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.
AdachiMariko‘Arata na keikenteki sho-ryōiki toshite no ‘jinkō’ no mondai’New Experiential Fields in the Question of PopulationMarukusu riron kenkyūInvestigations in Marxist Theory2007TokyoOchanomizu Shobō
AokiKōheiMakotoItōSetsuoFurihata‘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 PhilosophyMarukusu riron no saikōchiku: Uno keizaigaku o dō ikasu kaThe Reconstruction of Marxist Theory: How Can Unoist Economics Be Revived?2000TokyoShakai Hyōronsha
HegelGeorg Wilhelm FriedrichEnzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im GrundrissePart One: Die Wissenschaft der Logik in Werke in zwanzig Bänden: Theorie-Werkausgabe1971 Volume 8Frankfurt am MainSuhrkamp
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 Works1976a Volume 1Fourth EditionMoscowProgress Publishers
WalkerGavin‘Shihon no kigenteki iki: hida toshite no rōdōryoku’Capital’s Originary Threshold: Labour Power as FoldMuri to iu iki to kyō no seisanThe Threshold of Impossibility [muri] and the Production of the Commons2010aPart 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 CommonsMuri to iu iki to kyō no seisanThe Threshold of Impossibility [muri] and the Production of the Commons2010bPart 2 Jōkyō October: 185–203
WalkerGavinYutakaNagahara‘Shihon no puroretariateki reido: Gaibu no seijiteki butsurigaku’Capital’s Proletarian Degree Zero: The Political Physics of the OutsideSeiji keizaigaku no seiji tetsugakuteki fukken: Riron no rironteki ‘rinkai-gaibu’ ni muketePolitical-Philosophical Resurrections of Political Economy: Towards the Theoretical ‘Limit-Outside’ of Theory2011cTokyoHōsei 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 DebtGendai shisō: Revue de la pensée d’aujourd’hui2012a40296109
Engels1962p. 487; Engels 1975 p. 563. Translation modified.
Bidet2007p. 740. My italics.
Lenin1976bp. 317. See on this point Uno 1973g in particular pp. 4–7.
Marx1962cp. 839; Marx 1998 p. 818. Translation modified.
Marx1977p. 203; Marx 1962a p. 401.
Marx1996p. 178; Marx 1962b p. 182.
Marx1994p. 247; Marx 1982 p. 2288.
Virno1999pp. 120–41; Spivak 1993 p. 108.
Marx1962bp. 181; Marx 1996 p. 177. Translation modified.
Uno1973app. 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.
Marx1962ap. 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.
Uno1973cp. 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.
Marx1962bp. 181; Marx 1996 p. 177. Translation modified.
See here Uno1973cpp. 488–90.
Marx1962bp. 185; Marx 1996 p. 181.
See here Uno1973e.
Marx1962ap. 616; Marx 1996 p. 585.
Oki2004pp. 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.
Marx1987p. 383; Marx 1983 p. 368.
Marx1996p. 176; Marx 1962a p. 180.
Marx1987p. 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.
Marx1962bp. 630; Marx 1996 p. 599.
Uno1973fp. 42. This point is closely related to the central status of the agrarian question in Uno. See Walker 2012b.
Marx1987p. 425; Marx 1983 p. 408.
Adachi2007p. 274 my emphasis.
Marx1962bpp. 630–1; Marx 1996 p. 599.
Hegel1971p. 235 (§ 114).
Badiou and Critchley2007p. 363. For another point of entry into the question of Badiou’s relation to Marx see Walker 2012c.