Sebastjan Leban: CONTEMPORARY VAMPIRISM: CAPITAL AND ITS (DE)REGULATION OF LIFE
This paper aims to research the contemporary and historical role of capital in regulating all social processes and also to define its historical formation. The current crisis of financial capital is far from weakening capitalism; on the contrary, it is upgrading it to a higher level. By connecting capital to colonialism, this paper discusses how forms of oppression deriving from this connection have perpetually reinvented capital’s existence and have provided the basis for the formation of the capitalist world order. In this regard, development is seen – either from the perspective of the project of de-coloniality or Marxist analysis – as the historical means through which forms of oppression have been executed. This condition as such, of the development of capital by subjugating people and classifying them into ranks (either of race or class or gender), has become, after many centuries, even fiercer and is exponentially increasing. Thus, it comes as no surprise that we are witnessing an escalation in poverty, social inequalities, contemporary forms of colonization, marginalization, racism, sexism, etc., which is in itself a paradox, since by the very definition of development one would assume the evolution of society into a more socially oriented structure. What happens in real life is exactly the opposite: capital increases its production of surplus value by introducing amelioration in the areas of technological development, by way of which it is able to exploit even more. The collateral effect of this is the generation of ever-new forms of oppression that are suffocating the major part of the world’s population.
Eastern Europe is far from being excluded from this process. Even though it has been included for almost a decade now within the geographical coordinates of the First Capitalist World, many things bear witness to the true nature of this inclusion, why it started to take place and, what is more, to what purpose. Being part of the First Capitalist World demands not only a total unconditional subjugation to its laws, but also a general denial, on the ontological level, of the fact of being colonized through different mechanisms of political, economical and cultural control. In its conclusion, this paper re-thinks possible alternatives to the current hegemony of capital, its exploitation strategies, and tries to imagine a different future that will not depend on the politics of exploitation, but rather will be oriented toward a “pluriversality as a universal project,”1 capable of forming a non-ranked society. This can be achieved only through the process of de-linking from capital, the colonial matrix of power and the geopolitics of knowledge.
Capitalist formation and its upgrading in the era of globalization If we wish to analyze present-day phenomena of capital, we have to go back into the past and define the crucial turning points of the different historical periods of capital formation. In order to do this, we have to locate all the strategies by which capital has been dominating the world for centuries, subjugating and exploiting people, forcing them to live in extreme poverty outside the sphere of humanity. What is the importance of such an act? Why bring to the surface old techniques of subjugation and analyze them, if those techniques of the past seem to be left out of the spectre of present domination? Does the past really have no connection with the present? Or is it exactly the opposite – that what we are facing today is just the unavoidable consequence of capital’s historical formation? The implication of living in the neoliberal capitalist era includes not only the condition of being exploited by capital through the appropriation of the surplus value and the neoliberal strategies linked to market economy, but also of being subjugated through all the other mechanisms of oppression, repression and discrimination that have been meticulously developed by capital in its formation as a world order. Starting from the medieval period, on through mercantilism, industrialism, monopolism and up to now, the capitalist machine has been in constant evolution. The notions of usury, colonialism, enslavement, race and class, as well as all other forms of discrimination, have been scrupulously expanded in order to allow the capitalist matrix to proliferate on a global scale.
The modus operandi of the capitalist matrix can be clearly detected in the latest financial crisis that was triggered by the mortgage crisis in the U.S. One of the major preconditions for this to have happened is to be found, as stated by Melinda Cooper and Angela Mitropoulos, in the usurious debt system of subprime home loans. “To denounce usury is to point an accusatory finger at debts whose repayment cannot be guaranteed and therefore should not have been promised. Unlike the debt that can be repaid, which in its repayment makes the future a calculable version of the present, usurious debt assumes the existence of an incalculable, unknowable – and, quite possibly inflationary – risk.”2 What is even more interesting are the results deriving from Cooper’s and Mitropoulos’s analysis, which clearly show that “the greater proportion of subprime was composed of women, and African-American and Latina women in particular (most of those demographed as ‘single parent’ households or living in non-normative ‘arrangements’).”3 As further claimed in the analysis, the types of loans (prime, semi-prime and subprime) were not calculated on the basis of a person’s net income or his/her credit histories but on the bases of race, gender and marital status. This clearly defines the way of functioning of today’s categorization, which I will name class racialization. The latest financial crisis has clearly shown how dead labour (capital) can affect living labour (workers) by affecting the working sector, thus causing people to lose their jobs and houses and getting them ever deeper into the sphere of class racialization. By class racialization, I refer to the new type of categorization that is formed of social classification (on the bases of class and race) and racism combined through different historical methods of oppression developed by capital with the purpose of classifying and segregating people on a global scale through a uniformed signifier (capital).
Class racialization thus defines the new subaltern subject that is placed in the lower class and is located both in the First Capitalist World and outside of it. What comes to the fore first is the fact that to pertain to the lower class means to be absolutely exploited by capital through the working process, deprived of the surplus value and classified as a commodity. If to this we add the fact exposed by Cooper and Mitropoulos that such a person has been forced to take a subprime loan, which is by all means an usurious debt, we can clearly conclude that this person is being subjugated by capital on two different levels typical of two different periods of capitalist development: medieval and industrialist. Since this person pertains to the lower class, he/she falls under the regime of class racialization. This means that he/she is ranked by the same classification methods that Quijano defines as being based on race and racial identity, which has historically become the main criterion for placing people into ranks, places and roles. If we add the fact that he or she is also a gay or a lesbian, and thus treated immediately as non-human and accused by the so-called integral part of society of being a pervert, then we have the third component involved, namely, the segregation produced through discrimination. Finally, let us assume that this person, being a homosexual or a lesbian from a lower class and having a usurious debt hanging over his head, practices the Muslim religion; then we have partly defined not only the contemporary modus operandi of the capitalist matrix in executing its exploitation strategies over the oppressed, but have also located the new subaltern subject.
Race, gender and class classification, discrimination toward gays, lesbians and migrants, and old and new forms of colonialism, enslavement, usury, etc. are at work simultaneously, defining the new subaltern subject that it is not determined simply by being located in the colonies outside the First Capitalist World, but by being located inside the parameters of class racialization.
Regulation and deregulation of life How should a possible change in the historical dominator-dominated relation be provoked? Should it follow the existing lines that run through trade union struggle, activism, mobilization, critical-theoretical reflection, etc. or rather should the struggle for the reinstatement of equal social rights and the elimination of hegemonic structures of capital start to modernize itself, take a distance from the old rhetoric of modernity and change its form? In sum, should it rethink its techniques and its discourse? Obviously enough, we are today – as we were in the past – confronted with the ruthless structure of domination ruled by capital whose one and only aim is the disproportionate accumulation of the surplus value on the one hand, and the (de)regulation of life on the other.
As stated by Marina Gržinić, (de)regulation – by way of which the capitalist matrix (de)regulates life through biopolitics and necropolitics – is operative in all social segments. It is therefore no surprise that the rhetoric of bringing development, civilization and social welfare has been proliferating for five hundred years, carrying within itself the very specific interest of capital, which subjugates ever new territories, expropriates and, in the final instance, colonizes them. Walter Mignolo locates this five hundred years as modernity, in which the logic of coloniality is embedded. “The crooked rhetoric that naturalizes ‘modernity’ as a universal global process and point of arrival hides its darker side, the constant reproduction of ‘coloniality’.”4 That’s why Mignolo conflates Christianity, Civilizing Mission, Development and the Global Market into the four coexisting moments that not just constitute modernity, but have been functioning historically as strategies through which Eurocentrism is being spread throughout the globe.
Due to its expansion logic, capital is forced to upgrade constantly and change its strategy of domination. Capital sees the solution to the current financial crisis in huge investments in technological development. According to Marx, historically capital has increased the production of surplus value by further developing the technological processes in working production and society – making it as technological as possible and thus exploiting it endlessly. The monstrous appetite of capital, as a vampire-like creature, for appropriating, enslaving and exploiting is far from drawing to an end, for it is enclosed in the production of the capitalist matrix. Therefore, the latest crisis of financial capital can be interpreted as a mere modernization of capital, as a new redistribution of power. Through centuries, capital has absorbed all alternative systems, first subjugating them, then taking their position and, finally, permanently erasing them. This remains valid for socialism as well, particularly in Europe, which saw its symbolic decline realized in the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Slovenia, for example, the idea of the socially just society that through self-imposed contributions built a dream of a different world lasted for 50 years and was then replaced by the neoliberal ideology. The new neoliberal rhetoric invaded the Slovenian public space through slogans and commercials of the “for a more socially just society, all different all equal” type.
The socialist ideology was superseded by the capitalist ideology, the consequences of which can be seen at every step. Slovenian companies like Mura, Mip and Steklarksa nova are but a few examples of this new ideology at work. What is worthy to analyse is the change that has been produced in the transitional period when Slovenia (and later on the rest of the Eastern Europe as well) shifted from the socialist mode of production into the capitalist mode of production. This change occurred not only on the economical level, but flooded the whole social structure as well.
In order to be able to see this ideology at work, we have to analyze the case of the company Steklarska nova, where we can see the true nature of the transitional modified interpretation of the capitalist mode of production. The laws of the capitalist mode of production and its ideology, where the capitalist invests the means of production and by this appropriates the surplus value, are intentionally misunderstood by the converted ex-socialists. In the case of Steklarska nova, the means of production were invested by the State, due to the fact that the company is owned by the State. By following the patterns of rough exploitative capitalist appropriation of the surplus value in the case of Steklarska nova, the surplus value should be returned back to the State and not distributed among the members of the company’s Board of Directors whose investments of the means of production were null. The reason why they were able to appropriate the surplus value lies in the fact that they were appointed to their positions by one of the political parties or by some influential father, mother, brother, cousin or friend, or by the fact that they were in that position when the transition occurred. Steklarska nova is not an isolated case, but quite the opposite; it is a symptom of the transition from socialism to capitalism. This is the model of the so-called success story in Slovenia that underlies almost every privatization process of the last two decades.
What is even more problematic is that the greed of these twisted capitalist creatures has no limits. The proof of this can be found again in the case of Steklarska nova, where workers were not paid the contribution for pension and disability insurance by the company. Through its Tax Administration, the State allowed to the company to delay payments of the contribution for pension and disability insurance without any notification to the workers, although the contribution for pension and disability insurance plays a crucial role upon retirement. The workers were robbed not just once, but twice, since their wages had been reduced when the money of the unpaid contribution for pension and disability insurance was taken out of their gross wages. Thus, we have a degenerated version of a vampire-like capitalism that, instead of sucking fresh blood from the living as capital normally does, sucks blood from the almost dead. That is also why, in Slovenia, the State allowed the exhaustion of companies that were clearly producing losses, by keeping them half dead, knowing exactly that they would never come to life again.
The fall of the Berlin Wall opened the so-called doors to the West. The Eastern Bloc was enthusiastic about that, for it believed that this meant the end of repression and ideology, and the beginning of a new era – the era of democracy. But the enthusiasm was short-lived. In less than 20 years, capitalism has shown its true face, it has shown that there is no room for the idea of a socially aware society, but only for the pure capitalist ideology – disproportionate accumulation of the surplus value, abolishment of all existent socially oriented structures and rigid class racialization. This last is conditioned by class racism, which sees the people of the lower class as outlaws, the scum of society, in other words, those who are unable to take care of themselves or find a job and keep it. Apparently, the one to blame for the fact that people find themselves on the brink of survival is not the capitalist matrix, but each individual, who is guilty for the situation he/she has found him/herself in, for he/she failed to prevent this from happening, and to avail him/herself of the opportunity and climb up the class ladder.
In his text Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America, Anibal Quijano more than clearly shows that all forms of social classification have a very specific purpose, namely to ensure that all people remain within the limits of the class/race classification into which they were placed. What is involved is the complete construction of the capitalist matrix, which presents class classification as a part of the natural system and not as an artificially constructed hierarchical structure. Therefore, according to Quijano, “race and racial identity were established as instruments of basic social classification.”5
If until the first half of the 20th century, capital could still be defined as a multilayered structure, then the second half of the 20th century, marked by globalization as a strategy of a new world domination, can be labelled as the pivotal shift that changes the multilayered system of capital into a network-coded capitalist matrix characterized by its non-layered structure. By non-layered structure, I mean that the capitalist matrix is not composed of layers forming a graded structure, but the contrary, that its structure is fluid and unlimited. Such a formation makes it difficult to dismember it and therefore prevents one from analyzing it. Thus, classical methods of layer-by-layer analysis prove to be completely useless. This is where the true problem really begins, for the so-formulated capitalist matrix renders impossible a layer analysis divided into different lines of research, and rather requires an interdisciplinary analysis of all the individual structures that the capitalist matrix is formed of and which are a constitutive part of society today.
As stated by Marina Gržinić, what we are witnessing today is the imperialism of circulation. This means that we face constant regulation through biopolitics and regulation through necropolitics. If biopolitics involves the regulation of life, necropolitics involves its deregulation through the regulation and production of death. Therefore, biopolitics (Agamben) and necropolitics (Mbembe) are not diametrically opposed, but on the contrary, they constantly complement and upgrade one another through imperialism of circulation. This last allows the capitalist matrix to carry out contemporary processes of subjugation, exploitation and oppression differently in different parts of the world. Gržinić further defines that “imperialism of circulation, in its frenetic processes, prevents the subversion, the attack of any master entity. Everything circulates, is exchanged, clearly dispossessed of any difference, and no obstacles are to be seen in the network that structures reality for us.”6 The theory of imperialism of circulation additionally supports the fact of the non-layered structure of the capitalist matrix for it clearly defines that the latter is being upgraded exactly owing to continuous circulation and constant exchange of its fields of activities, thus preventing any form of its localization.
In order to start a real process of de-linking from capital, the colonial matrix of power and the geopolitics of knowledge, we have to understand the functioning of today’s capitalist matrix. We have to localize the mechanism that allows the imperialism of circulation to spread exponentially. The relation between biopolitics and necropolitics has to be upgraded with the crucial element that conflates the binary opposition of (de)regulation of life. This crucial element is to be found exactly in the capitalist mode of production. It is the living labour that, through surplus value, produces capital, which is defined by Marx as being dead labour “that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”7
Thus capital does not just exploit workers, peoples and territories, but like a vampire, sucks their life away.
Radical critical practice as the new form of de-linking The fact that the capitalist matrix is an almost perfect stronghold is, considering what has already been said, perfectly clear, as it is clear that all forms of oppression, exploitation and dispossession are directly linked to it. What, then, constitutes the key element which abolishes the imperialism of circulation and as a result nullifies the effects and consequences coming out of it?
One possible form of subversion of the capitalist matrix exists in the radical critical practice that is based on interdisciplinary political, theoretical, artistic and activist strategies. Today, this is the only practice able to formulate a new critical resistance, detect and analyze the capitalist matrix and unveil its method of operation. The reason for this is that radical critical practice is formed at the intersections of different social practices, starting with theory, art and philosophy, and on to political activism. On this basis, it organizes its own practice by simultaneously incorporating theory, art, philosophy and political activism and, what is more, intervening through them into the whole social structure. Radical critical practice is marked not only by this interdisciplinary intermediality, but by the new political engagement that allows for the re-politicization of the already castrated political subject as well. The struggle against discrimination, violence, subjugation, xenophobia and all other forms of exploitation and oppression can no longer be based on the old foundations where everyone, from their own corner, would lead the struggle against the violent structure of capital. It is necessary to create a field where the newly constituted political subject will be able to produce critical thought, read and detect the substructures of functioning of the capitalist matrix, and foresee and abolish it.
As stated by Albin Kurti, leader of the movement Levizija Vetevendosja, the new political activist of today must be able to combine various intervention strategies that pertain to different social practices. He exposes three main points. First, a political activist must reinstate a direct connection with people. It is not enough to communicate with people through the media, video advertisements and other forms of addressing the public, but one has to go back to the peripheries of big cities and into the countryside. Second, the work of an activist must be, among other things, oriented towards the production of critical thought in the form of published texts, radio and TV programs, web platforms, etc. that expose the structure of capitalist matrix and all forms of exploitation associated with it. Third, an activist must perform various forms of protests, actions and interventions not only to subvert the capitalist matrix and, in spots, abolish it, but because such agency strengthens the structure of resistance. Such actions should be carried out outside the regime experience, which requires a certain degree of creativity that demands from the activist the creation of newer and newer forms of resistance that the regime will not be able to categorize.
What is more, Kurti’s claims posit the new political activist directly into the interdisciplinarity of the radical critical practice, since it demands from him/her a new method of operation capable of detecting and fighting new as well as old forms of oppression. By stating that it is not enough to just go out into the street and demand a change but to produce this change with the new political act, Kurti gives the very description on how this change can be achieved. It is on this same logic that radical critical practice is based.
Radical critical practice allows for a contextual interdisciplinarity, by way of which it is possible to intervene simultaneously into different social fields, improving and changing them. These changes can occur on a practical level, where a project triggers a social response, or on a theoretical level, where a project intervenes in such a way as to build and modernize the means with which to analyze and explore all the ever more exacerbated social conditions. To understand this shift means to understand the new political paradigm. At this point, an interaction between theory and practice takes place that opens up not only new discursive fields but also brings new analytic methods. Re-politicization seen as rearticulation of the political; that very political which in the past allowed for revolutions to occur and worker’s rights to be fought for and which, with the strategy of neoliberalism, has been ultimately castrated and robbed of its power of resistance. Re-politicization as an invention of the new political, which will conduct the politics of resistance against the capitalist matrix and normalization of the capital hegemony.
Thinking that the capitalist matrix will someday turn by itself into a just structure, bound to guarantee social justice and non-class structuration, historically constitutes one of the major mistakes of humankind. Rather, what is involved here is pure ideological capitalist propaganda whose aim is to form a castrated subject that is completely apolitical and passive. We have reached the point of rupture, of complete absurdity where the dominator-dominated, exploiter-exploited and master-slave dialectic is naturalized to the utmost, turning these relations into a normalized permanent state of exception. The solution is not to be found in the creation of alternative forms of social order able to parry with the capitalist matrix, but in its permanent abolition, by provoking a change from inside.
Sebastjan Leban is an artist and a theoretician. He is enrolled at the PhD programme at the University of Nova Gorica, Slovenia and The Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Philosophy, Ljubljana.
1 Walter Mignolo, DELINKING: The Rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality, http://waltermignolo.com/publications/#articles_english, October 2009. 2 Melinda Cooper and Angela Mitropoulos, In the praise of usura, http://www.metamute.org/content/in_praise_of_usura, September 2009. 3 Ibid. 4 Walter Mignolo, DELINKING: The Rhetoric of modernity, the logic of coloniality and the grammar of de-coloniality, http://waltermignolo.com/publications/#articles_english, October 2009. 5 Anibal Quijano, Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America, http://www.scribd.com/doc/20271161/Quijano-Coloniality-of-Power-Euro-Centrism-And-Latin-America, September 2009. 6 Marina Gržinić, Political act in contemporary art: Drawing borders, http://www.reartikulacija.org/RE5/ENG/reartikulacija5_ENG_grz.html, October 2008. 7 Carl Marx, Capital I, Chapter ten: The working day, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch10.htm, October 2009.