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

in Historical Materialism
No Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



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



AdachiMariko ‘Arata na keikenteki sho-ryōiki toshite no ‘jinkō’ no mondai’ New Experiential Fields in the Question of Population Marukusu riron kenkyū Investigations in Marxist Theory 2007 Tokyo Ochanomizu Shobō

AlthusserLouis ElliotGregory Machiavelli and Us 1999 [1995] London Verso

AokiKōhei MakotoItōSetsuoFurihata ‘Komyunizumu kara komyunitarianizumu e: gendai shakai tetsugaku ni okeru Marukusu, Uno riron no kōzō’ From Communism to Communitarianism: The Structure of Marxist and Unoist theory in Contemporary Social Philosophy Marukusu riron no saikōchiku: Uno keizaigaku o dō ikasu ka The Reconstruction of Marxist Theory: How Can Unoist Economics Be Revived? 2000 Tokyo Shakai Hyōronsha

BadiouAlain L’être et l’événement 1988 Paris Seuil

BadiouAlainBalmèsFrançois De l’idéologie 1976 Paris Maspero

BadiouAlainCritchleySimon ‘Ours is Not a Terrible Situation’ Philosophy Today 2007 51 3 357 365

BidetJacques BidetJacquesKouvelakisStathis ‘Kōzō Uno and His School: A Pure Theory of Capitalism’ Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism 2007 Leiden Brill Historical Materialism Book Series

DeleuzeGilles HandSéan Foucault 1988 [1986] London Athlone Press

EngelsFriedrich Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England Marx-Engels-Werke 1962 [1845] Volume 2 Berlin Dietz Verlag

EngelsFriedrich The Condition of the Working Class in England Marx Engels Collected Works 1975 [1845] Volume 4 Moscow Progress Publishers

HegelGeorg Wilhelm Friedrich Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse Part One: Die Wissenschaft der Logik in Werke in zwanzig Bänden: Theorie-Werkausgabe 1971 [1830] Volume 8 Frankfurt am Main Suhrkamp

KawashimaKen C. ‘Capital’s Dice-Box Shaking: The Contingent Commodifications of Labour Power’ Rethinking Marxism 2005 17 4 609 26

LaibmanDavid Value Technical Change and Crisis: Explorations in Marxist Economic Theory 1992 New York M.E. Sharpe

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘The Economic Content of Narodism and the Criticism of It in Mr. Struve’s Book (The Reflection of Marxism in Bourgeois Literature)’ Collected Works 1976a [1895] Volume 1 Fourth Edition Moscow Progress Publishers

LeninVladimir Ilyich Philosophical Notebooks Collected Works 1976b [1895–1916] Volume 38 Fourth Edition Moscow Progress Publishers

MarxKarl Lohnarbeit und Kapital Marx-Engels-Werke 1962a [1849] Volume 6 Berlin Dietz Verlag

MarxKarl Das Kapital, Volume 1 Marx-Engels-Werke Volume 23 1962b [1867] Berlin Dietz Verlag

MarxKarl Das Kapital, Volume 3 Marx-Engels-Werke Volume 25 1962c [1894] Berlin Dietz Verlag

MarxKarl Kritik des Gothaer Programms Marx-Engels-Werke 1962d [1875] Volume 19 Berlin Dietz Verlag

MarxKarl Wage Labour and Capital Marx Engels Collected Works 1977 [1849] Volume 9 Moscow Progress Publishers

MarxKarl Zur Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie (Manuskript 1861–1863) Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe Division 2 1982 Volume 3.6 Berlin Dietz Verlag

MarxKarl Ökonomische Manuskripte 1857/1858 Marx-Engels-Werke 1983 Volume 42 Berlin Dietz Verlag

MarxKarl Economic Manuscripts of 1857–1858 [Grundrisse] Marx Engels Collected Works 1987 Volume 28 Moscow Progress Publishers

MarxKarl Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx Engels Collected Works 1989 [1875] Volume 24 Moscow Progress Publishers

MarxKarl Economic Manuscripts of 1861–1863 Marx Engels Collected Works 1994 Volume 34 New York International Publishers

MarxKarl Capital, Volume 1 Marx Engels Collected Works Volume 35 1996 [1867] New York International Publishers

MarxKarl Capital, Volume 3 Marx Engels Collected Works Volume 37 1998 [1894] New York International Publishers

NagaharaYutaka Warera kashi aru mono tachi: han-shihonron no tame ni We the Defective Commodities: For an Analytics of Anti-‘Capital’/ism 2008 Tokyo Seidosha

OkiKōsuke ‘Shihonshugi no materiariti’ The Materiality of Capitalism Gendai shisō: Revue de la pensée d’aujourd’hui 2004 32 5 121 135

OkiKōsuke Yojō no seiji keizaigaku The Political Economy of Excess 2012 Tokyo Nihon Keizai Hyōronsha

ŌuchiHideaki Uno Kōzō: chosaku to shisō Uno Kōzō: Work and Thought 1979 Tokyo Yūhikaku

SpivakGayatri Chakravorty ‘Limits and Openings of Marx in Derrida’ Outside in the Teaching Machine 1993 London Routledge

UnoKōzō Shihonron gojūnen Fifty Years with ‘Capital’ 1970 Volume 1 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō Keizai genron [first version] Uno Kōzō chosakushū 1973a Volume 1 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō Keizai genron [Iwanami zensho version] Uno Kōzō chosakushū 1973b Volume 2 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō ‘Rōdōryoku naru shōhin no tokushusei ni tsuite’ On the Specificity of Labour Power as a Commodity Uno Kōzō chosakushū 1973c Volume 3 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō ‘Rōdōryoku no kachi to kakaku’ The Value and Price of Labour Power Uno Kōzō chosakushū 1973d Volume 4 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō ‘Keizaigaku ni okeru ronshō to jisshō’ The Structure of Theoretical Proof and Empirical Proof in Political Economy Uno Kōzō chosakushū 1973e Volume 4 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō ‘Shihonshugi no seiritsu to nōson bunkai no katei’ The Establishment of Capitalism and the Process of Dissolution of the Rural Village Uno Kōzō chosakushū 1973f Volume 8 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō Shihonron to shakaishugi Uno Kōzō chosakushū 1973g Volume 10 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō ‘Shihonron no kakushin’ Capital’s Nucleus Uno Kōzō chosakushū 1973h Volume 11 Tokyo Hōsei University Press

UnoKōzō Uno Kōzō chosakushū Collected Works of Uno Kōzō 1973i Tokyo Iwanami Shoten eleven volumes

UnoKōzō SekineThomas T. Principles of Political Economy: Theory of a Purely Capitalist Society 1980 Brighton Harvester Press

VirnoPaolo Il ricordo del presente: Saggio sul tempo storico 1999 Turin Bollati Boringhieri

WalkerGavin ‘Shihon no kigenteki iki: hida toshite no rōdōryoku’ Capital’s Originary Threshold: Labour Power as Fold Muri to iu iki to kyō no seisan The Threshold of Impossibility [muri] and the Production of the Commons 2010a Part 1 Jōkyō May: 120–34

WalkerGavin ‘Kenryoku toshite no shihon: Seijiteki kake to kyō no kishōsei’ Capital as Power: The Political Wager and the Rarity of the Commons Muri to iu iki to kyō no seisan The Threshold of Impossibility [muri] and the Production of the Commons 2010b Part 2 Jōkyō October: 185–203

WalkerGavin ‘Postcoloniality and the National Question in Marxist Historiography: Elements of the Debate on Japanese Capitalism’ Interventions 2011a 13 1 120 137

WalkerGavin ‘Primitive Accumulation and the Formation of Difference: On Marx and Schmitt’ Rethinking Marxism 2011b 23 3 384 404

WalkerGavin YutakaNagahara ‘Shihon no puroretariateki reido: Gaibu no seijiteki butsurigaku’ Capital’s Proletarian Degree Zero: The Political Physics of the Outside Seiji keizaigaku no seiji tetsugakuteki fukken: Riron no rironteki ‘rinkai-gaibu’ ni mukete Political-Philosophical Resurrections of Political Economy: Towards the Theoretical ‘Limit-Outside’ of Theory 2011c Tokyo Hōsei University Press

WalkerGavin ‘Shihon no sekai ni okeru “gaitō no jujitsu”: Kyōkō, kokka, kokusai’ The ‘Facts of the Streets’ in the World of Capital: Crisis State and the National Debt Gendai shisō: Revue de la pensée d’aujourd’hui 2012a 40 2 96 109

WalkerGavin ‘The World of Principle, or Pure Capitalism: Exteriority and Suspension in Uno Kōzō’ The Journal of International Economic Studies 2012b 26 15 37

WalkerGavin ‘On Marxism’s Field of Operation: Badiou and the Critique of Political Economy’ Historical Materialism 2012c 20 2 39 74

WalkerGavin ‘The Body of Politics: On the Concept of the Party’ Theory & Event 16 4 2013

ŽižekSlavoj The Parallax View 2006 Cambridge, MA. The MIT Press


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


Uno 1973cp. 495.


Bidet 2007p. 730.


Marx 1996pp. 760–1.


Bidet 2007p. 740. My italics.


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


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


Lenin 1976ap. 437.


Uno 1973hpp. 32–4.


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


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


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


Marx 1994p. 243.


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


Uno 1973app. 134–5.


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


Virno 1999p. 127.


Uno 1973gp. 9.


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.


Uno 1973ap. 138.


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.


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.


Uno 1973cp. 487.


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


See here Uno 1973cpp. 488–90.


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


See here Uno 1973e.


Uno 1973bpp. 76–7.


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


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.


Laibman 1992pp. 50–1.


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


Uno 1973cp. 497.


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


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.


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


Laibman 1992p. 51.


Uno 1973hp. 34.


Žižek 2006p. 298.


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


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


Adachi 2007p. 274 my emphasis.


Uno 1973cp. 502.


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


Uno 1973app. 134–5.


Uno 1973dp. 132.


Uno 1973cp. 497.


Aoki 2000p. 183.


Uno 1973ep. 19.


Hegel 1971p. 235 (§ 114).


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


Badiou 1988pp. 397–8.


See Uno 1973cp. 497.


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


Badiou and Balmès 1976p. 67.


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



Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 34 34 8
Full Text Views 66 66 38
PDF Downloads 15 15 4
EPUB Downloads 2 2 2