Mirror of Production, The (Jean Baudrillard)

In this essay, Jean Baudrillard elaborates a radical critique of Marxism through its deployment of productivity and value (abstract labor, and deductively, useful labor—or Man, “man as labor”—value in general). The two-fold character of labor is a necessary conceptual tool for analyzing the capitalist mode of production, but to the question of how to destroy the capitalist mode of production, it offers little. Rallying behind one form of value does not aide the destruction of the system of value production. As some reactionary economists would have it, exchange value is just a singularity of use value (“Use value is but the horizon for exchange value”). This is not cause for despair, but reason to entertain a more general criticism of value. Baudrillard’s critique is as much metaphysical as it is material, and it will not be as devastating if we are unable to extend it beyond the material considerations of political economy. For example, it shines light on the absurdity of the various CP’s desires to remove the capitalist parasite from labor, restore labor its product, develop the socialist economy, or any other exaltations of use value. But as Baudrillard himself says, “There is not only the quantitative exploitation of man as productive force by the system of capitalist political economy, but the metaphysical over-determination of man as producer by the code of political economy.” We can find the tumors of productivity and functionality even in classic anarchist dogma, with its more “democratic” constitution of man-as-labor, and modern affirmations of identity (as revolutionary subject or virtually any utterance of the term, “People”). It can be glimpsed in Deleuze’s idea of desire as productive, Foucault’s notion of power as productive, or Agamben’s consideration of the profane. When we take up Baudrillard’s critique in relation to other philosophers, especially with those whose thoughts we find great affinity, it’s worth remembering criticism is not negative judgment, but a way to understand, to sharpen our daggers, without at the same time being reduced to a positive epistemological project. Is the content of our criticism (a negative, destructive project) what prevents us from the latter? What else possibly could?

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