Circuits of Struggle?

Harry Cleaver


Struggles circulate; if they circulate far enough, with enough intensity and effectiveness, they explode into revolutions. In some cases, they merely ripple along what Karl Marx formulated as the circuits of capital – representations of sequential moments that capitalists must realize to reproduce their way of organizing social life around endless work on an ever-expanding scale. Because they are imposed, and involve exploitation and alienation, the moments of the circuits always spawn antagonism, involving various degrees of resistance. The intensity and consequences of struggles vary with the degree of exploitation and alienation involved and the types of action undertaken. Effective instrumentalization that confines opposition within closed circuits can harness it to drive capitalist development. In other cases, ripples become waves as the manner of their circulation defies harnessing and their intensity ruptures moment after moment, disrupting circuits and bringing on crisis. Marx analyzed the circuits of capital in terms of the flows and metamorphoses of value. Workers’ actions, when they rupture the circuits, disrupt the flows of value, or, put differently, they disrupt capitalists’ ability to impose that which is of value to them, i.e., work-as-social-control. Understanding the circuits required for the reproduction of capitalism reveals both containable patterns of struggle and criteria for recognizing when they have escaped containment to constitute new patterns of behavior that provide alternatives to capitalist modes of social organization. A variety of metaphors facilitate the recognition of both the circulation of struggles and how they may escape the circuits of capital via the creation of new modes of existence.

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