The ‘General Intellect’ in the Grundrisse and Beyond

In: Historical Materialism
Tony Smith Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University

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In recent publications Paolo Virno and Carlo Vercellone have called attention to Marx’s category of the general intellect in the Grundrisse, and to the unprecedented role its diffusion plays in contemporary capitalism. According to Virno, the flourishing of the general intellect, which Marx thought could only take place within communism, characterises post-Fordist capitalism. Vercellone adds that Marx’s account of the real subsumption of living labour under capital is obsolete in contemporary cognitive capitalism. Both authors regard Marx’s value theory as historically obsolete. I argue that these views rest on a confusion of value and wealth, a neglect of Marx’s account of the role of ‘free gifts’ to capital, an underestimation of the role of the general intellect in the period prior to the rise of post-Fordism/cognitive capitalism, and an underestimation of the restrictions on the diffusion of the general intellect in contemporary capitalism.

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