Money Games

Accelerationism is having an interesting moment of re-assessment, if not reconceptualization. Aly’s recent reading list emphasized the cyberfeminist and non-Western lines that have fed into its non-history, which has subsequently been overcoded by a masculinist cult of Land (with much anger about her work now raging in the twittersphere). My last post tried to put her excavation in dialogue with a series of aesthetic tendencies that ruptured forth from places like Situationism and Fluxus before distilling in a tangled web of subcultural formations at the dawn of the digital age. Xenogoth—who has offered his own thoughts on the cyberfeminist intervention in a stellar post—has for some time now been returning to the forgotten ‘year zero’ of accelerationism as a distinct signifier: the blogosphere in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, when Alex Williams (of L/ACC-Inventing the Future fame) tried to cultivate a ‘Left-Landianism’ to counteract both pomo decadence and the hauntological response to it.

While perhaps more tangential to these concerns, maybe we can throw another log on the fire: money.

A little background: accelerationism, particularly in the direct CCRU lineage, often dealt with the distinction between markets and capitalism as theorized by Fernard Braudel. To put it briefly, markets emerge in the context of everyday life as something of a spatium where the circulation of goods could take place. Highly non-formal, prices for these goods are taken. Capitalism, by contrast, is when highly centralized organizations of power—states, aristocracies, mercantile institutions, etc—come to dominate, capture, and subvert markets. Prices here are given. 

Deleuze and Guattari, in both volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, make ample use of Braudel, and rely in particular on the works where he develops this contrast—though to my knowledge they never make explicit reference to it. The CCRU, by contrast, linked the market directly to capitalism’s deterritorializing edge, which seemed then to be taking place across the Pacific (and most directly in China). This re-reading of Braudel made possible a picture where capitalism seemed to be dissolving into markets; the CCRU—to use the cliched language of the ‘left-libertarians’—were something of pro-market anti-capitalists).

(This becomes foregrounded in a particularly poignant way if we take a stroll through the comments section of the Hyperstition blog right around the time that the CCRU was splintering apart. In a July 2004 post called “Capital/Hyperstition”, we find Fisher already toying with the ideas that would underpin the ‘accelerationist’ moment—”D/G fundamentalism [would] insist that reterritorialization is inherent to capitalism, so that the ‘phase-shift to (approximately) polytendrilled intelligenic posthuman cyberspace’ is what capitalism inhibits (whilst consistently flirting with)”—and Land already beginning to stake out his own trajectory. Against Fisher’s insistence on a pro-market anti-capitalism, he opts for what he calls “hypercapitalism” as the means to the “dismantling of the human socius”, and along the way begins to dispense with the Braudelian formulations entirely.)

I’ve been rereading the ‘Civilized Capitalist Machine’ section of Anti-Oedipus lately and I’m struck by the fact that, despite the fertile field cultivated by the CCRU, Deleuze and Guattari’s own preoccupations seem to place the market in a more secondary condition. In the retrocausally-labeled ‘accelerationist fragment’, they do reject Amin’s calls for de-linking and suggest to widen the “world market”—and seem to connect this to deepening ‘schizophrenization’. But the passages that precede this have a somewhat different bent. They instead emphasize the role of money and banking and—importantly—the state.

Contrary to more determinist readings of their work, Deleuze and Guattari describe the emergence of capitalism as a moment of radical contingency. Various social formations have various attributes that can be identified as essential to the capitalist mode of production, be it exchange of labor for money or early manifestations of private property (and here they are in agreement with Marx, especially the Late Marx who wrote on the Russian commune). Capitalist modernity kicked off only when two forms of decoding, decoded labor (the ‘free worker’) and decoded land (private property) encountered one another. A ferocious explosion took place: chemical reaction unfurling its way across the entirety of the globe and remapping along the way all of social relations. Pre-capitalist social formations dealt with decoding flows through recoding—but in the place of recoding capitalism substituted a social of axiomatics that would modulate social relations in order to assure the expanded reproduction of capital on wider and wider levels.

The state is neatly folded into this matrix as the agent that carries out axiomatic re-arrangements. Land has correctly identified Deleuze and Guattari as taking the state as a mechanism of compensation, allowing deterritorialization to carry itself out to the bleeding edge before exacting a vicious reterritorialization. Yet while he positions that state as something like a transcendent entity in relation to the capitalist market, the target of critique that gets eroded away through materialist processes, Deleuze and Guattari intriguingly identify the state as “a gigantic enterprise of anti-production… at the heart of production itself, and conditioning this production”. What is this ‘anti-production’? Early on in Anti-Oedipus they write:

The full body without organs belongs to the realm of antiproduction; but yet another characteristic of the connective or productive synthesis is the fact that it couples production with anti-production…

This suggests that the relationship between production and anti-production is not one of transcendence, but one grounded in immanence—which would mean that the state itself is immanent to the capitalist social field, not apart from it, but located (as they say) in its very heart. And this is precisely the picture they draw:

…the effusion of antiproduction within production, as the realization or the absorption of surplus value, in such a way that the military, bureaucratic, and police apparatus finds itself grounded in the economy itself, which directly produces libidinal investments for the repression of desire (anti-production as the third aspect of capitalist immanence, expressing the two-fold nature of capitalism: production for production’s sake, but under the conditions of capital).

These descriptions of the state’s role as an immanent force of anti-production are written under the influence of Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s 1966 book Monopoly Capital, which posed the idea that capitalism had fundamentally altered from the laissez-faire system analyzed by Marx, and had entered (as the title would suggest) a ‘monopoly’ phase characterized by a long-term tendency towards stagnation. Capitalism, here, was understood as a victim of its own success: monopolistic firms became sinks for capital, accumulating so much wealth into themselves that it could never be discharged through productive investment. The state—and its military apparatus in particular, then embroiled deep in the conflicts in Vietnam—both reduced the amounts of capital held by firms via taxation and carried out destructive acts (like the annihilation of equipment in Vietnam) that generated outlets for excess capital. The state as capitalism’s life support device.

But there’s the identification of another side to the state which is embedded within Anti-Oedipus: the role of the central bank in determining the money supply. Deleuze and Guattari reveal themselves to be indirectly concerned with marketization, and more directly concerned with money, when they describe money as “the immense deterritorialized flow that constitutes the full body of capital”. This becomes even more pronounced when Deleuze puts forward, in a December 1971 lecture, that it is through money that capitalism’s schizophrenic tendencies most directly manifests. This is because of a “mutation” the occurs between two distinct forms of money, which oscillate between one another but whose tangled transformations are ‘dissimulated’ or concealed by the capitalist market itself.

On the one hand, money-capital ‘proper’, which (as Marx described) serves as a measure of value, a means of circulation, and an object of demand (leading to hoarding); and on the other hand, credit-money, which is issued by banks to enterprises (the flux) and then later paid back (the reflux). The first form is connected to questions of exchange-value and circulation of commodities, and emerges in the context of a specific historical trajectory, and the second is related to structures of financing, and it too has its own historical trajectory—albeit one distinct from money-capital.

The puzzle that Deleuze and Guattari create (intentionally or not) is their identification of two economists—one Marxist, one “neocapitalist”—as saying exactly the same thing. They are Suzanne de Brunhoff, best known for her book Marx on Money and Bernard Schmitt, a very bizarre neo-Ricardian who developed the esoteric school of ‘quantum economics’. Of this latter figure, they write

An economist of the caliber of Bernard Schmitt finds strange lyrical words to characterize the flow of infinite debt: an instanteous creative flow that the banks create spontaneously as a debt owing to themselves, a creation ex nihlio that, instead of transferring a means of pre-existing currency as means of payment, hollows out at one extreme the full body of a negative money (a debt, entered as a liability of the banks), and projects at the other extreme a positive money (a credit granted the productive economy by the banks)—”a flow possessing a power of mutation” that does not enter into income and is not assigned to purchases, a pure availability, nonposession and nonwealth.

The non-poetic version of Schmitt’s theory remains strange enough. Banks create money, he says, practically out of thin air (there’s a historical background to this, involving the relationship between the depositor’s metallic currency stored in banks, her certificate of deposits becoming a means of payment in themselves, and the bank using her deposits as lendable funds), which are “pure creative flux”. It loaned to enterprises, though at this point it is still merely potential. Through its conversion into wages—the entering of this money into the sphere of production—it becomes “charged”, transformed into purchasing power, and enters into circulation through the exchange of goods and services. The enterprise attempts to “capture” (and maybe here we have a source for the notion of the ‘apparatus of capture; Schmitt after all re-appears in that plateau) this portions of this flux, which are then returned to the bank. The circuit of money closes.

Deleuze and Guattari (and Deleuze himself in his December 1971 seminar) insist on the identity of Brunhoff’s Marxism and Schmitt’s off-kilter Ricardianism, but the two are not quite a closely aligned as they may appear. For Brunhoff, following Marx, money’s tendency is towards dematerialization and hoarding, which results in two interrelated dynamics: 1) credit-money rises in priority, and in time becomes the basis for the financing structure of productive enterprises. Here, too, the conversion between credit-money and money-as-wages is carried out. 2) The state is compelled to enter the fray to ensure a sound basis to ensure the smooth functioning of this system, as the expansion of the credit system brings with it the possibility of deeper and more frequent crises. Thus is the increased importance of the money supply, issued and maintained by the state’s central bank.

The major difference between Brunhoff and Schmitt (which is drawn out far more than I could do on this meager blog in a sadly now-vanished essay by Christian Kerslake) that Deleuze and Guattari gloss over is fundamental: Schmitt is talking about commercial banks, which is an institution quite different from Brunhoff’s central banks. It is clear, when we look at Deleuze’s seminar, that is it the central bank that concerns him more than the commercial bank; to put it simply, they collapse Schmitt into Brunhoff, making the central bank the source of money creation ex nihilio, now understood as the money supply itself, which then flows outwards into a series of convoluted mutations that underpin the schizophrenia of the capitalist market.

It’s through this prism that Deleuze and Guattari’s dismissal of capitalism’s collapse via the falling rate of profit begins to make theoretical sense. The determinations of surplus value, the organic composition of capital, and the rate of profit appear as an “arithmetic formula”, which is something quite different from side of the “pure creative flux” of credit-money that has now subordinated money-capital to itself. The two exist as a differential formula: Dx/Dy (and here the discussions from Difference and Repetition appear in new form: Brunhoff’s dialectical schema converted into the differential series). On this basis they assert, being fairly true to Marx, that capitalism has no ‘external limit’, and revive the argument that capital’s only limit is capital itself. But what becomes different is that we also find the state, and its machinery, installed in the core itself. Reread the ‘accelerationist fragment’ from this basis: if one is to “accelerate” capitalism, the path doesn’t necessarily entail going directly down to the sweaty hustle and bustle of the marketplace. One routes themselves through the vaulted doors of the central bank.

__________

When Benjamin Noys deployed the term ‘accelerationism’, it was in reference to a coterie of French theorists: Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, Lyotard, Irigaray. The always-great Italian collective Obsolete Capitalism has a different name for this group (and include in their ranks Klossowski): the “Rhizophere”. And maybe more than anyone else, ObCap has consistently drawn attention to the study of money by this group. In their introduction to an interview with Lapo Berti (of the Primo Maggio collective, the site of a productive debate with Brunhoff in the mid-70s on the question of monetary police), they write

Monetary research has represented in many different ways a common ground for many French Rhizospheric intellectuals throughout the 60s and 70s. They conceived money as the core instrument employed by advanced capitalist market economies to trigger the rapid and profound transformation which turned the Fordist industrial system into a new hi-tech financial global and delocalized form of production. The French Rhizosphere was not only able to understand the mutation of economic paradigm while this was still in progress, but it also conducted original and persuasive analyses of money starting from its early invention in Anatolia in the VIII century B.C. and in Ancient Greece in the VII and VI century B.C. Hence, according to Rhizospheric thinkers, money is the chief  accelerationist device deployed in the context «rapid domination» strategies conducted by modern global and financial market economies.

The interventions are many. Klossowski initiated this whole debacle with his book Living Currency, which became a touchstone for Deleuze and Lyotard and was described by Foucault as “the greatest book of our time”. Without Living Currency, which was the first to forge a relationship between money as an economic instrument and desire, neither Anti-Oedipus nor Libidinal Economy could have happened. Foucault, for his part, undertook a series of explorations of the Greek system of taxations related to temples and tributes; in Anti-Oedipus, this became the foundation for understanding how the American New Deal system worked (“heavy taxes are good for business”).

A renewed focus on money and central banks is needed. On the peripheral fringe, crypto-currency mania continues to swirl about (Land has been weaving a spectacular philosophical experiment by using this as his ground), while tendencies like modern monetary theory are quickly entering the mainstream (Stephanie Kelton’s new book The Deficit Myth has become an unlikely best-seller, following in the wake of MMT’s inshrining in the progressive economic canon). But both of these pale in comparison to the incredible and unprecedented series of actions that have been undertaken by institutions like the Federal Reserve in the rocky economic climate triggered by the collision of persistent post-2008 fragility and the shock of coronavirus. The ‘independence’ of the Fed has always been a bit of the myth, but the hand-in-glove approach of the bank and Treasury together has become the bedrock of an economy frozen in suspension. It resembles a Baudrillardian picture of permanent non-event than anything ‘accelerationist’, but the strange new terrain that we found ourselves scattered across has led Anton Jaeger to pose some good provocations:

(I could have sworn he had a tweet calling central banks the new subject of history, but I cannot find it now).

His statement arises from the possibility (already realized in some places) of central banks directly purchasing company stocks (in addition to other pathway manuevers—see the ‘municipal lending program’ in the US for example). This opens the central bank to become what has been described as the “market maker of the last resort”, which entails the direct allocation of credit in the economy, as opposed to stepping back and allowing the commercial banks and enterprises to carry on as they see fit. While this serves to obscure price formation and discovery, it simultaneously acts to prevent the slide into collapse. The central bank thus engenders something like a permanent stagnation economy, one that slips between implosion and explosion, down-swing and up-swing (in other words: a truly postmodern situation).

Writing in the early, fever-pitched days of the coronavirus shock, Vince Garton captured this moment of non-historical suspension wonderfully:

The pandemic itself will certainly pass—perhaps in much shorter order than the more pessimistic predictions have made out. (Perhaps.) But the extraordinary fiscal and financial methods that have been brought to bear are unlikely to disappear. The world before 2008 never quite returned, and there is little reason to expect that the world before 2020 will be different. There will, in many countries, be a prolonged period of resolving the ruination of economies so fragile they have barely withstood a disruption several weeks long. (We should be thankful that there have as yet been no great power wars in the era of globalised just-in-time production.) Beyond that, the task for the immediate future appears less as the return to intensive productive expansion than as the administration of stagnation.

If the agenda of the future is indeed the ‘administration of stagnation’—the passing-deeper in the slow circuit that we’ve already been circling through for decades—then a renewed focus on money, and the bank, becomes essential.

3 thoughts on “Money Games

  1. Moishe Postone, anyone? Time, not money, is the key. How much free time is in a trillion dollars? There are around 120 million U.S. workers with a median pay rate of $20 an hour. That’s 417 hours per worker. 10 weeks, 2.5 months.
    Our decision is really: free time for everyone (with the same standard of living) or profits for a decreasing few?

    Liked by 1 person

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