Value and affect


In the polemics that since 200 years ago have accompanied the development of the theory of value in political economy, I think that we still have not managed to decouple value from labour.

Even the marginalist current and the neo-liberal schools (that as a vocation are used to operate this decoupling) are forced to reconsider that relation (and its basis: mass living labour) everytime they are confronted with political economy in concrete. In the neo-classical elaboration, the analysis of market relations, enterpreneurial, financial or monetary, rejects in principle any reference to labour: in fact, it silences it. It is not the case that when the neo-classicists are faced with political decisions, the theory of value-labour comes back, exactly in the place where the founders of the discipline had located it: the place of conflict (and eventual mediation) of the economic relation as a social relation, the ontology of economic theory.

However, what has irreversibly changed, since the times of the dominance of classical theory of value, relates to the possibility of developing a theory of value in terms of economic order, i.e. to consider value as measure of concrete labour, both singularly and collectively. The economic consequences of this difficulty are as important as are the its anthropological and social assumptions. It is on the latter that our analysis will dwell: on this novelty, that transforms the theory of value �from below� of life.

Throughout the centuries of capitalist modernisation (in the passage, to say it with Marx, from manufacturing to large-scale industry), the possibility of measuring labour (that had more or less functioned during the period of accumulation) increasingly disappears.

1)firstly because labour � becoming more qualified and more complex, both at the individual and at the collective level � could no longer be reduced to simple quantities;

2)secondly because capital, becoming more �finance� and �state�[1] , made the mediation between different sectors of the economic cycle (production, social reproduction, circulation and division of wages) more and more artificial and manipulable, hence, more and more abstract.

But all this is pre-history. In the global market, in the postmodern, the problem itself of the measure of value cannot be found.[2]

It is true that in the period of passage to postmodernity, in the phase of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles, the theory of value-labour seemed to re-emerge in macro-economic terms, as a theory of an international division of labour, of �unequal exchange�, of post-colonial exploitation. But this reemergence appeared to be illusiory as soon as it become evident that the complexity of productive processes, as well as being immersed in the multi-nationalisation of industrial activity and in the globalisation of finance, was also intensified by technological processes of computers and communication, and by the employment of immaterial and scientific labour. This does not mean that the international division of labour and post-colonial exploitation have ended. On the contrary, they have extraordinarily increased[3]. But at the same time they have lost their specificity (and hence the possibility of reactivating in a concrete case the theory of value), because that type of exploitation has itself become global, it has submerged metropolitan territories, and the measure of exploitation is definitely dispersed.

In the economy of the postmodern and in the territories of globalisation the production of commodities occurrs through command; the division of labour is given through command; the articulation of measures of labour is defeated in global command.[4]

Having said this, our theme, value and affect, has not been touched upon yet if not through the suggestion of re-considering the problem of value �from below�.

In fact, then one looks at things from the standpoint of political economy, i.e. from �above�, the theme of value-affect is so integrated in the macro-economic process that it appears invisible. Economic science ignores the problem without any scruples.[5] When the problem presents itself to it, it does not grant it any importance. Two cases, amongst others, are exemplar in this respect.

1) The first concerns domestic labour of women and/or wives/mothers. In the tradition of political economy, in no way this theme can be posed outside of considerations of the wages, whether direct or indirect, of the worker (male, father); or, in more recent cases, outside of the disciplinary techniques of demographic control of the populations (and the interest of the State � capitalist collective � in the economic regulation of demographic development). Value here is assumed by being taken away (torn away) from labour (of women, wives or mothers), i.e. from affect.

2)A second example, at the opposite extreme, i.e. no longer around the traditional paradigms of classical economy, but considering a theme not at all postmodern: the so-called �attention economy�.[6] By this I mean the interest/ will to include in economic calculations the interactivity of the user of communication services. In this case too, despite the evident effort to absorb the production of subjectivity, economic science ignores its importance. It rather dwells on the calculation of �audiences�, it levels down, controls and commands the production of subjectivity on a disembodied plane. Labour (of attention) is here subsumed by being taken away from value (of the subject), i.e. from affect.

We need to start off from this ignorance of political economy in order to define the theme of value-affect. And we need to define it starting from an apparent paradox that I would like to define in this way: the more the measure of vlaue becomes ineffectual, the more the value of labour-power becomes determining in production; the more political economy silences the value of the labour force, the more the value of the labour force is extended and affects the global and biopolitical plane. On this paradoxical rhythm labour becomes  affect, or rather, labour finds its value in affect, in so far as the latter is defined as �power to act� (Spinoza).[7] The paradox can then be expressed also in these terms: the more the theory of value loses its reference to the subject (measure was this reference, as the basis of mediation and command), the more the value of labour resides in affect, i.e. in the living labour that becomes autonomous [8] from the capital relation, and expresses �through all the pores of the body, singular and collective � its self-valorising power.[9]


The first thesis, historical and deconstructive, is that it is impossible to measure labour - hence to order it and refer it back to a theory of value - when the labour force is no longer either outside or inside the command (and the capacity of structuring command) of capital. This is the situation today. In order to clarify it, we assume two cases:

First case. Labour power (force), i.e. the use-value of labour power (force), is outside of capital.

This is the situation in which the theory of value was constructed, the classical epoch when, being outside, the labour power had to be brought inside of capital. The process of primitive accumulation consists in bringing inside of capitalist development (and control) that labour power that lived outside of it. The 'exchange value' of labour power is hence rooted in the 'use-value' that is constructed, largely, outside of the capitalist organisation of production. In what does this outside contist? Marx has written a lot on this. When he talks about labour power as 'variable capital', he alludes to a mixture of independence and of subjectivities that organised themselves:

a) through the independence of 'small criculation' (the link with soil, family economy, the traditions of 'gifts, etc);

b) on the values typical of 'proletarian cooperation' as such, i.e. on the fact that cooperation constitutes a surplus of value that preceeds, or is irreducible to, capitalist organisation of labour, even though it is recuperated by it;

c) on the ensemble of 'historical and moral' values (says Marx) that are constantly renewed, as needs and desires, by the collective movement of the proletariat, as well as produced by its struggles. The struggle for 'relative wages' (strongly insested upon by Rosa Luxemburg, according to the particular interpretation she provided of Marxism in the perspective of a production of subjectivity) represents an extremely strong dispositif on the part of the outside. The 'use-value' is rooted then, fundamentally, even though relatively, outside of capital.

A large historiography (from E. P. Thompson to the italian and European Operaisti of the '70s, amongst whom we also find the work of Indian 'subaltern historiography') describes this situation and translates it into militant language.

For a long historical period, then, capitalist development has experienced a determination independent from the use value of the labour force, a determination that was posed -relatively- outside of capitalist command. The price of 'necessary labour' ( necessary to reproduce the proletariat) is presented then, in this period, as a natural quantity (and/or historical) -in any case as external- that mediates between the effective productivity of the working class and its own social and monetary inclusion.

The Marxian specificity, in the translation of the classical theory of value for revolutionary purposes, is also founded on a consideration of (relative) extraneity of the quantity of the use-value of labour power with respect to the unity of capitalist command on the development of accumulation. One can add that, for Marx, measuring value was using a unit of measure that was formed outside (or in any case laterally) of the capitalist process of production and reproduction of society. [10]

Second case. Labour power, or rather its use value is inside the society of capital.

In its development, capital has always reduced/relead labour power within its command, it has progressively eliminated the conditions of reproduction external to the society of capital, hence, it has always managed to define the use value of labour power in terms of exchange value - no longer only relatively as in the phase of accumulation, but now absolutely.

'Arbeit macht frei'. One doesn't need to be a pstmodernist to realise how this reduction (subsumption) of use value to a costrictive and totalitarian regime of exchange value occurred, beginning in the '30s in the US, in the '50s in Europe and in the '70s in the Third World.

Certainly there are still, in the Third World as in the First, situations where important forms of independence persist in the formation of proletarian use value. But the tendency to reabsorb them is irresistible. The postmodern describes a continuous, impetuous and rapid tendency. Correctly. One can affirm that, differently from what was happening at the time of Marxian analysis, today it is impossible to think of a definition of use value that, even partially, can be given independently from exchange value.

Hence economic calculation, whether of classical or Marxian origin, that entails an independent unit of measure (an outside) at the basis of capital's dialectic, has no reason to exist anymore. This lack is real, the theory of a measure of value has then become circular and tautological: there is nothing outside that can give it a foundation. In fact - and here again one doesn't need to be a postmodernist to realise it - since the '60s (as far as we are concerned) every use value is determined by the regime of capitalist production. And also every value that according to the theory of accumulation was not posed inside an immediately capitalist regime (such as the social power of reproduction, the productive surplus of cooperation, the 'small circulation', the new needs and desires produced by struggles) is now immediately recuperated and moved within the regime of capitalist (global) control.

Hence, if (in order to exist in the classical sense) the theory of value has to determine a criterion of measure, it can only find it today inside the global constitution of exchange value. Now, this measure is money. But money, in fact, is not a measure nor a relation of use value, but rather -at this stage of development- its substitution pure and simple.

In conclusion, the rationalising (as well as foundational) function of the theory of value for political economy has come to an end. It exits capitalist development at the threshold of postmodernity, is transfigured in monetary theory - constructed on the horizon of globalisation, organised by imperial command. �One dollar is one dollar'. Money is no longer the product of a regime of exchange (between capital and a labour force more or less subjectified) but the production of a regime of exchange. The theory of value is trivialised as utensil of monetary theory, of the order of money.

But the value of production is extinct. When it is no longer retraceable to measure, it becomes dis-measured [11]. I want to underline here the paradox of a labour force that is no longer either inside or outside of capital. In the first case, the criterion that allowed, through measure, control, was its relative independence (that today no longer exists: the labour force is 'really subsumed'); in the second case, the criterion that allowed, despite the fall of measure, command on the labour force consisted in its absorbtion into the monetary regime (Keynesianism, to mention the most sophisticated technique of control). But this criterion too has ended in so far as monetary control has become completely abstract. We have to conclude then that the labour force that one finds in the postmodern (in the global and/or imperial system of capitalist economy) is situated in a non-place with respect to capital.

How do we define this non-place?

In order to introduce the debate, firstly we need to identify the theoretical deplacement[12] that the globalisation of capitalist exploitation determines. Now, when one mentions globalisation, one refers to it in a two fold way: extensively, as the world-enlargement of the productive fibre/texture through markets; intensively, as the absorption of the whole of social life in capitalist production. In the first sense the labour force is presented in aggregates (or subjectivities) that are mobile and interchangeable, material and immaterial, and whose productive power is organised according to dispositifs of mobilisation (and/or segregation, segmentation etc.): productive force is here declined from circulation. In the second case the labour force is presented as social texture, as population, traditions and innovation, etc/ -in other words, its productive force is exploited within processes of social reproduction. Production then becomes co-extensive with reproduction, in a biopolitical context. (When we talk about 'biopolitics', we define a context of social reproduction, that in tegrates production and circulation, and the political dispositif that organises them. It is not here the place to dwell on this problematic: let us just here introduce the term).

The non-place of the labour force is therefore negatively defined by the dissolution of the separation between forms of realisation of capital -such as the classics and/or Marx had transmitted them. It is positively defined, at the same time, by the intensity of the mobilitation and the consistency of the biopolitical nexus of the labour force.


So far we have come to some conclusive remarks:

a) that the measure of value-labour, based on the independence of use-value, is impossible today;

b) that the rule of capitalist command that is imposed at the threshold of globalisation annihilates the possibility of measuring, even monetary;

c) that the value of labour power is today posed in a non-place and that this non-place is immeasurable [smisurato]. This means that it is out of measure but also beyond measure [oltre misura].

To go back to the theme of value-affect, we suggest to look into one of the many themes that were mentioned in the introduction to the discussion: the nexus/link between production and social reproduction; and to do it following the indication that research suggested: 1. from below; 2. in the immeasurable non-place.

In order to do it however it is necessary to avoid the simple path that is immediately presents itself to us: that of reintroducing the Marxian categories of use-value, pretending to update them to the new situation. How do the philosophers and politicians who place themselves in this perspective operate? They reconstruct a fictional use value that they nostalgically oppose to the growing globalisation; they oppose, in other words, to globalisation a humanist resistance. In reality, in their discourse all the values of modernity are brought back to light, and use-value is configured in terms of identity. One example: the workers unions� resistance to globalisation. In order to determine it they reassume territoriality and identity of the use-value of the labour force and insist upon them, blind in the face of the changes in productivity, desperate, unable to apprehend the new power (potenza) that the immeasurable non-place offers to productive activity. This path is then impossible. We need to find a different one.

Where to look for it? We said: from below. So far we have reasoned on the basis of a Marxian relation that lead from production to social reproduction and hence from value to biopolitical reality. In this relation one could include - opaquely - affect too; it could have emerged as �power to act� at the low limit of the definition of use value. But this end of the deduction of the conditions of value did not determine important effects, except when it was assumed abstractly as the element of unity of calculus. Now we need to change the sense of reasoning, and avoid deduction, to work with induction - from affect to value - as a line of construction.

This line of construction has been tested with good results - they are not sufficient however to prove the potenza of affect in the radicality and extension of the effects that now, in the postmodern, we expect. I refer here to the historiographical and dialectical schools mentioned earlier (from E. P. Thompson to the European Operaisti of the '70s to the subaltern historiography). Now, in this theoretical perspective, affect is assumed to be from below. Moreover, it presents itself in the first instance as production of value. Through this production, it re-presents itself then, in the second instance, as product of struggles, as sign, as their ontological depository. Hence affect presents a dynamics of historical construction, rich in its complexity. It is, however, insufficient. In this perspective the dynamic of struggles (and of affective behaviours) determines, in any case, the restructuration of command (technological, political, etc.) of capital. The development of affect is hence trapped in a dialectics [stretto in una dialettica] that ends up presenting its own dynamic as circularity. As dialectics, tout court. And there is not a good against a bad dialectics: all dialectics are nasty [pessime], they all are incapable of liberating themselves from historical feasibility and its spell [dall�effettualita� storica e il suo incantesimo]. Dialectics, even a dialectics from �below�, is incapable of providing us with the radical innovation of the historical process, the explosion of the �power to act� (affect) in all its radicality.

A path of construction from �below� must come with a perception of the non-place. Only the radical assumption of the point of view of a non-place can liberate us from the dialectics of modernity, in all its figures, even in those that have tried to develop from �below� the dialectical construction of affect. What does it mean, then, to put together an approach �from below�, the perception of a non-place and the rupture with any instance of the dialectics in a path that takes us from affect to value?

Affect can be regarded, in a first hypothesis, as a singular and -at once- universal power to act. Singular because it poses acting beyond any measure that power [potenza] would not contain in itself, in its own structure and in the continuous restructurations that it constructs. Universal, because affects construct a commonality/community [comunanza] amongst subjects. In this community the �non-place� of affect is not posed because this community is not a name but a power [potenza], it is not the community of a constriction but of a desire. Here then affect has no longer anything to do with use-value, because it is not a measure but a power, and this power does not incur in limits but only into obstacles to its expansion.   

However, this first definition of affect as power to act opens the way to other qualifications. Secondly, we can note that if the relation between singularity and community (universality) is dynamic rather than static, and if in this relation we witness a continuous movement between the singular that universalises itself and what is common singularising itself, well, we could then qualify affect as a power of transformation, a self-valorisation force: which insists upon itself in relation to �what is common� and hence takes �what is common to an expansion that finds no limits, only obstacles.

But this is not a formal process: it is material. It is realised in the biopolitical condition. Thirdly, we will then talk of affect as power of appropriation, in the sense that each obstacle that is overcome by the action of affect, determines a greater force/power of action of affect itself, in the singularity and universality of its power. The process is ontological, power is ontological, the conditions of the action and transformation are time after time appropriated and go to enrich the power to act and transform.

Fourthly we can put together the definitions of affect as power to act in a further qualification: affect is an expansive power. This is to say that it is a power of freedom, of ontological opening, of omni-lateral diffusion. In reality this further definition could be regarded as pleonastic. Because if affect constructs value �from below�, if it transforms it to the rhythm of �what is common�, if it appropriates the material conditions of its own realization, it is more than evident that in all of this there resides an expansive power [potenza espansiva]. But this definition is not pleonastic -since it adds another concept- when through it we insist on the positive tone of the non-place, on the irresistibility of affect as power �beyond measure� and on its consequent absolutely anti-dialectical aspect. (Playing with the history of philosophy, which is worth nothing more that a game, we can add that whilst the first three definitions of affect are Spinozian, this fourth one recuperates a Nietzschean effect). The omni-lateral expansivity of affect demonstrates, so to speak, the moment that transvaluates its concept, up to determining its ability to sustain the impact of the postmodern [l�urto del postmoderno].    

Back to political economy

Since value is outside of any measure (of the �natural� one of use-value as much as the monetary one), the political economy of the postmodern searches for it in other terrains: those of the conventions of mercantile exchange and of communicative relations. Market conventions and communication exchanges would then be the places where productive nexus (and hence affective fluxes) reside surely out-of-measure, but still liable to biopolitical control [passibili di controllo biopolitico].

The political economy of the postmodern recognises that value is formed in the relation of affect, that affect has its own fundamental productive qualities etc.; consequently it tries to control it (and mystify its nature) by limiting its power. Political economy must in all cases put productive force under control, then it must organise itself in order to demarcate on the new figures of valorisation (and the subjects that produce it), new figures of exploitation.

We have to recognise that, by reshaping its conceptual system in this manner, political economy has made much progress and it has attempted to pose itself outside of the classical dialectics of capital (without negating the instance of domination that characterises it but reproducing it in original languages). It accepts the impossibility to determine any �objective� (and transcendental, as in the case of �use-value, and again transcendental in the case of money) measure of labour force productivity. Hence it tests itself on the terrain marked by the �production of subjectivity�, i.e. by productive subjectivity. The latent recognition that political economy grants to the fact that value is now an investment of desire, constitutes a real conceptual revolution. (Playing with the history of philosophy, which is almost always a discipline of mystification, one could note how entertaining [divertente] it is to witness the current overrating of Adam Smith�s Theory of moral sentiments as opposed to The wealth of nations; in Marx, the early writings rather than Capital ; and Mauss� �sociology of gift� instead of Max Weber�s Economy and Society). This revolution in political economy is revealing: it is about dominating the context of affects that establish productive reality as a superstructure of social reproduction and as an articulation of the circulation of communicative signs. If the measuring of this new productive reality is impossible, because affect is not measurable, this very productive context, so rich of productive subjectivity, still needs to be controlled. Political economy has become de-ontological science. This is to say, the project of a political economy of conventions and communication is the control of a measured productive reality.

However, this is more difficult than political economy expects. We have already underlined the fact that �dis-measure� means �outside-measure� but also, and especially, �beyond measure�. Probably the central contradiction of the postmodern is located on this difference. Affect (and its productive effects) is at its centre. Political economy says: all right, we recognise that what is outside of measure cannot be measured, we accept that economic science needs to become a non-dialectical theoretical discipline. This however does not entail, political economy adds, that the out of measure is out of control. Convention (i.e. the ensemble of the life-styles of production and exchange) and communication (i.e. the ensemble of interactive relations that forms the market and the consciousness of the market) provide political economy with the opportunity to restrict the dis-measurativity [argh, smisuratezza] of value-affect within control. It is an interesting and titanic effort, that of political economy!

If it wasn�t for the fact that what political economy forgets (and also what tetanises it) is the other aspect: the value-affect beyond measure. This is not containable. The sublime has become normal.

In order to start again from analysis.

An economy of desire is actual: not only in philosophical terms but also in the (disciplinary) terms of a critique of political economy -i.e. starting not from the model as much as the point of view of Marx: the point of view of the oppressed who construct insurrection and imagine a revolutionary reconstruction, a point of view �from below� that largely constructs the �non-place� of revolutionary reality. The value-affect paves the way to a revolutionary political economy, of which insurrection is a necessary ingredient, that poses the thematic of reappropriation of the biopolitical context by productive subjects.

What do we want and what can we do? To say it scientifically is beyond measure, not simply out of measure. But it is paradoxically easy to say it in �what is common�, in the dialogue between persons and in each social struggle. When events are full of affectivity. Such is the distance between being and affect. In fact, our social life, not to mention our productive one, is submerged by the impotence to act, by the frustration of not creating, by the castration of our normal imagination.

Where does this come from? From an enemy. If for the enemy value is impossible, for the value producer the very existence of a value measurer is unreal. Starting from affect the enemy must be destroyed. Whilst affect (production, value, subjectivity) is indestructible.  

Translated by Arianna Bove

Translator's notes:
1. Finanziarissandosi e statualizzandosi. Difficult to translate.
2. E� introvabile.
3. Accentuati.
4. For instance in places like this I think he is just being logorroic. This last sentence doesn�t mean anything to me.
5. Resipiscenza.
6. economia dell�attenzione.
7. Potenza di agire. This reference to Spinoza here seems rather important. Any idea what it means?
8. Lavoro vivo che si autonomizza dal rapporto di capitale.
9. Potenza di autovalorizzazione.
10. But was it ever that in Marx? Or is he here simply referring to Adam Smith etc.? In this respect what he will say later about the history of philosophy is interesting. See page
11. s-misurato.
12. Deplacement in the original.
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