A note on ‘class’. By Gerardo Muñoz.

I think that a discussion on class and exploitation brings important points for a fundamental disagreement. In so far as thought solicits perpetual interlocution, this exchange seems necessary and timely. Since I alluded in passing to Daniel Zamora’s article on exploitation in a previous note, I would like to recall the way in which he brings to bear the analytical stakes in pursuing the question of ‘exploitation’ against that of ‘inequality’. (Let’s leave for a moment the oppositional form of the debate, that is, between inequality and/or exploitation, which I do not think exhausts the discussion of work in any sense). Zamora writes at the very end of his article:

“Today, more than ever, the success or failure of the struggles to come depend on the capacity of political and class organization (e.g: unions) to draw attention to the socioeconomic stakes represented by the “surplus population”, and to convince the so-called “stable” working class that their fates are intertwined. Indeed, at the very dawn of the industrial era, Marx had already posited that a decisive stage in the development of the class struggle would be the moment when workers “discover that the degree of intensity of the competition among themselves depends wholly on the pressure of the relative surplus population” and thus on their being able to “organize a regular co-peration between employed and unemployed in order to destroy or to weaken the ruinous effects of this natural law of capitalist production on their class” [1].

I do not intend to gloss Zamora’s article, rather I want to use it to introduce at least two intertwined elements of analysis. First, I would agree with Zamora that exploitation has not disappeared from our contemporary world. On the contrary, everything is labour and everyone is exploited insofar as we are in the post-epochal stage dominated by the principle of general equivalence. What disappears is the semblance and unity of the very category of class as articulated in Marx’s thought. In the 1990s, this aporia underlying the “theory of the working class” was posed with immense clarity by the Chilean philosopher Willy Thayer as follows:

“Escasa la teoria porque esta ha caido en el territorio de la fenomenolidad. Lo que equivale a decir que el conflicto o la divison del trabajo entre teoria y fenomenolidad ya no rigen estrictamente mas. La efectividad ha subsumido esa posibilidad” [2].

So, the end of work does not mean the end of exploitation as such, but a turbulence between the categorial sphere and the phenomenal sphere. As Willy Thayer observed, the totalization of real subsumption of capital leaves only capitalism and gets rid off the potential for revolution (Thayer 139). So, if we only account for labor in the way that Zamora (or even Hatfield at the end of his book) seems to do, then, how can the role of finance, derivative models, the phenomenon of debt, and the pure means of speculative capital where nothing is produced except value itself be thought? It is general knowledge that for Marxism the model solicits a necessary mediation between money, commodity, and surplus value. However, in the ‘financial turn’, as Joseph Vogl discusses at length in his Specter of capital (Stanford 2013), work is reduced to mere re-production of value for value’s sake. For Vogl this is linked to bad faith and guilt. Today, it seems that the attractiveness of the category of class in the new the sociological revival of Marxism is solely discursive, since it cannot say anything about these transformations.

More important is the fact that, by retaining the category of class, the sociological critic secures his place as a vanguard of his time, leaving untouched the constitutive productionism at the heart of Marxian critique of capitalist labour. This is, after all, the philosophy of history working both against existence (wanting to “convince” specific subjects, whether in motley or unified social determination), while voicing a messianic promise for an emancipation to come. Of course, this does not mean that the idea of class could not be reworked as to grasp something else beyond Marx, as Andrea Cavalletti has demonstrated [3]. But the positive horizon that posits class against inequality does not do the work as an analytical tool to understand the global predicament. In fact, it seems to restitute as a sort of violence implicit in political drives.

When Zamora speaks of the “intention to convince the stable working class”, he reveals an old desire of the Left. (And it should not come as surprise that his book on Foucault and Neoliberalism comes endorsed by the Marxist sociologist Vivek Chibber). However, this is a legitimate political position, which actually exited last century under the name of guerrilla warfare. What is the guerrilla if not a process of subjectivization that pushes to link or “convince” the unemployed or the lumpen (whoever inhabits the outside of the “stable working class”) with class, or vice versa (those outside with the stable proletariat)?

It is very interesting that those who stand for full fleshed theory of such a strict political action do not push (at least explicitly) for guerrilla warfare. But it is the guerrilla form what seems to haunt the very horizon of thought that demands revolutionary alliance. Guerrilla is the unsaid of ‘obligatory’ class as a sort of universal military conscription or duty. Against voluntarism or this kind of brute force, the task is to imagine other ways of thinking labor as an exigency for our times. Infrapolitical exodus – exemplified by the sabbath (see Kelso 2016) – seems to me a space beyond this productionism and the recurring promise of emancipation of life through work.


1, Daniel Zamora. “When inequality replaces exploitation: the condition of surplus-populition under neoliberalism “. Non-site, Issue 10, September 2013.

2, Willy Thayer. “Tercer Espacio e ilimitacion capitalista” (1999). But also see his “Fin del trabajo intelectual”, in Fragmento repetido (ediciones/metales pesados, 2006)

3, Andrea Cavalletti. Clase: el despertar de la multitud. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2013.


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