The Absent Body of Labour Power: Uno Kōzō’s Logic of Capital

in Historical Materialism
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Abstract

The debate around labour power, and particularly regarding its status as the ‘most peculiar’ of commodities, has been widely revisited in contemporary Marxist thought and critical theory. This concept, which has often resurfaced in works by Negri, Spivak, Virno and numerous other contemporary thinkers, has a long prehistory in the work of Marx and subsequent Marxist theorists, perhaps most importantly in the work of Uno Kōzō, arguably the most influential and widely known Marxist thinker in modern Japan. Uno’s work, and particularly his major theoretical works of the 1950s, developed an entire logical analysis of the peculiar position of the labour-power commodity within capital’s drive, noting that this site marks the place wherein capital’s logical interior and its historical exterior interpenetrate each other, generating a volatile force of excess at the core of capital’s supposedly smooth and pure circuit-process. By developing around this point an extensive theoretical discussion of its dynamics of impossibility or irrationality, centred on a term – muri – that he raises to the level of a concept, Uno formulates a series of original theses in methodology, on the concept of population, and particularly around the figures of the logical and the historical in the critical analysis of capitalism. Focusing in particular on this ‘impossibility’ or muri that is nevertheless constantly ‘passing through’ the capital-relation, this essay investigates the entire range of Uno’s analysis, revealing not only a crucial thread of theoretical inquiry that remains contemporary for us today, but also another set of possibilities linking the critique of political economy to the renewal of revolutionary politics.

The Absent Body of Labour Power: Uno Kōzō’s Logic of Capital

in Historical Materialism

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References

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1.

Engels 1962p. 487; Engels 1975 p. 563. Translation modified.

2.

Uno 1973cp. 495.

3.

Bidet 2007p. 730.

4.

Marx 1996pp. 760–1.

5.

Bidet 2007p. 740. My italics.

8.

Lenin 1976bp. 317. See on this point Uno 1973g in particular pp. 4–7.

9.

Marx 1962cp. 839; Marx 1998 p. 818. Translation modified.

12.

Lenin 1976ap. 437.

13.

Uno 1973hpp. 32–4.

14.

Marx 1977p. 203; Marx 1962a p. 401.

15.

Marx 1996p. 178; Marx 1962b p. 182.

16.

Marx 1994p. 247; Marx 1982 p. 2288.

17.

Marx 1994p. 243.

19.

Virno 1999pp. 120–41; Spivak 1993 p. 108.

20.

Uno 1973app. 134–5.

21.

Marx 1962bp. 181; Marx 1996 p. 177. Translation modified.

22.

Virno 1999p. 127.

23.

Uno 1973gp. 9.

24.

Uno 1973app. 134–5. On this passage see Yutaka Nagahara’s many writings on the term ‘muri’ now collected in Nagahara 2008 especially pp. 169–81. I would like to note the importance of the phrase ‘actually commodified [genjitsuteki ni shōhinka shinagara]’ and point out that Uno here refers implicitly to the Hegelian concept of ‘the actual [das Wirkliche]’ in the adverbial form genjitsuteki ni which connotes a wide-ranging conceptual field: the real working operative etc. In this sense ‘actuality [wirklich; Wirklichkeit]’ indicates something ‘for-itself’ something that gathers contingencies around it and makes them operate in accordance with an interior force of pulsion or drive. This is one of the reasons that ‘actuality’ in this sense is a decisive concept in relation to capital and holds an important place in Uno’s thought. I cannot expand on it for reasons of space here but elsewhere I take another opportunity to develop Uno’s implicit discussion of actuality in relation to the dual roles of Hegel and Spinoza in his work.

25.

Uno 1973ap. 138.

26.

Marx 1962ap. 214. As noted earlier it should be remembered that the phrase ‘labour power [Arbeitskraft]’ only appears in these manuscripts after Engels’s editorial intervention in the 1891 republication.

27.

Uno 1973cp. 487. In Japanese-language Marxist theory the original German abbreviations W = Ware G = Geld Pm = Produktionsmittel A = Arbeitskraft etc. are usually retained but I have changed these to the standard abbreviations in English: C = commodity M = money MP = means of production LP = labour power c = constant capital v = variable capital s = surplus value.

28.

Uno 1973cp. 487.

29.

Marx 1962bp. 181; Marx 1996 p. 177. Translation modified.

30.

See here Uno 1973cpp. 488–90.

31.

Marx 1962bp. 185; Marx 1996 p. 181.

32.

See here Uno 1973e.

33.

Uno 1973bpp. 76–7.

35.

Marx 1962ap. 616; Marx 1996 p. 585.

36.

Oki 2004pp. 130–1. This essay has now been included in Oki’s new and important book Yojō no seiji keizaigaku [The Political Economy of Excess] (See Oki 2012) which develops numerous important and original theses related to the work of Uno.

37.

Laibman 1992pp. 50–1.

38.

Marx 1987p. 383; Marx 1983 p. 368.

40.

Uno 1973cp. 497.

41.

Marx 1996p. 176; Marx 1962a p. 180.

42.

Marx 1987p. 337; Marx 1983 pp. 323–4. Here let me note an important conceptual and terminological point: the careful distinction between ‘limit’ [Grenze] and ‘barrier’ or ‘border’ [Schranke] which in turn concerns the essential relations governing the tendency [Tendenz] of capital’s ‘drive’ [Trieb] a sequence closely related to the concepts of ‘antagonism’ [Gegenstand] and ‘contradiction’ [Widerspruch]. I develop this point in relation to Uno’s work in greater detail in my current book-manuscript.

43.

Marx 1962bp. 630; Marx 1996 p. 599.

44.

Laibman 1992p. 51.

45.

Uno 1973hp. 34.

46.

Žižek 2006p. 298.

47.

Uno 1973fp. 42. This point is closely related to the central status of the agrarian question in Uno. See Walker 2012b.

48.

Marx 1987p. 425; Marx 1983 p. 408.

49.

Adachi 2007p. 274 my emphasis.

50.

Uno 1973cp. 502.

51.

Marx 1962bpp. 630–1; Marx 1996 p. 599.

52.

Uno 1973app. 134–5.

54.

Uno 1973dp. 132.

56.

Uno 1973cp. 497.

58.

Aoki 2000p. 183.

60.

Uno 1973ep. 19.

61.

Hegel 1971p. 235 (§ 114).

63.

Badiou and Critchley 2007p. 363. For another point of entry into the question of Badiou’s relation to Marx see Walker 2012c.

64.

Badiou 1988pp. 397–8.

65.

See Uno 1973cp. 497.

66.

Marx 1996p. 573; Marx 1962b pp. 598–9.

68.

Badiou and Balmès 1976p. 67.

70.

Marx 1989p. 88; Marx 1962d p. 23.

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