Revolutionary Desire

Proletarian: Agent of Production or Anti-Production?

Posted in Essays by deterritorialization on November 19, 2009

Recently I came across some interesting but disturbing remarks in Guattari’s essay “Of Both Types of Break” in The Anti-Oedipus Papers. It would seem Guattari makes the argument that workers’ class interest makes them anti-productive agents.

The “worker’s” best interest is a factor in anti-production and reaction on the global production relations scale. [. . .] The worker, as ex-power sign of the industrial revolution, becomes the anti-productive agent of the structure of capitalist production relations. [The Anti-Oedipus Papers, 268.]

The logic of this, of course, is already in Marx’s Capital. Surplus value, or profit, which is the source of reinvestment in the circuit of capital (C-M-C’), is in a directly oppositional relationship to variable capital, or wages (s = C – c – v). Thus, when Marxists fight for increases in workers’ wages, the result of this must be an overall decrease in production.

Moreover, though, the actual struggle to raise working-class consciousness (that is, workers’ consciousness of objective interests) involves an anti-productive shift. As workers become increasingly aware of the opposition between surplus value and wages, this is in fact a closing off of capitalism’s potential:

Oedipalization, consciousness raising, conflicts of interests, social-democratization are the consequence of the old power machines inverting the steam and getting to work actively against the potentiality—the potential being—of even more deterritorialized machinic production. Today, this occurs against the constitution of a socialist plane of consistency integrating computer and audiovisual revolutions. [Ibid.]

I think this is importantly connected to the Marxist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat and perhaps also tangentially to the Trotskyist theory of Permanent Revolution. On this, Deleuze and Guattari are similar to Guy Debord, McKenzie Wark and others. The proletarian state, insofar as it is a state which therefore represents but does not express proletarian interests, develops capitalist interests of its own. There is no coincidence that Trotsky argued for military discipline of labor. The new rulers, in the Russian case the Bolshevik party, immediately gain an interest in increasing the rate of exploitation. The proletarian state, carrying out the bourgeois-democratic tasks of development which are theoretically impossible under the imperialist epoch of decay, engages in a process of economic development which necessitates a growing divide between workers and the state. There is no “withering away”, there is only the frenzied production of the bureaucratic state, the accumulation of capital which must be performed in the most brutally repressive ways.

Permanent Revolution is based on the Leninist theory of imperialism, taking it to its logical conclusion that growth and development (particularly bourgeois-democratic political development) become impossible in an epoch of stagnation and decay. In these conditions, only the proletariat is a progressive force in society. The proletarian dictatorship carries out the accumulation of capital that the nascent bourgeoisie failed to do.

I’m still not sure how I feel about calling workers “anti-production” agents. There is something obviously disturbing about seeing the very producers as anti-productive. But I think the argument is a structural one. That is, while workers and labor (or desire, for Deleuze and Guattari) per-se are the productive force of society, in the capitalist structure, workers’ interest lies in increased wages and reduced production while capitalists’ interest lies in increased investment and capital accumulation. I think Guattari’s points along these lines are onto something fundamentally correct, though I think to be used in a properly revolutionary manner this line of thought must be reconciled (somehow) with the Leninist/Trotskyist theory of imperialist stagnation accompanying the monopolization of capital. Perhaps Permanent Revolution implies a reversal of this structure: while in its progressive epoch, capitalism still had a competitive interest in increasing production, in its reactionary imperialist epoch, it becomes a brake on production. I think the two arguments are not necessarily mutually exclusive, though I am unsure how to begin reconciling them.


Félix Guattari, “Of Both Types of Break,” in The Anti-Oedipus Papers (New York: Semiotext(e) 2006), ed. Stéphane Nadaud, trans. Kélina Gotman, 254-79.

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  1. deterritorialization said, on December 9, 2009 at 4:59 PM

    A friend points out that I disregarded the role of successful wage struggles as an impetus on the capitalists to increase their investment in constant capital, that is, to increase the productivity of labor as a counterbalance. That is, when workers increase the share of variable capital against surplus value, capitalists respond by increasing rates of mechanization. Thus workers’ struggles have a net positive effect on total production.

    All of this is true and present in Marx, of course. It seems to me that it would be worth exploring this further, as it all rests upon the Marxist supposition that surplus value derives from living, not dead, labor. This is not a perspective which Guattari holds. Instead Guattari seems to follow Marx’s insights into the General Intellect, buried away in the Grundrisse, indicating that the shifting balance from living to dead labor could represent machinery becoming a productive force more and more independent of living labor. Marx refers to knowledge, which is the substance embodied in machines, as a productive force. As machines become workers, workers become machines.

    • Nizzil said, on December 11, 2009 at 1:14 AM

      To suggest that value is something that is out of the control of human beings, that towers above them, instead of recognizing it as a valuation that arises through human activity, is to likewise cast human social relations as something mystical, uncontrollable, unalterable.

      • deterritorialization said, on December 11, 2009 at 5:03 AM

        Marx: “The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself. The appropriation of living labour by objectified labour — of the power or activity which creates value by value existing for-itself — which lies in the concept of capital, is posited, in production resting on machinery, as the character of the production process itself, including its material elements and its material motion. The production process has ceased to be a labour process in the sense of a process dominated by labour as its governing unity. [. . .] In machinery, objectified labour confronts living labour within the labour process itself as the power which rules it; a power which, as the appropriation of living labour, is the form of capital.” (Grundrisse)

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