A Thousand Marxes

By Eliot Albert, 21 January 2004

Eliot Albert challenges Manuel De Landa over his perfunctory dismissal of Marxism in his latest book

a thousand marxes In the "Conclusions and Speculations" to his A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History1 Manuel De Landa describes his book as offering a "historical survey of these flows of 'stuff', as well as with the hardenings themselves" (259). The stuff referred to is broken down in the structure of the book into three sections, each corresponding to one of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's three major strata, that is, the "physicochemical, organic and anthropomorphic" (ATP 502/627)2, which for De Landa are taken to be 'Lavas and Magmas', 'Flesh and Genes', and 'Memes and Norms'. The hardenings, or elsewhere 'slowings down' of this stuff, or matter-energy in movement, take different forms on the three strata: the formation of features of the geological landscape by the hardening of the eponymous lavas and magmas; the coagulation of the flows of biological matter, "biomass, genes, memes and norms" (258) into human and animal bodies; the extrusion of languages from the "momentary slowing downs or thickenings in a flow of norms", and the creation of institutions considered as "transitory hardenings in the flows of money, routines and prestige" (259).

In executing this analysis De Landa builds a conceptual armature out of a weave of two elements. The first is an historical perspective culled from Fernand Braudel's magisterial Civilisation and Capitalism: 15th-18th Century, the fine grain of the micrological secured by the perspective of the longue durée and an attention to the cycles and flows of economic life: Kondratieff waves altered to take account of nonlinear dynamics. The second, and perhaps more apparent, is a deployment of concepts culled from the two volumes of Deleuze and Guattari's Capitalism and Schizophrenia,in particular from the second volume, A Thousand Plateaus. The Deleuzo-Guattarian concepts with which De Landa is most concerned are those of de- and restratification, nonorganic life, the Body without Organs, and the machinic phylum. The result of the fusion of these two elements, it is not inconceivable to suggest, turns A Thousand Years into a sustained attempt to demonstrate the validity of Guattari's claim in his article "The Plane of Consistency" that, "what makes the thread of history - from protohistory until the scientific revolutions - is the machinic phylum"3.

But lurking behind De Landa's work is an unexpected attack upon, and rejection of, Marxism as a tool of historical analysis. The only overt criticism of Deleuze and Guattari given in A Thousand Years is precisely for their commitment to Marxism: "[d]espite the fact that their philosophical work represents an intense movement of destratification, Deleuze and Guattari seem to have preserved their own stratum, Marxism, which they hardly touch or criticise" (331). De Landa himself seems to want to understand Marxism as a set of incontrovertible truths rather than as a method, and thus he forms his criticisms, dismissing Marx on two counts: "the labour theory of value [...] and the built-in teleology in the traditional Marxist periodisation of history" (281).

However, these are ancient attacks, and Marxism has long ceased to be bothered by them. Regarding the first, Antonio Negri has written that the redundancy of the labour theory of value is tied "to a previous and out-dated organisation of labour and accumulation" and goes on to say it is the conjunction of "post-Fordism as the principal condition of the new social organisation of labour and as the new model of accumulation, and post-Modernism as the capitalist ideology adequate to this new mode of production" that together form the assemblage he calls "the real subsumption of society within capital."4 And Felix Guattari pointed out that it is Marx himself in the Grundrisse who "insisted on the absurdity and the transitional character of a measure of value based on work time". The simple reason for this being the growing discrepancy between the machinic, intellectual and manual components of labour which meant that "human time is increasingly replaced by machinic time."5a thousand marxesDe Landa's second reason for rejecting Marxism, that it is beholden to a predetermined teleological progression of stages, is simply fatuous. The attack devolves to a position from which De Landa criticises Marxism for being unable to countenance the fact of 'combined and uneven development', an idea of which De Landa has, in his recent talks at the ICA and the Architectural Association in London, demonstrated a total and resounding ignorance. On this latter point he suggests that only his model, nominally derived from the application of nonlinear dynamics to economic theory, can account for a situation such as that in which one sees the existence of an urban agglomeration evincing nominally capitalist relations of production surrounded by a rural expanse dominated by feudal relations. It is, however, precisely such assemblages of heterogeneous elements that are accounted for by the concept of combined and uneven development, as we find in Marxist analyses of the situation in Tsarist Russia on the eve of the 1917 Revolution. Here, in Trotsky's writings, is the classic statement of the principle: "Unevenness, being the most general law of the historic process, reveals itself most sharply and complexly in the destiny of the backward countries [...] From the universal law of unevenness thus derives [...] the law of combined development - [...] an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms"6.

Capitalism, contrary to De Landa's claims, is never characterised in Marxist theory as a smooth space of homogeneous relations, but rather is marked by the radical coexistence of unevenness. Marxist economics at its most powerful, in contrast to bourgeois economics, is committed to an anti-Platonism precisely in the sense that it rejects the possibility of the existence of pure forms - an evolutionary procession of stages - and therefore is predicated upon the existence of noncapitalist relations.

The problem with De Landa's position in A Thousand Years is that, by reading Marxism as he does, he forces himself to reject an axiomatic part of the work of Deleuze and Guattari while simultaneously claiming to be fully consistent with their project. Their account of capitalism's spread across the globe in terms of "(t)he four principal flows that torment the representatives of the world economy, or of the axiomatic, [which] are the flow of matter-energy, the flow of population, the flow of food, and the urban flow [...] the axiomatic never ceases to create all of these problems, while at the same time, its axioms, even multiplied, deny it the means of resolving them" (ATP 468/584) is explicitly given in terms derived from, and consistent with, the most sophisticated Marxist accounts of the functioning of the capitalist world machine or axiomatic. One can only agree with Fredric Jameson's judgement on this: "Deleuze is alone among the great thinkers of so-called poststructuralism in having accorded Marx an absolutely fundamental role in his philosophy"7. De Landa's misreading of Marx thus becomes, not an academic quibble, but a grotesque misrepresentation of Deleuze and Guattari's work.a thousand marxesWhy so? Because if we return to the question of the nature of the capitalist machine we have to ask what is a machine to Deleuze and Guattari? And if we do this we find that inseparable from their concept of the machine is the concept of machinic enslavement. Now, the Marxist concept of the machine obviously has a direct correlate to this in that of exploitation, but anything even vaguely resembling such a concept is entirely absent in De Landa; essentially he presents a concept of capitalism (and indeed of all social regimens) that is devoid of conflict either endemic or accidental.

And the ultimate reason for this lack is his rejection of the theory of surplus value. Just as Negri notes that "the theory of surplus value [...] is the centre, now and always, of Marxist theory" and the key to demonstrating the "productive materialisation" of its method8, so the deformations and deployments of surplus value (principally as surplus value of code, and in the distinction between machinic and human surplus value) form a critically important element in the Deleuzo-Guattarian conceptual assemblage. The transfiguration of the theory of surplus value as surplus value of code is to be understood as the principal mechanism of Deleuzo-Guattarian thought, one that cuts across the strata operating as follows: "Each chain captures fragments of other chains from which it 'extracts' a surplus value, just as the orchid code 'attracts' the figure of a wasp: both phenomena demonstrate the surplus value of a code" (ATP 39/47). The ramifications of this are broad, because in Deleuze and Guattari's hands the concept of the surplus value of code, the capture of code fragments, gives us first, the principal mode of understanding deterritorialisation (decoding) processes, and second, the mechanism whereby philosophy avoids representation (the goal of a nonrepresentational thought): "the wasp in turn deterritorialises by joining with the orchid: the capture of a fragment of the code, and not the representation of an image." Thus no theory of surplus value = no theory of machinic surplus value = no concept of conflict = definitive break with Deleuze and Guattari.

NOTES1. Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Swerve Editions, New York 1997, pp. 257–74. References to this text will henceforth be designated by page number in Arabic numerals. 2. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, Athlone Press, London 1988, pp. 502/627. References henceforth designated by ATP followed by page numbers.3. Felix Guattari, La revolution moleculaire, Editions Recherches, Paris 1977 , p. 3154. Antonio Negri, Twenty Theses on Marx: Interpretation of the Class Situation Today, trans. by Michael Hardt in Makdisi, Casarino and Karl (eds.) Marxism Beyond Marxism, Routledge, New York 1996, p. 1545. Felix Guattari, "Capital as the Integral of Power Formations", trans. by Charles Wolfe and Sande Cohen, in Soft Subversions, ed. by Sylvere Lotringer, Semiotext(e), New York 1996, pp. 202–246. Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, trans. by Max Eastman, Pathfinder Books, New York 1980, p. 67. Fredric Jameson, "Marxism and Dualism in Deleuze", in A Deleuzian Century?, South Atlantic Quarterly Special Issue Summer 1997, Vol. 93, No. 3, p. 395. 8. Antonio Negri, Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse, trans. by Harry Cleaver, Michael Ryan, and Maurizio Viano, Pluto Press, London 1991, p. 160