Issue #32 June 2020

Marx and “Anti-Oedipus.” On Desiring One’s Own Suppression

Félix Vallotton — Interior with Couple and Screen (Intimacy) (1898)

How does it come that people desire their own suppression and powerlessness? This is, according to Deleuze and Guattari, “the fundamental problem of political philosophy,” and, in that sense, of Anti-Oedipus, namely: “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?” — “As [Wilhelm] Reich remarks, the astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, that they actually want humiliation and slavery not only for others but for themselves?” (Anti-Oedipus, 38)

In posing this problem as a question of desire, Deleuze and Guattari explicitly differentiate it from the phrasing that in many ways still dominates the political discourse: Why do people vote and act against their own interests? We could hear this exclamation of bafflement after Brexit, or after Trump became president — and we keep hearing it each time another scandal surrounding him emerges, which nonetheless still fails to change his supporters’ minds. The answers to this question usually concern knowledge and education — the masses have been misinformed and cheated, they don’t understand what’s best for them. The masses would vote and act according to their interest, if only they knew what those are (if only someone would show them…). Continuous cuts in education budgets, nationalistic propaganda, discrediting the media and misinformation campaigns — all these indeed play a vital role in keeping the people divided and distracted. But that does not answer why awareness campaigns are still so inefficient, and, more importantly, why it seems that people desire the cuts in education, why they desire wars in which they themselves will be slaughtered, why they desire to be misinformed and cheated. Many critics following these lines of argument therefore make the only conclusion seemingly available to them: that the masses are just inherently stupid, that they need to be guided.

It is therefore unsurprising that the resurgence of the far-right in the recent years was accompanied by a disdain for democracy by the so-called centre. The promotion of an enlightened and benevolent class — as if it wouldn’t coincide with the oligarchy that is so ‘benevolently’ ruling already — was equally foreseeable, just like the fact that the “interests” that this liberalism universally puts forward end up being the interests of the very same class that is volunteering to play the guide — economic interests, the protection of private property, the interests of business, and the health of the market. But the foundation of political philosophy on the concept of interest is not exclusive to liberalism. In criticising such a conceptual frame, Anti-Oedipus is rather intended as a self-criticism of the left: its focus on class consciousness, which needs to be heightened by a vanguard party, which once again knows best what’s best for the masses etc. It seems that political philosophies founded on concepts like interest or consciousness end up with an anti-democratic streak. At the same time, without underplaying the role of awareness or educational campaigns, it seems like they alone are not enough to bring things in motion. To use a current example — it is not like people didn’t know about police brutality in the United States, its violence against black people, its militarisation. Something else was needed to initiate what is at least potential change, and this cannot be explained merely by interest or consciousness.

If, according to Deleuze and Guattari, the fundamental problem of political philosophy concerns desire, then it becomes a question of the unconscious. Desiring one’s own suppression is thus not explained by a certain advantage that comes along with exploitation, and neither by an inherent conservatism of individuals. We can already see that Deleuze and Guattari understand the unconscious not as a purely individual or familial affair — the way it was understood by Freud — but that the unconscious is structured by collective, and, in a certain way, impersonal forces. Instead of saying that the child is raised within the family as a microcosm and then enters the socio-political sphere in its maturity — leading to a clear differentiation between the atomic individual and society — the experiences of the child, even within the family, are inherently marked by its social surrounding –

“There is always an uncle from America; a brother who went bad; an aunt who took off with a military man; a cousin out of work, bankrupt, or a victim of the Crash; an anarchist grandfather; a grandmother in the hospital, crazy or senile. The family does not engender its own ruptures. Families are filled with gaps and transected by breaks that are not familial: the Commune, the Dreyfus Affair, religion and atheism, the Spanish Civil War, the rise of fascism, Stalinism, the Vietnam war, May ‘68 — all these things form complexes of the unconscious, more effective than everlasting Oedipus” (Anti-Oedipus, 96).

In other words: “desire is part of the infrastructure” (ibid., 104). While it was Freud who discovered the unconscious and its structure, his mistake, according to Deleuze and Guattari, was to understand it in an universal fashion — Oedipus as an ahistorical fact that goes way back to the “primordial horde”. Just as Marx affirmed Adam Smith’s analysis of capitalism but criticised him for understanding its laws as eternal facts instead of historic products, Deleuze and Guattari criticise Freud for an ahistorical reading of Oedipus. Yes, Oedipus is real, but he is a product of history, more specifically, of capitalism. The ‘story’ of Oedipus as the development of the subject, the way Freud puts it forward — crudely speaking, desiring one’s own mother, the father’s interdiction, looking for a replacement for the mother elsewhere by founding one’s own family — is played out purely within the familial sphere. Desire emerges and develops within the triangulation of mama, papa, and me. This eternalises a subject formation that pertains to the nuclear family, and it also eternalises the latter. But both the family and the subject (including its unconscious) are not eternal and ethereal categories, but part of history, of the social, economic, and political situation. The family is not a “microcosm” but permeated and stabilised by socio-political forces.1placeholder

It would not be too controversial to consider his supporters’ relation to Trump as being libidinal. But such arguments usually are put forward only to discredit the masses as being animalistic and too stupid for rational discourse. Yet, when it is said that Clinton was a competent candidate who didn’t manage to bring the voters into the booths, the problem seems to have been less about rational appeal and more about enthusiasm and ardour — and weren’t Obama’s messages of “Hope” and “Change” just as libidinal? The critique of Deleuze and Guattari is not about an inherent emotionality of the masses, or that their ‘disobedience’ is a random outburst within a rational order, but that these libidinal investments are produced and systematised with the precise function to keep the masses in their place — and that the liberating and revolutionary forces are just as libidinal. The question, how desire can turn either reactionary or revolutionary, how structures are created or undone that can make it go either way — this is what Deleuze and Guattari want to understand in Anti-Oedipus. What they call schizoanalysis aims precisely at that.

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The question of desiring one’s own suppression is obviously as complex as it gets. Tackled on too superficial grounds, it will only yield clichéd answers. What I want to say is that the following essay will be long. I hope nevertheless that each part of it is necessary to elaborate the problem. I start out with the connection of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of desire to Marx’s concept of production, and the relation of man and nature that underlies them. The antithesis of labour and capital, as it is discussed by the young Marx, intervenes into this relation, not only in the economic sphere, but also in the ‘private sphere’ of the family. The relation between the two ‘spheres’ will therefore be discussed extensively, as the relation of man and woman — sexuality — is important not only for the young Marx, but also for Anti-Oedipus. As a critical term, I then put forward Marx’s concept of passion and finish with a few comments on intersectionality and identity politics.

Félix Vallotton — La Visite (1899)

Production, Distribution, Consumption

To get a better grasp of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of desire, let us have a closer look at the architectural structure of Anti-Oedipus. Early in the first chapter, Deleuze and Guattari refer to Marx’s Introduction to the Grundrisse, where he discusses the classic economic “distinction of relatively autonomous spheres” (Anti-Oedipus, 3f.) — production, distribution, and consumption. While acknowledging the conceptual differentiation, Marx criticises their strict and “idealist” (Mejat, 114) separation by bourgeois economists, who treat them as a “syllogism” (Grundrisse, 89): First, a thing is produced, then it enters the market, then it is bought and consumed. Instead, he underlines not only their interdependence, but also the effectively productive nature of each sphere.

“Consumption produces production in a double way, (1) because a product becomes a real product only by being consumed. For example, a garment becomes a real garment only in the act of being worn ; a house where no one lives is in fact not a real house ; thus the product, unlike a mere natural object, proves itself to be, becomes, a product only through consumption. […] [F]or the product is production not as objectified activity, but rather only as object for the active subject ; (2) because consumption creates the need for new production, that is it creates the ideal, internally impelling cause for production, which is its presupposition” (Grundrisse, 91).

In the production process, production (in the narrow sense), distribution, and consumption are distinct, but simulatenous, and are intertwined in a productive way. If the bourgeois economists consider them as strictly separate, Marx says — and Deleuze and Guattari explicitly follow him here — it is because under the conditions of capitalism, in wage-labour, labour and capital are strictly separated (cf. Anti-Oedipus, 4). As the producer (worker) no longer owns the products he produces and his means of production, he needs to sell his labour force to the one who owns them both (capitalist). This is what Marx calls the distribution of the means of production. It is therefore the capitalist who decides what is produced, which means that the sphere of distribution takes on an autonomy in regard to the sphere of production. And as the products created under capitalism need to yield profits, i.e. their surplus needs to be absorbed, the sphere of consumption also becomes a separate entity (for example, the economy of advertising). This means that all commodities that are consumed in capitalism have gone through circulation/distribution (e.g. from the farmer’s field to the warehouse to the supermarket, each step involving an economic interaction), which once again confirms the strict separation of the three spheres within capitalism.

Man and Nature

What underlies and precedes the three spheres — production, distribution/enregistrement2placeholder, consumption — is the relation of man to nature. Production — with a capital P as that which encompasses the three spheres — or, as Deleuze and Guattari will rather call it, desire, always consists of these three elements, but they are closely interrelated, simultaneous, and each of them is productive. Instead of the a priori separation into three phases or spheres, as capitalist economy presents it, Production is a process, in which producing and the product are not strictly separated (cf. Anti-Oedipus, 31). In a nomadic shepherd society, the lives of the sheep and the humans are so closely interrelated, that its products — say, milk, wool, and meat — are at the same time that which this society is permanently producing, but also that which shapes the nature of this society. Here, Deleuze and Guattari refer to the young Marx of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Following the reading of Gérard Granel (cf. Anti-Oedipus, 384), Deleuze and Guattari understand the manuscripts as laying out Marx’s ontology, which is one where man and nature share the “same essential reality, the producer-product” (ibid., 5), instead of the “idealist” a priori separation of the two. In this processual understanding,

“the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species [vie générique]. Industry is then no longer considered from the extrinsic point of view of utility, but rather from the point of view of its fundamental identity with nature as production of man and by man” (ibid., 4).

In this shared reality, the productivity of man is not essentially different from the productivity of nature. What is the product of the apple tree? To say that it is the apple that we eat is to reduce it to an anthropological perspective. Is it not also the leaf that captures the energy of sunlight, but also feeds insect larvae? And the flowers that feed the bee that in turn pollinates it? But also the apple that falls to the ground and turns into fertile earth? The “industry” of nature is one of processual production, where producing and the product are intertwined, but also the life of the individual tree with its species and with the species around it (what Marx calls “Gattungsleben” and that Deleuze and Guattari translate as “vie générique”).

This same reality of production and the product — processuality — also works on the level of species as ‘products’ of nature. In pre-darwinian concepts of evolution, for example as Kant proposes it in the Critique of Judgement, nature has produced all species in the past, and then stopped (“dried out,” as Kant puts it), meaning that we have a clear distinction between a producing phase of nature, and a phase where all species are present as finished products. But Darwin’s concept of evolution has precisely shattered this distinction, so that each current species is not a fixed form, but in constant change. Nature is still producing new forms of life, and its ‘products’ are themselves an inherent part of the process. It was Marx’s own aspiration to apply what Darwin did with natural history to human history.3placeholder In that sense, the different socio-economic structures that divide human history — tribalism, monarchism, feudalism, capitalism, etc. — are not fixed ‘products’ of history, but are themselves constantly produced and reproduced.

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The term that demarcates human productivity is labour, and it is equally processual — “For Marx, the heart of labouring is the process. In exactly the same way that capital is construed as a process of circulation, so labour is construed as a process of making” (A Companion to Marx’s Capital, 117). This evidently contradicts any determinist readings of Marx’s philosophy, as for him, “labour is the formgiving, fluid, creative fire in the transformation of nature that lies at the heart of any mode of production” (ibid., 133). The concept of labour is worth a closer look because it is prone to being misunderstood.

Labour is wealth-producing activity. This brings us quickly to the idea of distinguishing productive labour from unproductive labour — labour that produces wealth, and that which does not, particularly if we reduce wealth to money or ‘useful objects’. Labour would then demarcate only certain kinds of activity — and the tendency might be, regarding Marx’s views of the proletariat — to read it as referring to industrial work. Such readings were rightfully criticised, for example by feminists, who saw that in such an understanding, labour would be elitist — in the form of a vanguard party — and male-centred.4placeholder But in the Manuscripts, Marx refutes such ideas and affirms that Adam Smith was right in understanding labour as an “abstract subjective essence,”5placeholder which means that in principle, any activity can become labour. Yet, if it is to denote a specifically human activity, then it seems that for Marx it is tied to conscious planning, instead of merely instinctive production, as we can see in the quote from the Grundrisse above: “For the product is production not as objectified activity, but rather only as object for the active subject” (Grundrisse, 91). Still, labour is a critical term for Marx, and can thus not merely denote conscious activity as such. The difference is not between productive and unproductive labour (kinds of action), but between alienated (exploited) and un-alienated labour. The critical question pertains to the relation of producing and the product, the processuality of labour. It is tearing these two apart that becomes the precondition of alienated labour; in the capitalist economy this is expressed in the “antithesis of labour and capital” (Manuscripts, 99) that we will discuss later; in other words, labour becomes alienated if labour and capital are separated. It is in that way that labour becomes separated from its productivity, a productivity that, as we have seen, goes deeper than mere conscious activity and pertains to man and nature sharing the same processual reality. The ‘products’ that un-alienated labour thus produces are not merely commodities, as we, living in capitalism, are prone to understand it, but includes ourselves, our social surrounding, and nature itself:

“[H]uman beings can transform the world in radical ways, according to their imagination and with an idea of a purpose, and be conscious about what they are doing. And in so doing, they have the power to transform themselves. We must therefore think about our purposes, become conscious of how and when we intervene in the world, transforming ourselves. We can and must seize hold of that dialectical possibility creatively. There is, therefore, no neutral transformation of an externalized nature in relationship to us. What we do “out there” is very much about us “in here” — This implies that human nature is not a given but perpetually evolving” (A Companion to Marx’s Capital, 115).

Man and nature share, in that sense, the same reality. Marx calls nature “man’s inorganic body” (Manuscripts, 76),6placeholder and Deleuze and Guattari refer to it as “the fantastic factory of Nature and Production” (Anti-Oedipus, 49). The danger here is to read the underlying identity of man and nature, their shared processual reality as overly ‘optimistic’. It is important to note, first of all, that neither for Marx nor for Deleuze and Guattari, were the social conditions for un-alienated work ever given in the past. Human history is the history of exploited labour in various forms, and, in that sense, of alienation of nature (a point that is very important in the Manuscripts). Second, this identity should not be read in a new-age kind of harmonic microcosm-macrocosm relation. Particularly for Deleuze and Guattari, it does not concern the subject, but something pre-individual, more fundamental and even non-organic, and therefore not necessarily pleasant or advantageous for the individual. The death of the individual, for example, is equally part of processual nature, where decomposition feeds myriads of organisms and redistributes its forces. The experience of the schizo, particularly, is marked by “that unbearable point where the mind touches matter and lives its every intensity, consumes it” (Anti-Oedipus, 20), an “experience of intensive quantities in their pure state, […], like a cry suspended between life and death, an intense feeling of transition, states of pure, naked intensity stripped of all shape and form” (ibid., 18).

Félix Vallotton — Intérieur (1904)

But in what way can labour, as a specific human activity, be distinguished from purely biological processes, without falling back into idealism that separates consciousness completely from nature? An undifferentiated identity between man and nature would obviously dissolve concepts of human history or the social sphere into purely biological terms.

For Deleuze and Guattari, the unconscious productive processes, which are not exclusive to human beings, and which they call “desiring-production [production désirante],” and “social production,” which concerns the political, and in that sense human sphere, are “the same production, but under two different regimes” (Anti-Oedipus, 380). We can see that this concerns not the ‘classic’ differentiation of the individual and the collective, but rather life of man as a natural being, which Deleuze and Guattari call Homo natura, and life of man as a historic and social being, which they call Homo historia. Labour, in that sense, is part of both. It is a historic category, as it regards different forms of distribution (division of work, distribution of the means of production and of the products, etc.), but it also shapes our bodies, our relation to nature, as much as nature itself, and also our way of thinking and our desires. Nature itself has a history, and people arguing for essentialism on biological grounds make precisely this mistake.7placeholder What we will focus on in the following is the point of convergence between Homo natura and Homo historia, namely what Marx calls the “Gattungsleben,” and what Deleuze and Guattari translate as “vie générique,” “the life of man as a species” (ibid., 4), as it was translated into English by Hurley, Seem, and Lane in Anti-Oedipus. For Marx, this concerns the relation of the individual to its species, which becomes alienated at the same time as labour does.

“In estranging from man (1) nature, and (2) himself, his own active functions, his life-activity, estranged labour estranges the species from man. It turns for him the life of the species [Gattungsleben] into a means of individual life. First it estranges the life of the species and individual life, and secondly it makes individual life in its abstract form the purpose of the life of the species, likewise in its abstract and estranged form.

For in the first place labour, life-activity, productive life itself, appears to man merely as a means of satisfying a need — the need to maintain the physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species its species character is contained in the character of its life-activity; and free, conscious activity is man’s species character. Life itself appears only as a means to life [Lebensmittel]” (Manuscripts, 76).

This dense passage contains in nuce what we will discuss in the following text. We can see again how labour is inherently connected to productivity, but productivity itself is connected to nature and our life as a species. And what estrangement does is to reduce the productive element of life to mere reproduction, “the need to maintain the physical existence” of the individual. As the species (including society and the whole socio-political sphere) thereby becomes a mere means for the individual’s survival, the relation of the individual to the species obviously changes. This relation is in that sense historically contingent. In the liberal conception of the atomist individual, the rational agent enters society for personal advantages, so that for him, the life of the species becomes a means to an end, namely for individual gratification and survival. But in that way, the productivity of man, which is inherently connected to nature, and, in that sense, to the species, becomes cut off and becomes mere existence. Once labour concerns only individual survival, it becomes unproductive, as it is reduced to reproductive activities — “Lebensmittel” is literally “means to life,” but the more common translation would be “groceries,” and Marx plays with this double sense here. But this does not mean that Marx is arguing for the opposite, namely the submission of individual life to the life of the species. This would amount to a reductive reading of Darwinism, which historically has lead to disastrous socio-political consequences (Social Darwinism). It is, for Marx, consciousness, and therefore the possibility for free action, thanks to which the individual life and life as a species don’t collapse, but also the reason for which it becomes problematic and politically exigent. It is therefore this relation of Homo natura to Homo historia that we will have to discuss.

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Not unlike Freud’s distinction of the ego drives and the sexual drives, the latter of which bring the individual in contact to its species, the “Gattungsleben” leads us to what is maybe the basic concept of Anti-Oedipus: sexuality. If Marx, as much as Deleuze and Guattari, work with a productive and processual concept of nature, then procreation is obviously part of a more expansive productivity. This means that sexuality is not reduced to the mere procreation of the species.8placeholder We can say once again: If for a reductive conceptual frame that strictly separates production and the product, the ‘act’ of sexuality amounts to, well, insemination, and the ‘product’ amounts to the child, then for a processual conception, it includes not only the ‘intimate’ sexual relation between human beings, but also the whole socio-political life into which they are thrown. In this deeper, underlying foundation, we can, together with Deleuze and Guattari, discover a Marx who, while evidently not talking of the unconscious, in his political philosophy goes beyond such concepts as “consciousness” or “class,” to which he is often reduced. Sexuality and the family, then, or, as Marx says, “the relation of man to woman,” is immediately traversed by socio-political forces, and therefore historically contingent, so that “from this relationship one can therefore judge man’s whole level of development” (Manuscripts, 102). The way in which capitalism structures gender relations, and the way it conceptualises and embeds the family in the economy becomes thus a crucial political question.

The antithesis of labour and capital

In the Manuscripts, Marx introduces the relation of man and woman in his critique of what he calls “crude communism” (Manuscripts, 102). Such a communism, in abstracting from all individual traits, intends to expropriate everyone and have them earn the same salary, thereby seemingly replacing private ownership with collective one. Apart from being driven by “envy and the urge to reduce to a common level [Nivellierungssucht]” (ibid., 101) — and the problem is never about people having more than others, and rather about people having more at the cost of others, which makes all the difference — such a communism, Marx says, does not really do what it promises. Instead of “surpassing” private ownership, it merely takes it to its logical conclusion — to its extreme — thereby not only inheriting its problems, but also showing its inner contradictions more clearly.

What defines the capitalist form of property — private property — is the “antithesis of labour and capital,” which is the “antithesis of propertylessness and property” (ibid., 99). We have seen the former as one of the preconditions for the radical differentiation of the three spheres (production, distribution, consumption), so we are dealing here with the same problem. In the introduction to the Grundrisse, Marx notes that bourgeois economists always begin with property as the fundamental, and in that sense ahistorical, category of the economy (cf. Grundrisse, 87). By doing so they universalise the conditions of capitalist production. But, as Marx notes,

“All production is appropriation of nature on the part of an individual within and through a specific form of society. In this sense it is a tautology to say that property (appropriation [Aneignung]) is a precondition of production. But it is altogether ridiculous to leap from that to a specific form of property, e.g. private property” (ibid.).

Different socio-economic systems come along with different ways of “appropriation of nature”. Many of us do so in the supermarket. If property is a historic category — meaning that different socio-economic forms of societies lead to different concepts of property — then capitalism will also come along with a specific way of organising and distributing property. And, as Marx says, its very nature lies in the “antithesis of labour and capital.” What does that mean exactly? The worker, as he does not own his means of production, needs to sell his labour force to the capitalist, who owns them. For that, he receives a salary, which is claimed to be the value of his labour, but which essentially is the minimum amount of what the worker needs to survive.9placeholder The surplus (profit) goes into the pockets of the capitalist. The worker wouldn’t need to sell his labour force — his time and energy, his body — to the capitalist, if he owned the means of production. At the same time, as the labourer works for someone else, the commodities he produces— and productive activity is reduced to the production of commodities —are not his. In other words, the separation of labour and capital — the expropriation of labour — is a precondition for private property in its capitalist sense.

Now, what “crude” communism, according to Marx, claims to do is to establish collective ownership by stripping everyone from their possessions and letting everyone get the same remuneration. As he remarks, this does not overcome the antithesis of propertylessness and property; instead, every single citizen is now expropriated, while society becomes the owner of everything. While in capitalism, a majority of dispossessed workers is opposed by a minority of owning capitalists, in crude communism, every individual is dispossessed, opposing an all-powerful society or government — “the community as the universal capitalist” (Manuscripts, 101). This only universalises suppression, instead of overcoming it: “Both sides of the relationship are raised to an imagined universality — labour as a state in which every person is put, and capital as the acknowledged universality and power of the community” (ibid.).

The “infinite degradation” (ibid.) of this raw communism is most visible in the way it conceptualises the relation of man and woman, “counterposing to marriage (certainly a form of exclusive private property) the community of women [Weibergemeinschaft], in which a woman becomes a piece of communal and common property” (ibid., 100). There is a lot to unpack here. What is paralleled here is the relation between man and woman with the question of property, and, in that sense, the ‘private’ relation of man and woman with their socio-political and economical environment. We are returning to the idea of sexuality being more than a “dirty little secret” (Anti-Oedipus, 49).

Before any misunderstanding arises from the quote above: In equalling marriage with private property — the property of the woman by the man — he is evidently not advocating this view. The point is precisely that it is in marriage of capitalist, of bourgeois society, that the relation of man and woman takes such a form. We will come back to that later. But what’s important to note here is that this is not a metaphor, especially concerning the context of 1844: Women were indeed considered to be the property of man within marriage[10], and the “doctrine of the separate spheres,” banishing the women to their homes (The Women in the Room, 9) does not disappear with changed legislation.

Félix Vallotton — Woman Reading (1922)

In the parallel of marriage and private property we can observe, once again, the antithesis of propertylessness and property, but this time within the ‘private’ sphere: the propertyless woman who sells her body — see, in that regard, the ‘innate sensual nature’ of women, or her ‘primary task’ of bearing children, of which we will have to speak later — to the man, who in turn owns her means of production by bringing home his salary. In a family constellation, where the man works while the woman stays at home, this antithesis is very obvious. Now, if crude communism intends to replace marriage with a “community of women,” what it obviously does is not liberate women from dispossession, but, quite the contrary, throw them into “universal prostitution” (ibid., 101), as a collective ownership of all women by all men. Within crude communism, the universal dispossession of women is thus equal to the universal dispossession of all individuals by society that we’ve noted above.

But what does that say about the relation between man and woman within capitalism? What is the relation between crude communism and capitalism? Crude communism sees itself as the abolition of private property, and thereby of the ‘vices’ of capitalism. But, as Marx shows, the antithesis of labour and capital, of propertylessness and property, is upheld in both. Even more so, and this is the conceptual ‘advantage’ of crude communism, the latter shows the nature of private property clearer than capitalism, namely in this idea of universal prostitution. Prostitution is, after all, an inherently binary relation, marked by the gesture of “offering my body for sale” (ibid., 120):11placeholder

“Prostitution is only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the laborer, and since it is a relationship in which not the prostitute alone, but also the one who prostitutes, fall — and the latter’s abomination is still greater — the capitalist, etc., also comes under this head” (ibid., 100).

Universal prostitution is in that sense not just an aspect of crude communism, but also of capitalism, namely because they are both based on the antithesis of labour and capital. It is true that Marx speaks here of prostitution as a specific case, instead of a universal fact, namely a specific case for the general situation of the worker within capitalism. But the analogy becomes more complex, if we apply it to the condition of women as such within capitalism, particularly in the classic bourgeois concept of family. This is not a moral argument, but a structural one regarding property: Just like the prostitute/worker is dispossessed of the means of production and needs to sell their body on the market, so does the prostitute/woman, who is equally dispossessed, a “sex commodity,” as Emma Goldman would say (Anarchy and the Sex Question, 40), need to sell her body in marriage. The two are not identical, as the one concerns the ‘public’ sphere and the other the ‘private’ sphere, and the separation between the two spheres, enforced within bourgeois society, is precisely what we need to analyse.

This ‘ideal’ of the working man and the housewife is realised mostly in middle class families of the 19th century. But as capitalism, in constant need for additional labour, started ‘pulling in’ women and children into the factories (cf. Capital), it seemed that this structure would quickly be broken down by working class women.12placeholder Yet, “a sexual division of labour in industrial production” was quickly established (The Anti-social Family, 70), where women were excluded from certain industries and only used for unskilled labour or work that was “nothing other than domestic labour in a different context” (ibid., 29), for example maintenance or secretary work. And as they were exploited even more than men, the price for independence for many working class women was too high, and many of them turned to staying at home after all, something that was encouraged by their education.13placeholder The chances of earning a decent living on one’s own are still unequal.14placeholder In that sense, the antithesis of propertylessness and property concerns not only the time when women were directly considered the man’s “chattels,” but concerns broader socio-economic dynamics; the need to ‘save herself’ from exploitation by marrying, the inherently economic nature of marriage, is precisely what the concept of universal prostitution denotes.

As women were used by employers to undercut salaries, there was an effort from working class men to exclude women from the labour force in general15placeholder — but the fact that men rather advocated for exclusion instead of equal pay shows that the working class was at least up to a certain time supporting the division of the working man and the housewife, just like the bourgeoisie.16placeholder In general, the expectation of young working class women was that their entering the labour force would only be temporary until marriage.17placeholder The family structure of the working man and the non-working woman can therefore be seen as fundamental to the classic capitalist economy, and something that persists, at least on an ideological level, until today (cf. The Anti-social Family, 31).

· · ·

We could see that the analogy prostitute/worker and prostitute/women is shifted, as the former regards the public sphere, while the latter regards the private sphere. But there is a further difference. The situation of the salary-worker who sells his body to the capitalist is class based, and is, in theory, not gendered, even though, practically speaking, as we’ve seen above, it often is, and concerns mostly the man. But the dispossessed status of the woman is, in the ideology of the “separate spheres,” universal. This also means that in both cases, even though their situation is analogical, not the same people are affected, and they are not affected equally. This might prompt us to ask naively, all too naively, why the massive exploitation that resulted from this configuration did not lead to a unified front of resistance. Not only did the labour movement and the feminist movement not reinforce each other, but each movement was itself full of reactionary tendencies.18placeholder It was certainly not the case that the masses were ‘too stupid’ to realise their situation, as the history of the working class and of feminism, where organisation began immediately, shows. It might therefore be that it is here that we should pose the question of the origin of reactionary desire, where the dispossession of women within the familial sphere, instead of building an alliance with the workers, served to stabilise an economic system that is built on the antithesis of labour and capital.

· · ·

Let us have a closer look at the relation of the two elements in the analogy prostitute/worker and prostitute/woman. In the public sphere, we have the working man who, being dispossessed of the means of production, needs to sell his body to earn a salary. But the very same man, once he returns home after the working day, becomes the one who dispossesses his wife, who in turn needs to sell her body to ‘earn’ her participation in that salary. Personally, there can be much love and affection between the two, but structurally, the hierarchical relation will remain. In other words, while in the socio-economic sphere, the male worker is ‘prostituting’ himself for the capitalist, in the private sphere, at home, it is the very same man, who, becoming the patriarch, ‘plays’ the capitalist owning everything (“my house, my rules”). While the man, therefore, is in a powerless situation ‘outside’, at home he finds himself in a situation of power. And he finds himself in a situation of power, because the woman is excluded from work and ownership, not because he works. As many women workers witnessed, entering the labour force did not lead to an improvement of their situation, rather, it essentially meant being exploited as well. But the exclusion of women from the work force was the condition so that the inclusion of men into the work force under the conditions of capitalism appears as a position of power. The man was the ‘rightful’ patriarch at home because he earned the salary, even though he earned the salary by himself being disempowered. To uphold the position of power at home, the worker needed to uphold his position of powerlessness in the economic sphere, and therefore became invested in upholding the status quo.

· · ·

It seems that the salary is attaining a double function here. On the one hand, it consists of the minimal wage, barely enough money for the worker to survive and buy the things he needs, a result of his dispossession; on the other hand, it is a source of power for his ‘reign’ at home. We are here coming to Marx’s theory of money not only as the general equivalent but concerning its circulation.

Capitalism, according to Deleuze and Guattari, consists of the “conjunction” of two flows [flux]. Regarding money, this means the salary on the one hand, and capital on the other. This basically coincides with Marx’s two forms of circulation as he elaborates them in Capital: The circulation C-M-C (commodity-money-commodity) and the circulation M-C-M’ (money-circulation-money + surplus value). The worker sells his labour (force) as a commodity with a certain value (price) (C) for money that is his salary (M), and buys food and clothes with it to survive (C). Once this money runs out, he needs to go work again, so the cycle starts over again. The capitalist, on the other hand, invests his money (M) into the production of certain commodities (C) and in the end, once he’s sold them on the market, gets the money he invested plus a certain profit he made (M’), which he can once again reinvest in further production, so this cycle starts over as well.

In a certain way, it is the same money that flows in both circulations, for what the worker receives as his salary is what the capitalist writes off as production costs.19placeholder At the same time, the labourer works more hours than is necessary for him to produce the value of his salary, meaning that his working day is split into necessary labour (the amount of hours he needs to produce the value of his labour) and surplus labour, which, as surplus value, not only flows into the pockets of the capitalist, but is the only source of his profits.20placeholder Yet, during the working day, the worker cannot distinguish, what part of his work (which hours) will be what he’ll get back as salary, and what part will be part of the profits. In that sense, during production, the two flows of money are indistinguishable.

On the other hand, there is a “fathomless abyss” between the two flows (Anti-Oedipus, 238). For what the worker can do with his salary, is nothing but buying the things that he needs to survive. And even if he earns more than he needs, the only ‘power’ that his money will give him, is to buy more things. It is, in that sense a “truly impotent” flow (ibid.), as it amounts to choosing from a given selection. The capitalist, on the other hand, by circulating his capital, decides on what is produced, how it is produced, where it is produced, he invests into technology and science:

“In the one case, there are impotent money signs of exchange value, a flow of means of payment relative to consumer goods and use values, and a one-to-one relation between money and an imposed range of products (“which I have a right to, which are my due, so they’re mine”); in the other case, signs of the power of capital, flows of financing, a system of differential quotients of production that bear witness to a prospective force or to a long-term evaluation, not realizable hic et nunc, and functioning as an axiomatic of abstract quantities” (ibid., 228).

In the doubling of the function of salary between the economic and the familial spheres, we can see the very same structure: The salary is on the one hand a powerless flow — in the socio-economic sphere — and, at the same time, a powerful flow — in the private sphere. The salary, which on the one hand is a sign of exploitation, becomes also a source of power — within the confines of the family. This essentially changes the concept of productivity, and thereby the relation of the producer and the product.

Félix Vallotton — La Chambre rouge (1898)

Feeding the Family as Productivity

We have seen that for Marx, labour, in the emphatic sense, is a productive and creative activity, the externalisation and exertion of human creative powers — of planning, inventing, constructing — a productive relation of the individual to its surrounding, of man to nature. As a process, labour encompasses all three “spheres” of Production — production, distribution/enregistrement, consumption. But in the separation of labour and capital, of dispossession and ownership, the producer is violently separated from his products. The only thing that the worker has left is his labour force — which he is forced to sell on the market for a given price, being now “indifferent” to the activity he will realise.21placeholder He is thereby limited in the scope of his productivity, as he can choose only the kind of work that is “available,” where a position is open. At the same time, the only activity as such that is open to him is having a job, so that he can keep earning a salary. His productivity is thereby essentially cut from influencing and shaping the social sphere. What he receives for his work, is an abstract and fixed amount of money, and he needs this money to reproduce himself and his kin — to survive. The nature of labour thus becomes completely powerless and uncreative.

If that was the end of the story, it would be virtually impossible to understand, why a majority of people agreed to such a life of disempowerment. There was certainly, as Marx shows in Capital, a lot of violence involved in the initial dispossession of peasants, and in disciplining those that became literally ‘deterritorialised’, the vagabonds etc., into wage-labour.22placeholder Yet, the labour movement was not the straightforwardly progressive force that one might expect. Trade unionists in the UK were often “actively hostile towards socialism” (The Women in the Room, 131), and, as women started entering the proletariat, instead of fighting with them for equal pay, they first attempted to exclude them. On the level of “rational interest” — with which we return to the question from the introductory passages of this essay — this makes no sense. One motive for the emergence of a properly reactionary desire — not only in the middle class, but also in the proletariat — might therefore be precisely that notions of productivity and power have not disappeared, but merely shifted to the private sphere.

We could see that Marx’s concept of the relation of man and nature is one of processual productivity. This means that productivity lies not only in the creation of products as a certain type of activity, but concerns the totality of human life, including the active shaping of one’s social sphere. But in the separation of labour and capital, where labour is cut not only from its products through wage-labour but is generally subsumed under economic laws, the man’s productivity concerns exclusively the feeding of one’s family, which has now become ‘the fruit of his’s labour’. As the ‘breadwinner’, the man becomes the autocrat sustaining his family, thereby becoming it’s owner’. The hardship that comes along with this, especially for lower-class families, instead of serving as a reason to improve the condition of the workers, will potentially serve as a legitimation of his autocratic status. The man ‘earns’ this ownership by working on several jobs at once, whereby the perpetuation of the hardship becomes part of its legitimation. But, as feeding one’s family in the end amounts to keeping them alive, productivity, understood in that sense, becomes purely reproductive.

As the man’s productivity now lies in sustaining the family, his desire also shifts, from the active shaping of his social surrounding and the creative exertion of his abilities to upholding his autocratic status at home. This does not concern merely married men, and is expressed in the general demand for the access to the woman’s body. His dispossession in the social sphere, where his labour serves only the profits of the dominant class, is replaced by his ‘ownership’ as the ‘breadwinner’. And to uphold this status, he needs to work, i.e. sell his labour force and earn a salary. This means that he is invested in upholding the capitalist order of things, even if he ends up being the one exploited — not as an economic interest, but a desire for dominance, which becomes a necessity, as it compensates for an initial disempowerment. The ‘interest’ of the worker to fight against his own exploitation, is ‘overwritten’ — re-encoded — by signs of power at home and in the sexual sphere. The institution of marriage, including its puritan morals and enormous sexual repression, becomes a means to uphold the patriarchal family model so as to perpetuate the workers’ desire for their own suppression. The double dispossession of women — at home and in the social sphere — becomes a stabiliser of the capitalist order. The salary as powerless money becomes powerful within the family as the only means to keep it alive. The man becomes a pseudo-owner and a pseudo-producer, even though, of course, the effects of these power relations are very real and often violent.

Félix Vallotton — Woman Reading to a Little Girl (1900)

In clan-like or tribal societies, the patriarch is in a position of direct social power. One could say that his power ‘at home’ is in direct analogy — and stems from — his power in the social sphere. But even more than that, there is an immediate interpenetration of the two spheres, so that there is a distinction between powerful and powerless families. Belonging to or marrying into a particular family, being attached to its name, reflects one’s position within the social sphere. Surely, then, the patriarch owned the women the way he owned the land, the cattle, and the slaves…

But in the patriarchal structure of capitalism, the analogy is replaced by a contrastive relation: The power at home is a compensation for the disempowerment in the social sphere. Evidently, this also changes his status as an ‘owner’, as he becomes closer to the suitor, who ‘owns’ the prostitute only as long as he can pay — just like the capitalist, who loses his labour force once he’s bankrupt. The notion of “universal prostitution” also regards this primarily economic basis of ownership, instead of being inscribed into a social code, as in the clan system. The status of the family changes as well, as it is cut from its socio-political relevance, indeed “privatised” (Anti-Oedipus, 303), thus becoming an abstract unit in the production of additional labour force — children. As the living costs of these children, as much as the living costs of the family, appears on the balance sheets as production costs, the spending of the family is put under strict asceticism, as much as other spending, like education. Measures to keep living costs as low as possible — for example with cheap supermarkets that import goods from poorer countries (outsourcing) and maximally exploit their own employees and suppliers — are therefore a must. At the same time, the privatisation of the family, which is thereby presented as a ‘safe haven’ from economic forces, is dependent on the free labour of women in the household, which once again helps keeping the production costs — the survival of the family — as low as possible.23placeholder The de-economisation of the relationship within the family — which on the surface is evidently a good thing — therefore covers an underlying exploitation. The privatisation of the family, nurturing new concepts of romantic and ‘unconditioned’ love has also disempowered the family as a social unit. Secondary signs, in this case family values or concepts of love, once again ‘overwrite’ a primary dispossession.

Just like with the abstraction of the concept of labour as an “abstract subjective essence,” the abstraction of family or gender relations itself is not the problem, as it is definitely a progress that the old patriarchy, as old signs of power have disappeared. In that sense, the discovery of the abstract essence of labour can be seen as a chance to surpass the gender-based division of labour, and a ‘positive’ historical role of capitalism (cf. Darmangeat, 41). But abstraction in its capitalist form, was but a new form of repression: “Production as the abstract subjective essence is discovered only in the forms of property that objectifies it all over again, that alienates it by reterritorializing it” (Anti-Oedipus, 259).

This happens under what Deleuze and Guattari call “neoterritorialities” (ibid., 257). In clan-like societies, the patriarch-at-home and the patriarch as a socio-political figure were united in one person who assumed a double role. Disempowered socio-politically, capitalist individual is reduced to the former as the ‘breadwinner’. But that does not mean that the patriarchy has disappeared from the social sphere, it is just no longer a function fulfilled by the ‘breadwinner’ — in a certain way, it is not fulfilled by an individual at all. Indeed, through a nationalist and imperialist discourse, an analogy is made between the father at home and the ‘father state’ — and even if the latter is personified in a despot, he is now merely the personification of an idea. Instead of the double role of a single individual (the patriarch of the clan), an analogy is made between an individual (the ‘breadwinner’) and an idea (the Nation). The discovery of the abstract, and, in that sense, non-gendered essence of labour, was therefore not only subsumed under private property, but also ‘overwritten’ along gendered lines, in which the patriarchal structure persisted, albeit not unchanged.24placeholder

‘Sustaining one’s family’ thus receives another, reactionary and political function: namely as ‘sustaining the nation’, not only through war and personal sacrifice, but also in terms of segregation and race, and population control in general. It is known that reforms to improve the condition of the workers were motivated not by humanitarian reasons, but because the malnourished workers turned out to be bad soldiers.25placeholder The task of the family is thus not just to continue providing new members of the labour force, but also members of the army. At the same time, as the workers themselves become part of the ‘superior nation’, their children are to sustain its purity, creating alliances of power with the dominating class that continues exploiting them. Thus imperial population policies come into being, which, for example, prohibit contraceptives and birth control ‘at home’ and promote it in poor, i.e. non-white countries based on nationalist and racist reasons (cf. Françoise Vergès’ Les ventres des femmes and this interview).

On such grounds, the family is dispossessed of its children, and this concerns the woman more than the man in the sense that it’s not just her children that are no longer hers, but also her body: “Pregnancy does not belong to the woman herself” (Young, 46). The Grand Crime of abortion reflects this double dispossession. In regard to the woman, we can therefore see a similar dynamic at work regarding productivity and disempowerment. On the one hand, her productivity as a human being — consisting, once again, in the active exertion of her creative forces and the active shaping of the social sphere — is reduced to a purely biological task: bearing and raising children. As with the man — but in an even more radical and literal sense — her production is reduced to reproduction. And just like the man with his products — and once again, even more deplorably — she is dispossessed of her ‘products’, her children, who are no longer her own, but the nation’s, as much as her productive capacities, her body, which is reduced to its reproductive functions and therefore sexualised.

This pseudo-productivity — the bearing and raising of children, domestic work26placeholder — is once again re-encoded with a sign of power, with a pride of raising the children of the nation, of the superior race, but also a fear of losing the only productivity she is still allowed to have. Fertility becomes a reactionary category in the “tyranny of motherhood” (The Anti-social Family, 61), as an endless flow of children, an infinity of virtual human capital, takes the appearance of the ‘powerful flow’, associated in the antithesis with capital, rather than labour. Taking away the position of (pseudo-)power at home would mean taking away all she has. As the range of experiences of feeling useful shrinks, its last territory, the family, becomes the last refuge of sense. The metaphysical experience of absurdity amounts to the experience of factual superfluity. The destruction of the family, an apparent threat from socialists and feminists, becomes an existential threat. The reactionary desire to uphold the system of one’s own suppression is once again marked by the emergence of a pseudo-power that is dependent on an initial disempowerment.

It seems that the more the proportion of disempowerment and pseudo-empowerment skews to the former — in other words, the more intense the dispossession, the more the system is stabilised through direct violence. This regards not only domestic violence, but also, for example, police brutality against minorities. On its peripheries, where the atmosphere of interiorisation becomes thin, it is reinforced through subjugation. It might be for that reason that the dynamics that are discussed here apply more to the parts of the world’s population that can be pacified with pseudo-empowerments, instead of those for whom violence is part of the daily struggle (cf. Fanon’s concept of violence or C.L.R. James’s concept of revolution).

Félix Vallotton — Femme se coiffant (1900)

We could see, how the mere survival of the family — for both men and women — becomes the new productivity within the constellation of the bourgeois family. As productivity is not only reduced to the familial sphere, but also to purely reproductive tasks, it is compensated by a re-encoding that gives it the appearance of empowerment, but on the grounds of one’s role within the family, so that the “empowerment” remains within the familial sphere, amounting to a “familialized” society (The Anti-social Family, 8). This creates the condition for an enormous libidinal investment into this form of family, the potential loss of which appears as the ultimate catastrophe. But as this form of the family is born from capitalist economy, libidinal energy is also invested into the capitalist economy.

A reactionary rhetoric can claim to stand in defence of the family because it universalises this structure, but the efficacy of this rhetoric lies in the nuclear family having become a last bastion of productivity and power. They both are reduced to the familial sphere and to its reproduction, but the position of disempowerment, both of men and women, is re-encoded so as to imbue them with a reactionary desire to uphold a suppressive order, which continues exploiting them. This double dynamic is the fertile ground on which essentialist concepts of masculinity and femininity can spring; the sexualisation of the female body, as we’ve seen, goes hand in hand with the reduction of her productive powers to procreation. At the same time, the mere belonging to the ‘superior race’, ‘religion’ or ‘nation’ becomes a sign of belonging to the powerful group, and this magnificent order is eternalised, if only everyone ‘knows their place’.

The Capitalist and his Pleasure

We have now focused on the changed concept of productivity on the side of the wage-earners, and how the antagonism of labour (propertylessness) and capital (ownership) is applied to the proletarian family, or, rather, those families that depend on surviving on a salary. But as the binary relation between “prostitute” and “the one who prostitutes” is played out in the social sphere as the difference between labourer and capitalist, we will need to have a closer look at the capitalist’s side as well. More than the male worker, often barely making ends meet, the capitalist was able to ‘keep the woman at home’. But why was the dispossession of the woman here necessary, if the man was not compensating for his dispossession in the economic sphere by playing the patriarch at home?

We have seen that as labour is dispossessed from the means of production, the worker needs to sell his labour force to the capitalist. The capitalist, as the owner, commands the labouring masses and extracts and realises the surplus that their work creates, thereby accumulating capital. All seems to work well for him. But he has a problem.

“If […] industrial wealth appears at first to be the result of extravagant fantastic wealth, its motion, the motion inherent in it, ousts the latter also in an active way. For the fall in the interest on money is a necessary consequence and result of industrial development. The extravagant rentier’s means therefore dwindle day by day in inverse proportion to the increasing possibilities and pitfalls of pleasure. Consequently, he must either consume his capital himself, thus ruining himself, or must become an industrial capitalist” (Manuscripts, 126).

Simply speaking, the feudal lord’s treasures lie in his vaults, and when he ornaments his castle with expensive luxuries, he only raises his status. But the capitalist’s money keeps flowing and circulating, and it grows only as long as it circulates. Once he takes his money out of the circulation and starts spending it on commodities, it magically transforms, and becomes as powerless as the proletarian’s salary. Only if the capitalist reinvests his money — which means leaving as little as possible for himself — does it remain within the “powerful flow”. It can be said, in that sense, that the capitalist is himself employed by his money.27placeholder

“The diminution in the interest on money […] is really and immediately, therefore, only a symptom of the total victory of working capital over extravagant wealth — i.e., the transformation of all private property into industrial capital. It is a total victory of private property over all those of its qualities which are still in appearance human, and the complete subjection of the owner of private property to the essence of private property — labour” (ibid.).

As much as he is the owner of the means of production, the capitalist, in a certain sense, is just as dispossessed. He himself is subjected to the flow of capital, the movements of the market, and his property — as a ‘static’ accumulation of things — must be transformed into capital, which remains capital — instead of mere salary money — as long as it keeps flowing (as long as it remains in the circulation M-C-M’, and doesn’t fall into C-M-C).

“To be sure, the industrial capitalist also takes his pleasures. He does not by any means return to the unnatural simplicity of need; but his pleasure [Genuss] is only a side-issue — recuperation — something subordinated to production: at the same time it is a calculated and, therefore, itself an economical pleasure” (ibid., 126f.).

No less than the worker, the capitalist is subordinated to a strict asceticism. The enjoyment of his wealth — as they say, it is nicer to cry in a Mercedes — becomes a function of capital. In a certain way, the flux of profits passes not only the worker, but also the capitalist. His shares, stocks, dividends might stem from the circulation of capital, but this also means that he loses his power as soon as he moves too far away from this flow.

“[S]omething new occurs with the rise of the bourgeoisie: the disappearance of enjoyment [jouissance] as an end, the new conception of the conjunction according to which the sole end is abstract wealth and its realization in forms other than consumption. The generalized slavery of the despotic State at least implied the existence of masters, and an apparatus of antiproduction distinct from the sphere of production. But the bourgeois field of immanence […] institutes an unrivaled slavery, an unprecedented subjugation: there are no longer even any masters, but only slaves commanding other slaves; there is no longer any need to burden the animal from the outside, it shoulders its own burden” (Anti-Oedipus, 254).

To say it bluntly: Jeff Bezos’s wealth is undoubtably enormous, and it is powerful money in as far as (and as long as) Amazon controls and decides upon the market, as long as the money that investors inject into it keeps circulating. If he cashes it in, or lets Amazon go down the drain to hide the money under his (gigantic) mattress, it’d still be enormous, but it would be powerless in the sense that all it could do is buy lots of consumer products. Except, of course, if he started investing it again, which means if his money was circulating again. This asceticism of pleasure, which is replaced with a production for production’s sake, a circulation for circulation’s sake, and its submission to the function of capital, concerns not only the capitalist. The popular anecdotes of poor people winning the lottery and spending it all in a few weeks is a classic moral tale of capitalism — their failure is that they didn’t interiorise the asceticism, that they should have invested the money instead, and that they have thus turned potentially powerful money into powerless money. In short, their pleasure should have been economic, instead of blindly trusting the lavish world of consumption that the media daily bombard them with.

The products that capital produces have no inherent value, as they realise their surplus only once they are sold. The goal are the profits, but the profits stand once again at the beginning of new investments. The capitalist is indifferent to what specific commodities these investments will produce, what matters is how these commodities (or company stocks) perform or are expected to perform on the market. The capitalist produces for production’s sake, and his activities are reduced to buying and selling stocks, of moving money around, of perpetual reinvestment. He will not necessarily complain, and there is an Eros of seeing one’s money flow and grow. Even though, then, he is on the one hand closer to the processual nature of productivity than the worker, as his products and his money keep circulating in an endlessly productive stream, he is equally alienated from it, as he needs to submit to economic laws and forces.

As the capitalist needs to be economic in his pleasure, and as the commodities he consumes are equally powerless, he needs to compensate for it in a different way. Thus, his commodities acquire importance of status, appearing as signs of power. Within the world of universal prostitution, the expensive woman — the beautiful wife — becomes also a status symbol. Ornated in luxury items like a Christmas tree, her productivity is reduced as well, reduced to the status of a valuable commodity that can solace itself by considering herself to be part of the ‘superior class’. But as there’s never enough of such luxury items, as someone always has a bigger boat, lack is once again introduced into the dynamic and productivity is reduced to ‘protecting one’s interests’.

Yet, the capitalist has another option to do so and to oppose the volatile nature of the flows of capital, thereby softening the blow of asceticism. And this lies in the alliance between capital and the state. The latter stabilises and surveils the flows through laws, bailouts, and the protection of interests, and it helps absorb surplus value (cf. Anti-Oedipus, 235). It regulates the labour force and protects the capitalist’s property. It also helps him to protect his profits through imperial adventures to forcefully open up new markets and break resistances. The disempowerment and reduction of human beings within capitalism is, in that sense, far from ‘democratic’. But we can also see that the antithesis of labour and capital is not the confrontation between individuals — the labourer and the capitalist — but a division, in which the individual will always find itself on the side of labour — of dispossessed labour, at that. Capital, on the other hand, remains abstract, a gigantic flow that englobes the whole planet.

Félix Vallotton — Interior red room with woman and child (1899)

Marx’s Concept of Passion

The basic structure of reactionary desire within capitalism is based on an “empowerment” through signs of power — on the level of code — which itself is simulateous to the continuation of disempowerment — on the material and economic level, i.e. production. It would be misguided to read this schema as distinguishing ‘actual’ material forces against ideal or ideological ones and consider the signs of power to be less real. If, within the three spheres of Production that we’ve outlined above, the aspect of disempowerment concerns production, and the aspect of “empowerment” distribution/enregistrement, then it is clear that they are both inherent parts of the process. Rather, the question concerns rethinking the relation between production and distribution/enregistrement; in other words, it concerns the antithesis of labour and capital, of propertylessness and property. The effect of this antithesis is, as we have seen, the reduction of the productive powers of individuals and a new concept of pleasure, of consumption, the latter of which becomes a function of the economy. Both are reduced to the familial sphere. All these together mark the dynamics of the production of individuals within capitalism and the emergence of reactionary desire.

· · ·

A central critical concept for the young Marx against this degradation of human productivity is passion. And in many ways, Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of desire builds on this concept.28placeholder Passion for Marx is an important element for the overcoming of private property through the appropriation of the material world in a humane fashion and the realisation of man as a sensuous and total being, the possibility of which he sees in communism (cf. Manuscripts, 102f.) — in stark opposition to what we’ve analysed above as crude communism. The appropriation of human totality will, as expected, concern both productivity and pleasure:

“[T]he positive transcendence of private property — i.e., the sensuous appropriation for and by man of the human essence and of human life, of objective man, of human achievements [or products: Werke] — is not to be conceived merely in the sense of direct, one-sided gratification [or pleasure: Genuss] — merely in the sense of possessing, of having …”

Many things that we’ve discussed come together here. The surpassing of private property — of the antagonism of labour and capital, or the producer and his products — is equalled with the sensuous appropriation not only of one’s totality as a human being, but also of one’s achievements (“Werke” can also be translated as products, one’s oeuvre). Thus, the concept of property, which in capitalism is reduced to the totality of things that I possess (but, considering the antagonism, don’t own), is expanded to include other forms of pleasure (gratification/Genuss), which is no longer reduced to having, but includes being.29placeholder This distinction of having and being was important for Erich Fromm’s reception of early Marx. We can see here again that Marx’s concept of productivity is not limited to what we have the habit of calling ‘productive work’ and is not even necessarily connected to the creation of things; it is a global concept:

“… Man appropriates his total essence in a total manner, that is to say, as a whole man. Each of his human relations to the world — seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, being aware, sensing, wanting, acting, loving — in short, all the organs of his individual being, like those organs which are directly social in their form, are in their objective orientation or in their orientation to the object, the appropriation of that object, the appropriation of the human world; their orientation to the object is the manifestation of the human world, it is human efficaciousness [Wirksamkeit] and human suffering [Leiden], for suffering, apprehended humanly, is an enjoyment of self [Selbstgenuss] in man” (ibid., 106).30placeholder

It is important to note that suffering is “leiden” in German, and passion is “Leidenschaft,” a connection that Marx makes himself.31placeholder Just as importantly, “leiden” is traditionally used in philosophy as the opposite of “handeln,” acting — here: efficaciousness — , i.e. it is the passive element instead of the active. In other words, for the overcoming of alienation, both the activity and the passivity of human beings need to undergo a transformation. We can associate this with the ‘distribution’ of activity and passivity to man and woman in reactionary views of sexuality, but also the understanding of wealth as activity and poverty as passivity, where both are seen within purely economic terms (instead of, for example, wealth of character, or poverty in spirit); but it is equally important that the appropriation of activity for Marx comes along with an appropriation of passivity — as passion.32placeholder We do not only shape our environment with our actions, but we also undergo experiences, particularly within a nature that englobes and transcends the individual — “Not man as the king of creation, but rather as the being who is in intimate contact with the profound life of all forms or all types of beings” (Anti-Oedipus, 4). At the same time, we are part of a society and our species, which both shape and root us. But such ‘passivities’ do not necessarily impoverish us.

“It will be seen how in place of the wealth and poverty of political economy come the rich human being and rich human need. The rich human being is simultaneously the human being in need of a totality of human life-activities — the man in whom his own realization exists as an inner necessity, as need. Not only wealth, but likewise the poverty of man — given socialism — receives in equal measure a human and therefore social significance. Poverty is the passive bond which causes the human being to experience the need of the greatest wealth — the other human being. The dominion of the objective being in me, the sensuous outburst of my essential activity, is passion33placeholder [Leidenschaft], which thus becomes here the activity of my being” (ibid., 111f.).

“Poverty” — as Marx evidently uses it in a rather polemic way — and passivity are no longer understood as the lack of things, but as the double desire to be needed and to need one’s own self-realisation. We could see how in capitalism, the productive human essence is reduced to reproduction, to essential passivity in view of the economy. Passion, instead of mere passivity, now becomes doubly the (social/interpersonal) need for the other and the need for one’s self-realisation. The former is in direct opposition to superfluity, while the latter affirms the subject’s inner productivity. They are both, therefore, aimed at overcoming the alienated relation of the individual to the species that we’ve talked about above, as much as the alienated relation to oneself. At the same time, the need for the other refers to the relation of man and woman. If within the bourgeois system, the man needs the woman to affirm his pseudo-productivity at home, and the woman needs the man to fulfil her role as wife and mother — in both cases as a means to an end, as mutual dependence — it is only once they can encounter each other as ends in themselves, as humans, that they do so on an equal basis. The possibility of this is a precondition for love, and it is only in love that the other becomes irreplaceable for me, as much as I become irreplaceable to the other. When Marx writes that

“If you love without evoking love in return — that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a loved person, then your love is impotent — misfortune” (ibid., 140),

then obviously this is set apart against “universal prostitution,” in which money can buy everything — “I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness — its deterrent power is nullified by money”34placeholder (ibid., 138). A relation where the man needs the woman for her beauty and the woman needs the man for his wealth — the former for reasons of status, the latter due to necessity, following her original dispossession — in other words, a relation where man and woman are means to an end for each other, obviously ranks quite low in the judgement of “man’s whole level of development” (ibid., 102). Passion, as the true need for each other, is thus an emancipatory concept, as it overcomes the antithesis of labour and capital:

“The transcendence of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and attributes; but it is this emancipation precisely because these senses and attributes have become, subjectively and objectively, human. The eye has become a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object — an object emanating from man for man. The senses have therefore become directly in their practice theoreticians. They relate themselves to the thing for the sake of the thing, but the thing itself is an objective human relation to itself and to man, and vice versa. Need or enjoyment have consequently lost their egotistical nature, and nature has lost its mere utility by use becoming human use” (ibid., 107).

Alienation hinders man from becoming a truly sensuous being, as in capitalism, things become means to an end, instead of being enjoyed for themselves; therefore, the overcoming of alienation concerns a change in all our senses. They become “senses capable of human gratifications [Genüsse], senses confirming themselves as essential powers of man” (ibid., 108), and therefore parts of human productivity and pleasure.

Being needed and needing the other — in a humane way, as an end to itself — means that one’s presence is important and that one’s absence is a loss. It also means that one is needed in the active shaping of the social realm, and that one gets richer through experience and the exertion of one’s mental and manual forces. The appropriation of sensuous nature means that (the process of) producing and the product are no longer separated, that the processuality of production — of desire — is truly lived. The social sphere is not something that is established at a fixed point, it is something that is perpetually shaped and recreated by its members. This processuality therefore also overcomes the violent segregation of the public and the private sphere, which, as we have seen, is essentially the reduction of the individual to the private sphere. The individual is not an unchanging “I,” but perpetually changing through experience and activity, without being subsumed to purely exterior forces. The need to dominate is replaced with the need to create.

“This communism, as fully-developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully-developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man — the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species” (ibid., 102f.).

Félix Vallotton — The White and the Black (1913)

Identity Politics and Intersectionality

We can see Marx’s critique, as much as Deleuze and Guattari’s, as a case for intersectionality. The overcoming of the antithesis of labour and capital concerns both the political struggle and the ‘private’ gender relations, but also questions of race, as all these play into the questions of productivity, enjoyment, and violence.

So, to return to our original question, how are subjects produced that desire their own suppression? First, there is a thrust of dispossession, disempowerment, “deterritorialisation” — a reduction of productivity and enjoyment to the familial sphere, an abstraction and economisation — which is then “re-encoded,” “re-territorialised,” attributed with secondary characteristics of power — the “patriarch,” the “mother,” the “patron”. This secondary encoding is charged with an enormous libidinal investment, as these instances of pseudo-productivity and pseudo-ownership are the only thing that is left to the individual — and this little residual territory — our “interior colony” (Anti-Oedipus, 170) — is constantly under threat from the outside, from the “socialist,” the “feminist,” the ”anarchist”. And as we have seen, the individual is not just reduced to the familial sphere — as a father or mother — but the family itself is disempowered as a social unit. It becomes a purely private affair, with the sole social task of producing human capital.35placeholder

· · ·

Identity politics — in its ‘official’ version sanctioned by contemporary capitalism — ironically reproduces the violent split of (private) identity and (public) politics. Women and minorities are allowed “expression” within the cultural industry, with signs of “empowerment” — but “empowerment” in the secondary sense, as the one that is preceded by dispossession. “Production is reduced to mere fantasy production, production of expression. The unconscious ceases to be what it is — a factory, a workshop — to become a theater, a scene and its staging“ (Anti-Oedipus, 55). Expressions can evidently be politically efficacious, like Kaepernick taking a knee, but they are quickly transformed into images — for example, into a Nike campaign. “In this way capitalism fills its field of immanence with images: even destitution, despair, revolt — and on the other side, the violence and the oppression of capital — become images of destitution, despair, revolt, violence, or oppression“ (Anti-Oedipus, 264). Any attempts to campaign for real political change — against police brutality, mass incarceration, economic exploitation — immediately activates the whole apparatus of suppression in all its violence.

The liberal rhetoric of appeasement and reform quickly assumes control of the discourse, making sure that protests are reduced to the concern about single issues, instead of encompassing different forms of exploitation. Violence is presented as an exception, an ‘excess’ — in the documentary 13th, for example, the metaphor of “cancer” is used in several occasions to refer to the mass incarceration of black people and police brutality. But cancer is foreign to the organism and can be removed without essentially affecting it. Neither mass incarceration nor police brutality are the result of an unchallenged past or an unfinished reform. They are inherent to the functioning of the system itself, to perpetuate disempowerment, to affirm the domination of the ‘superior race’, to keep minorities in their place, and to keep the supply of cheap labour — for example, in prisons — steady. They are ‘only’ a continuation of economic violence.36placeholder Making sure that protests remain “single issue” thus makes sure that they don’t turn left or revolutionary, as they are “territorialised” on liberal grounds.

In Marx’s analogy of the woman and the labourer we could see an alternative form of critique: Uncovering the structures that perpetuate and legitimise exploitation, showing the interrelation between different forms of violence by analysing singular cases.37placeholder For even if the antithesis of labour and capital is one of the fundamental underlying structures in capitalism, it is applied differently to different groups of people. Similarly, expressions of empowerment are efficacious only if they help uncover the structures that lead to the experiences of violence and suppression, and show possibilities to undo them. It is important to show the dynamics that create reactionary desire that pits different exploited groups against each other — in short, if gaining a voice is transformed into making change. Critique needs to expose the rhetoric of pseudo-empowerment, of “re-encodings” that legitimise the dispossession and the disempowerment of individuals.

· · ·

What role does the presented model of the nuclear family play nowadays? Has it lost its hegemonial status? There is certainly no global answer to that question. While many of its dynamics certainly persist, other, alternative models of family seem to become accepted. If, as the above line of argument indicates, the family is an important factor in the stabilisation and interiorisation of capitalism, the question arises of how such alternative models can be integrated and in what way they uphold the antithesis of labour and capital.

One might argue in that regard that the concept of productivity has once again, at least partly, shifted. The focus, then, would no longer lie in feeding one’s family or giving birth to the nation’s children. Instead, libidinal energy is invested directly into the sphere of consumption. Instead of a standardised ideal image of the perfect home — 1950’s style — the subject has now become its own entrepreneur. But this kind of self-realisation — far from what Marx aimed at with his concept of passion — is a self-realisation as a consumer subject, and thus reduced to self-expression — expressed through one’s consumer choices, but also through one’s CV and career, through sexual identification and cultural niche. The product is the self-image. The theatre of disempowerment and of the signs of power is no longer performed within the family — between the man and the woman, and maybe the child — but as a one-man show of the narcissist individual. As entrepreneurs of themselves, men and women’s “empowerment” is no longer realised at the expense of each other. Instead, the antagonism between labour and capital is shifted within the individual: Disempowerment in the social sphere and dispossession of one’s productive forces, but “re-empowerment” within the sphere of consumption, through choice and expression. One can observe nowadays how the tasks of raising children, instead of being confined to the familial sphere, are more and more transferred to institutions. Family, while still held up as an ideal, becomes more and more economically superfluous, as children become hindrances to one’s career. Taking care of one’s family, be it the kids or the grandparents, is economically unproductive and can’t be put on one’s CV — except if they are transferred to institutions. Indeed, motherhood and fatherhood have a rather awkward situation within the economy, between necessity and superfluity. As production is not even reduced to the familial sphere, but the individual, the confinement of productivity has reached its apogee.

Yet, even if such tendencies can be observed, there is no clean-cut “change of paradigms”. The way male and female work is organised makes it still more economically viable for the woman to give up on her career.38placeholder The normative powers of the ‘normal’ family are still strongly at play. Alternative family models can be accepted, as long as they find their expression within the sphere of consumption — and as long as they are strictly seen as alternatives. In general, the overall function of keeping the private and the public spheres separated — even if the former is not the family, but the individual — remains in place. Individual self-expression and self-realisation are a private matter and cannot ‘get out of line’ and develop any revolutionary aspirations. From time to time, therefore, the individual still needs to be reminded of ‘its place’ and that its purpose is not merely to absorb surplus — consume commodities — but to be part of its extraction. For this, it needs to continue producing human capital, and the most efficient way to do so is still the traditional family. Marx and Deleuze and Guattari’s critique, that the core problem lies in the antithesis of labour and capital, of propertylessness and ownership, that the individuals are cut from their own productive powers, still holds as strong as before.

“The identity of desire and labour” — the overcoming of the antithesis — “is not a myth, it is rather the active Utopia par excellence that designates the capitalist limit to be overcome through desiring-production” (Anti-Oedipus, 302).

For a further discussion of the traces of Marx in Anti-Oedipus, particularly regarding the relation between production, distribution, and fetishism in capitalist economy, click here. To learn more about the spinozist sources of the notion of voluntary servitude in Anti-Oedipus, click here.

Timofei Gerber has an MA in philosophy from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and an MA in film studies from the University of Zurich. He is currently writing his PhD at Paris 1 Sorbonne. He is also a co-founder and co-editor of this magazine.

Works Cited

Barrett, Michèle; McIntosh, Mary. The Anti-social Family. Verso 1991.

Darmangeat, Christophe. “Le marxisme et l’origine de l’oppression des femmes: une nécessaire réactualisation.” Agone, 43 (2010), 23–46.

Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix. Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia 1. University of Minnesota Press 1983.

Goldman, Emma (edited by Shawn P. Wilbur). Anarchy and the Sex Question. Essays on Women and Emancipation, 1896–1926. PM Press 2016.

Granel, Gérard. “Un cours de Gérard Granel : ‘Le travail aliéné dans les Manuscrits de 1844.’” Cahiers Philosophiques, 118 (2008/4), 108–120.

Harvey, David. A Companion to Marx’s Capital. Verso 2010.

Marx, Karl. Grundrisse. Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. Penguin Classics 1993.

Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto. Prometheus Books 1988.

Mejat, Guillaume. “Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari lecteurs de Marx. L’inspiration marxiste de la conception du désir développée dans l’Anti-Oedipe.Philosophique, 15 (2012), 113–124.

Sloane, Nan. The Women in the Room. Labour’s Forgotten History. I.B. Tauris 2018.

Young, Iris Marion. On Female Body Experience: “Throwing like a girl” and other essays. Oxford University Press 2005.


“The father, the mother, and the self are at grips with, and directly coupled to, the elements of the political and historical situation — the soldier, the cop, the occupier, the collaborator, the radical, the resister, the boss, the boss‘s wife — who constantly break all triangulations, and who prevent the entire situation from falling back on the familial complex and becoming internalized in it. In a word, the family is never a microcosm in the sense of an autonomous figure, even when inscribed in a larger circle that it is said to mediate and express. The family is by nature eccentric, decentered“ (Anti-Oedipus, 96).


Deleuze and Guattari replace “distribution” with “enregistrement,” which is translated as “recording processes” (Anti-Oedipus, 4). They thereby underline that societies distribute their goods, their means of production, and the members of the society according to certain codes and rules.


“Marx had read On the Origin of Species and was impressed with the historical method of evolutionary reconstruction that Darwin had outlined. Marx clearly envisaged his work as some sort of continuation of Darwin’s, with the emphasis on human as well as (rather than opposed to) natural history”– “what Marx appreciated was Darwin’s approach to evolution as a process open to historical reconstruction and theoretical investigation. Marx is committed to understanding the human evolutionary process in like fashion. This is where Marx’s emphasis on processes rather than things comes in” (A Companion to Marx’s Capital, 189, 191).


Cf. The Anti-social Family, 49, or Sylvia Wynter’s “Beyond Liberal and Marxist Leninist Feminisms: Towards an Autonomous Frame of Reference,” quoted here.


“Marx has shown what was the foundation of political economy properly speaking: the discovery of an abstract subjective essence of wealth, in labor or production — and in desire as well, it would seem” (Anti-Oedipus, 258). Note the connection that Deleuze and Guattari make between their concept of desire and Marx’s concept of labour. Cf. Manuscripts, 96f., and here.


“That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature“ (ibid.).


E.g. Dawkins and socio-biology, cf. The Anti-social Family, 37f. On a sidenote: A theory that reduces nature to procreation (‘selfish gene’) goes very well together with an economic system that does the same to individuals (cf. the following).


Something that Freud stresses as well.


It is here that the difference between labour and labour force kicks in. For a detailed presentation of this question, cf. Un cours de Gérard Granel, 117–119.


In Britain, “[t]he first Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1870, but not until 1884 did women cease to be, in legal terms, their husband’s ‘chattels’” (The Women in the Room, 7).


This connection was also made, for example, by Emma Goldman: “The system which forces women to sell their womanhood and independence to the highest bidder is a branch of the same evil system which gives to a few the right to live on the wealth produced by their fellow-men” (Anarchy and the Sex Question, 16).


“This was the view of Engels, who argued that the entry of women into industrial production would eliminate the economic inequality between working class women and men and so abolish the basis for the subordination of women” (The Anti-social Family, 70).


“As to the great mass of working girls and women, how much independence is gained if the narrowness and lack of freedom of the home is exchanged for the narrowness and lack of freedom of the factory, sweat-shop, department store, or office? In addition is the burden which is laid on many women of looking after a ‘home, sweet home‘ cold, dreary, disorderly, uninviting — after a day’s hard work. Glorious independence! No wonder, that hundreds of girls are so willing to accept the first offer of marriage, sick and tired of their independence behind the counter, or at the sewing or typewriting machine. They are just as ready to marry as girls of middle class people who long to throw off the yoke of parental dependence“ (Anarchy and the Sex Question, 29).


“Realistically, her chances of earning good money are lower, and marriage and dependence on a husband to supplement her income offer a better standard of living and more security than she could expect if she was single“ (The Anti-social Family, 75).


“Women were prepared to accept much lower rates than men for doing the same jobs, and as a result they were widely used by employers as cheap labour and even to break strikes. Because they were excluded from apprenticeships they were also excluded from many of the industries in which trade unions were most likely to develop, and where they were employed as semi-skilled or unskilled labour there was a continuous campaign to get them out“ (The Women in the Room, 17f.).


“As well as having principled objections to women in industry, many male trade unionists were irritated by the practical problems. Women were difficult to recruit and even harder to retain in membership, and it was years before the men came to see equal pay rather than exclusion as the answer to undercutting“ (ibid., 18).


“Young women entering the workforce frequently did so as children, and believed that they would leave it once they married. Working-class women married earlier than those of the middle classes, so that teenage girls were inclined to view their working lives as transitory” (The Women in the Room, 19).


As, for example, Angela Davis shows in Women, Race, and Class for feminism.


Production costs consist of constant capital (machinery, fuel, materials, land,…) and variable capital (labour).


If the capitalist sells his commodities at the market price, of course. Profits can also be made by undercutting competition etc., but Marx assumes a ‘normal’ functioning of the economy.


On the abstraction of labour, cf. here.


Cf. Harvey on “The question of what all these people kicked off the land are going to do“: “Often there was no employment for them, so they became, in the eyes of the state at least, vagabonds, beggars, thieves and robbers. The state apparatus responded in ways that continue to this day: it criminalized and incarcerated them, depicted them as rogues and visited the utmost violence on them. ‘Thus were the agricultural folk first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded and tortured by grotesquely terroristic laws into accepting the discipline necessary for the system of wage-labour.’ The violence of the socialization of workers into the disciplinary apparatus of capital is at first transparent. But with the passing of time, ‘the silent compulsion of economic relations sets the seal on the domination of the capitalist over the worker.’ Once the proletariat is formed, Marx here seems to be saying, then the silent compulsion of economic relations does its job and the overt violence can fade into the background, because people have been socialized into their situation as wage laborers, as bearers of the commodity labor-power“ (A Companion to Marx’s Capital, 296).


“If the cash value of a wife‘s multifarious services (on the open market) were computed it would far exceed what a husband could afford to pay. A recent survey found that the average housewife is fully employed for seven days a week (though Sunday is a fairly light day with only six-and-a-half hours work). If she were paid at the going rate for each of her various activities, from cost clerk, through waitress, laundress and childminder, to cleaner, her salary would be £204 a week, or £10,600 a year“ (The Anti-social Family, 65f.).


And this ‘overwriting’ is not secondary or accidental, as Darmangeat presents it, so that while, due to the abstract essence of labour, the value of labour is non-gendered, renumeration, for some reason, is still unequal. This misunderstanding stems from a strict distinction of the spheres of production and distribution, and therefore falls into the ‘trap’ of bourgeois economists, who still are keen to present the fact that women are paid less than men for their work as merely accidental, and not as an essential part of capitalism. The “contradiction” of capitalism’s “incapability to realise” the authentic equality of the sexes” (43) is in that sense not the contradiction of theory and praxis, as Darmangeat presents it (cf. 44f.).


“[I]t is also in the state‘s interest to have laborers who can become an effective military force. The health and fitness of the working classes is therefore of political and military interest. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1, for example, the rapid defeat of the French at the hands of the Germans was in part attributed to the superior health of the German peasantry relative to the impoverished French peasantry and working class. The political implication is that it is militarily dangerous to permit the degradation of the working classes. This issue became important in the US during World War II, particularly when it came to mobilizing elements from impoverished and in some instances racially distinct populations“ (A Companion to Marx’s Capital, 141) — “This was accelerated by the shock discovery during the South African War that many young working-class men were unfit for military service. There was a panic about the general health of the nation and a growing realisation that if people were underfed and overworked as children they would be unlikely to make vigorous adults. But although inquiries and commissions were set up to investigate, there was very little actual progress towards acting on their findings“ (The Women in the Room, 145).


And it is neither motherhood nor housework, as Angela Davis notes regarding the latter, that are inherently unproductive, but they become unproductive through this reduction to the familial sphere.


“Les capitalistes eux-mêmes deviendront, en un sens, les employés du capital qui, dans la logique de Marx, finit par les dévorer. Ce qui apparaît dans le monde moderne de la production est donc l’entité abstraite comme telle — entité qui modèle la réalité et la rend réellement abstraite, en l’organisant dans une bipolarité travail/capital“ (Granel, 112).


“[L]e désir comme processus de production de Deleuze et Guattari est bien à considérer comme une reprise de la notion de passion élaborée par Marx en 1844, ou plutôt comme un développement de celle-ci“ (Mejat, 119). As the following passages will show, the concept of Genuss — pleasure — is central for early Marx in relation to passion; the concept of jouissance equally plays a central role in Anti-Oedipus.


Cf. for contrast in capitalism, where “[i]n place of all these physical and mental senses there has therefore come the sheer estrangement of all these senses — the sense of having [der Sinn des Habens]” (Manuscripts, 106f.).


Also quoted in Anti-Oedipus, 18.


“To be sensuous is to suffer [leiden]. Man as an objective, sensuous being is therefore a suffering being — and because he feels what he suffers, a passionate [leidenschaftlich] being. Passion [Leidenschaft] is the essential force of man energetically bent on its object“ (ibid., 155).


For a similar thought, cf. Emma Goldman: “A true conception of the relation of the sexes will not admit of conqueror and conquered; it knows of but one great thing: to give one’s self boundlessly in order to find oneself richer, deeper, better” (Anarchy and the Sex Question, 35).


Translated, for some reason, as “emotion”.


This polemic example evidently needs to be read from within the mind frame of “universal prostitution” — buying the beautiful woman as a status symbol etc.


In referring to Freud and Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari go a different path than Marx. The position of the subject in the triangulation of desire is the child, not the father/mother as it was presented here. An in-depth discussion of the ‘system’ in Anti-Oedipus would need another essay.


As Angela Davis rightfully notes in the documentary, reforms lead to more repression. She and other participants note that the willingness of the capitalist class for prison reform is due to new forms of profitability that arise in the prison economy — for example, with home incarceration and surveillance. These must be seen in connection with new forms of economic exploitation arising nowadays, together with the tendency towards home office work, for example.


A method that, for example, Françoise Vergès applies in Les ventres des femmes.


“Even when women do go out to full-time jobs their pay is on average only a percentage of men‘s, but men have also allowed ‘full-time work‘ to become so defined that it is hard to combine with any household responsibilities, the hours and conditions of employment are usually such that the worker has no right to time off for shopping, to care for a sick child, to stay in for the washing-machine repairer or any of the hundred-and-one exigencies of domestic life, so the petty power that men wield in the family is backed up by their power in the wider social world“ (The Anti-social Family, 70).


June 2020


Agency in the Age of Covid

by Dónal Mac Erlaine

Agency: Illusion vs Gestalt. In Response to Sam Harris

by Cedric Shannon

Four Readings of Leo Strauss

by Alex Gooch

Marx and “Anti-Oedipus.” On Desiring One’s Own Suppression

by Timofei Gerber