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

In: Historical Materialism
Gavin Walker McGill University

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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.

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