public
debt of its member states increased from 21% of the gross domestic product in 1978 to 42% in 1994. The net debt
of the European governments grew from less than 25% of GDP in 1980 to more than 55% in 1994. According to
IMF figures for the member states of the Group of Seven, domestic credit as a proportion of gross domestic
product rose from 44.48 per cent in 1955 to 104.54 per cent in 1994. The world bond market (which is closely tied
to the financing of government budget deficits) tripled in size between 1986 and 1997. The growth in world money
transactions has been far faster than the growth in world trade: while yearly transactions in the London Eurodollar
market represented six times the value of world trade in 1979, but by 1986 were about 25 times the value of world
trade and 18 times the value of the world's largest economy. Well over a trillion dollars are exchanged daily on the
world's foreign exchange markets, and this figure has been increasing about 30% a year since the early 1990s.
The late 1980s and the 1990s saw a massive rise in the expansion of debt through securitisation - the development
of new forms of property in debt, particularly the so-called 'derivatives': the derivatives markets grew at the rate of
140% a year from 1986 to 1994. In Wall Street, price-earning ratios on shares are at record highs.
The separation between real and monetary accumulation is crucial for understanding the instability, volatility,
fragility and unpredictability of capitalism today. Since the whole financial structure of capitalism is so heavily based
on credit and debt, any default or threat of default by a major debtor (such as Mexico) can cause great upheaval in
the financial markets: the urgency with which the international package to support the peso was put together at the
beginning of 1995 was related to fears that the Mexican government could default on the payment of its debt. More
generally, the autonomisation of the financial markets which the non-destruction of fictitious capital supports implies
the possibility of creating ever more sophisticated financial instruments of doubtful validity; it also implies the
increasingly rapid movement of greater and greater quantities of money on the world’s financial markets, and
therefore a radical change in the relation between individual states and world capital.
All this does not mean that world financial collapse is imminent. It does, however, mean that a chronic financial
instability has become a central feature of contemporary capitalism, and that the possibility of a world financial
collapse has become a structural characteristic of capitalism, even in periods of rapid accumulation.
This has two crucial consequences for the understanding of crisis today. Firstly, it means that attempts to
administer the crisis by political means acquire a new importance. Both nationally and internationally, the
confrontation with insubordination is selectively directed. Rather like a bank manager faced with bad debts, both
states and international agencies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Group of Seven
discriminate between debtors. Depending on their position and the possible consequences of overt coercion,
debtor states are dealt with more or less leniently. In all cases, debt is used as a means of imposing social
discipline, subordination to the logic of capital, although not always with success.
In spite of all the praise of the market by the people who operate and support this process of debt administration,
the administration of debt is very far from being the free operation of the market. Just the contrary: the administration of debt which now plays such an important part in the world arises simply because the free operation
of the market would give rise to such a level of social confrontation, to such a wave of insubordination, that the
survival of capitalism would probably become impossible. What has taken its place is an administered confrontation
with insubordination, with the debt administrators taking only such measures as they think are socially and
politically feasible. The result is a deferred, prolonged, fragmented crisis, in which total confrontation is avoided, in
which the full implications of crisis are felt only in certain countries and regions, while others continue to enjoy what
is known as prosperity. The incidence of crisis is always uneven as some capitals or states gain from the
intensification of conflict which crisis entails, but this disparity is arguably intensified as a result of the role played by
debt administration. Drastic falls in the standard of living in some areas are accompanied in other areas by talk of a
'Goldilocks economy' and of a 'new paradigm' in which the problem of crisis has been solved.
At the heart of this administration of crisis is a problem for capital. There is only a partial confrontation with the
expansion of debt and consequently with the insubordination or non-subordination which capital needs to eliminate.
Capital, in order to develop with some degree of stability, needs to produce more and more surplus value, needs to
exploit labour more and more effectively, needs to eliminate the insubordination and non-subordination which
hinders it from doing so. The continued expansion of debt suggests that it is not succeeding in doing so. In spite of
the partial confrontations, capitalism's dependence on debt continues to grow. In part this is actually stimulated by
the process of debt administration itself. Big debtors (large states, large companies, large banks) come to learn
through the process of administration that they are 'too big to fail', that the states and international agencies cannot
allow them to collapse, because of the social and economic consequences that such a collapse would entail.
Consequently, they know that, no matter how 'irresponsibly' they behave, no matter how indebted they may
become in the attempt to maximise their profits at all cost, they will be bailed out by state or international agencies.
The attempt to impose the discipline of the market undermines this discipline at the same time. This is the so-called
problem of 'moral hazard' which is now at the heart of debt administration.
Secondly, crisis, by virtue of being adminstered, becomes more and not less unpredictable. It would be completely
wrong to think that 'administration of the crisis' means that crisis is under control. Whereas in the time of Marx the
occurrence of crisis followed a more or less predictable pattern, this is much less so today. The expansion of credit
and the rise in the relative importance of the money form of capital which is inseparable from that expansion mean
that there is an enormous increase in the speed and volume of capital movements. Rather than the unpredictability
of capital being overcome, the expansion and administration of credit mean that crisis is increasingly mediated
through the rapid and volatile movement of money. Hence the series of financial crises which have hit the world
over the last twenty years or so: the Debt crisis of 1982, the stock market crash of 1987, the savings and loans and
junk bond crises and scandals of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the tequila crisis of 1994/95, the South East Asia
crisis of 1997/98, the rubel crisis of 1998, the samba crisis of 1998/1999, the tango crisis of 2000. In each one of
these cases, the administrators have succeeded in restricting the impact of the crisis, normally with dire
consequences for those affected; but in each case there has been a risk of a 'systemic crisis', of a world financial
The more the separation between real and monetary accumulation grows, the greater the gap between the real
subordination of life achieved and the subordination demanded by the voraciousness of capital. Capital, in order to
survive, becomes more and more demanding. 'Kneel, kneel! Prostrate yourselves! Sell every last drop of dignity
that you possess!' is the watchword of contemporary capital. The drive to subordinate every aspect of life more and
more intensely to capital is the essence of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the attempt to resolve crisis by the
intensification and reorganisation of subordination. The separation of subject and object (the dehumanisation of the
subject) is taken to new lengths by the extension of command-through-money. Just as capital in the eighteenth
century extablished its rule through the enclosure of land (that is, the separation of people from the land), capital
now is trying to overcome its crisis through the enclosure of more and more areas of social activity, imposing the
rule of money where previously subordination was only indirect. The commodification of land, the increased
commodification of health care and education, the extension of the concept of property to include software and
genes, the cutting back of social welfare provision in those countries where it exists, the increase in stress at work:
all of these are measures which attempt to extend and intensify subordination, which mark out new areas and say
'these areas are now subject to the direct rule of capital, of money'. In the same way as the enclosures of the
eighteenth century meant that conduct that was previously just minding one's own business now became conductagainst-capital, conduct to be punished by law and poverty, so the enclosures of today mean that conduct
previously regarded as normal begins to appear as a threat to capital. Thus, for example, the desire of the
indigenous people of Chiapas to maintain their traditional patterns of life comes into conflict with the extension of
property to include genetic development; in universities it becomes more difficult for students or professors to work
on themes like Plato or Aristotle, because that sort of work is not considered compatible with capital's drive to
subordinate intellectual work more and more to its needs; the simple pleasure of playing with children or
celebrating birthdays becomes harder to maintain in the face of the intensification of stress at work. We are told in
so many ways by capital to bend our lives more and more to its dictates (to the operation of the law of value), our
lack of subordination becomes more and more a point of conflict, something to be punished by poverty or worse.
'Kneel, kneel, kneel!' cries capital. In vain: it is not enough.
In the 1930s Paul Mattick spoke of the 'permanent crisis' of capitalism; it would seem that we are in a similar
situation, in a prolonged crisis that is not resolved. Mattick was too optimistic: the crisis of the 1930s was not
permanent, itwas resolved, through the slaughter of about thirty million people. That is frightening.
And yet, there is nothing pre-determined about the crisis. We are the crisis, we-who-scream, in the streets, in the
countryside, in the factories, in the offices, in our houses; we, the insubordinate and non-subordinate who say no!,
we who say Enough!, enough of your stupid power games, enough of your stupid exploitation, enough of your
idiotic playing at soldiers and bosses; we who do not exploit and do not want to exploit, we who do not have power
and do not want to have power, we who still want to live lives that we consider human, we who are without face
and without voice: we are the crisis of capitalism. The theory of crisis is not just a theory of fear but also a theory of