The Distinction Between Markets and Capitalism in Deleuze and Guattari’s “Capitalism and Schizophrenia”: Some Preliminary Thoughts

by Edmund Berger

A fruitful exchange via Twitter the other night has led me to type up some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for some time – namely, that the vision of capitalism presented by Deleuze and Guattari in the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia must be rendered distinct from simple market exchanges and systems, and that this distinction is implicit in the texts. Capitalism is indeed a system that does rely on market mechanisms, but they are mechanisms that are almost exclusively dominated by monopolistic competition. While this state of affairs is often depicted by CNN financial gurus and even Reason magazine pundits as being the ‘free market in action’, scratching past this surface level read reveals a system wholly contingent on the state’s intervention in order to prop itself up and reproduce relations equitable to itself. It is my contention that approaching Deleuze and Guattari’s depiction of capitalism from this perspective, and not from the more common perspective of capitalism as complete and total deterritorialization, is essential to making sense of some of their woolier passages.

This distinction, between markets on one side and capitalism on the other, is hardly new. Just take a look at the anthology volume Markets, Not Capitalism, which presents writings on market-oriented individualist anarchism ranging from Proudhon’s writings in 1850s up through present day. Even before Proudhon, however, pro-market anti-capitalists wore the badge of socialism, with pre-Marxist theories of class struggle and capitalist development based on the writings of the classic economist David Ricardo. In our more contemporary time, Fernard Braudel of the Annales School of historiography has argued that capitalism is a system of anti-markets, based on the refusal to specialize and protection by the state, that dominates, disrupts, and lords over more organic and bottom-up market systems. While Deleuze and Guattari do not mention Proudhon at all (though many have pointed out the similarities between Deleuzian and Proudhian thought), both Ricardo and Braudel are reoccurring figures Capitalism and Schizophrenia’s pantheon of thinkers – particularly wherever the historical development of capitalism is concerned.

Just as Marx saw capitalism as a modernizing force, melting all that is solid, profaning all that is holy, shattering old national industries and with them isolated, localized identities, traditions, and cultures, Deleuze and Guattari (henceforth D&G) see capitalism as first and foremost following a path of deterritorialization. Flows become unhitched from their territorial grounds, be they flows of goods, money, people, raw materials, and even libidinal energies; they proceed to break through limits and barriers. Marx saw at the endpoint of the great capitalist deterritorialization the construction of the world market, but D&G go further: “This tendency is being carried further and further, to the point that capitalism with all its flows may dispatch itself straight to the moon: we really haven’t seen anything yet!” (Anti-Oedipus, pg. 34) The more it deterritorializes and decodes, the closer it tends towards the final limit, which is composed of the very tools that make deterritorialization possible in the first place. Capitalism thus, in the first instance, tends towards its dissolution. Yet it will never get there. Just as deterritorialization is fundamental to capitalist growth, reterritorialization is essential for its survival. As D&G write early on in Anti-Oedipus:

…capitalism constantly counteracts , constantly inhibits this inherent tendency while at the same time allowing it free rein ; it continually seeks to avoid reaching its limit while simultaneously tending toward that limit. Capitalism institutes or restores all sorts of residual and artificial, imaginary, or symbolic territorialities, thereby attempting, as best it can, to recode, to rechannel persons who have been defined in terms of abstract quantities. Everything returns or recurs: States, nations, families. That is what makes the ideology of capitalism “a motley painting of everything that has ever been believed.”… The more the capitalist machine deterritorializes, decoding and axiomatizing flows in order to extract surplus value from them, the more its ancillary apparatuses, such as government bureaucracies and the forces of law and order, do their utmost to reterritorialize, absorbing in the process a larger and larger share of surplus value. (Anti-Oedipus, pgs. 34-35)

These observations are unpacked further in the work’s most difficult and controversial segment, “The Civilized Capitalist Machine”. What makes this section controversial is that it culminates in the notorious ‘accelerationist fragment’, where D&G suggest that instead of fighting capitalism through the traditional leftist platforms, perhaps the proper route is to pursue absolute deterritorialization, without the subsequent reterritorialization:

…what is the solution? Which is the revolutionary path?… Is there one?-To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further , to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet. (Anti-Oedipus, pgs. 239-240)

While people have interpreted this passage as an urge to cataclysm or even a sneaky pro-capitalist entryism, it is clear, with a proper reading, that there is no contradiction between this fragment and the radical post-Marxist praxis espoused elsewhere in the text. As my friends over at Obsolete Capitalism have shown, D&G are presenting here a very complicated form of Nietzschean anarchism that is truly beyond the scope of this meager article to unpack – though I invite all who are interested to take a look at their work. Alongside this, however, I would like to put forward the suggestion that we understand deterritorialization, as presented in this fragment, to entail the development of an anti-capitalist market system (or systems, more properly), that attacks capitalism in that it evades reterritorialization.

Let’s turn to reterritorialization now.

For D&G, capitalism is profoundly unstable. It can be very bad at allocating resources internal to itself with the speed and efficiency necessary to match its rapid development. Hiccups in its rate of profit are capable of setting off devastating spasms and crises. Capital within corporations can accumulate to the point where they outstrip the capacity of investments to re-circulate it, and goods can be produced well beyond market over-saturation. If these arguments sound like they are straight from Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital, they are: Deleuze and Guattari, shortly before the accelerationist fragment, affirm at least a partial agreement with Baran and Sweezy. Where they differ is that D&G are less concerned with how crisis comes about, but with how Baran and Sweezy analyze the way that capitalism avoids and/or lessens them, which is through the state taking excess capital and excess production, be it through social programs, war, or any other mechanisms that proceed by way of taxation and expropriation. Through these systems, capital and goods are allocated elsewhere or destroyed outright, priming the pumps of both production and consumption.

This is one example of the way flows of capital and goods – and even people – are reterritorialized. In these specific examples, D&G speak of capitalist reterritorialization as being bound up in the process of adding and subtracting axioms that allow flows to be modulated for the sake of the whole system. They write in Anti-Oedipus that

It is easy to list the principal modes of absorption of surplus value outside the spheres of consumption and investment: advertising, civil government, militarism, and imperialism. The role of the State in this regard, within the capitalist axiomatic, is the more manifest in that what it absorbs is not sliced from the surplus value of the firms, but added to their surplus value by bringing the capitalist economy closer to full output within the given limits, and by widening these limits in turn-especially within an order of military expenditures that are in no way competitive with private enterprise , quite the contrary (it took a war to accomplish what the New Deal had failed to accomplish). The role of a politico-military-economic complex is the more manifest in that it guarantees the extraction of human surplus value on the periphery and in the appropriated zones of the center, but also because it engenders for its own part an enormous machinic surplus value by mobilizing the resources of knowledge and information capital, and finally because it absorbs the greater part of the surplus value produced. The State, its police, and its army form a gigantic enterprise of antiproduction, but at the heart of production itself, and conditioning this production. (Anti-Oedipus, pg. 235)

This is drawn out further, and in far sharper relief, in A Thousand Plateaus:

There is a tendency within capitalism continually to add more axioms. After the end of World War I, the joint influence of the world depression and the Russian Revolution forced capitalism to multiply its axioms, to invent new ones dealing with the working class, employment, union organization, social institutions, the role of the State, the foreign and domestic markets. Keynesian economics and the New Deal were axiom laboratories. Examples of the creation of new axioms after the Second World War: the Marshall Plan, forms of assistance and lending, transformations .in the monetary system. It is not only in periods of expansion or recovery that axioms multiply. What makes the axiomatic vary, in relation to the States, is the distinction and relation between the foreign and domestic markets. There is a multiplication of axioms most notably when an integrated domestic market is being organized to meet the requirements of the foreign market. Axioms for the young, for the old, for women, etc. A very general pole of the State, “social democracy,” can be defined by this tendency to add, invent axioms in relation to spheres of investment and sources of profit: the question is not that of freedom and constraint, nor of centralism and decentralization, but of the manner in which one masters the flows. (A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 462)

Sensitive to the way certain tools and mechanisms develop, D&G link these ‘reterritorializing axiomatics’ to a process that developed far earlier in history, that of overcoding. To put it most succinctly, overcoding is what happens when fairly autonomous, organically-developed codes (tribal alliances, bottom-up cultures, and things of this nature) are seized and imprinted upon by a different code that assigns them a place and function in a wider system.[1] Overcoding can only take place by way of some external force and pressure. The axiomatic, for example, is a kind of overcode for flows that is deployed by the state, and it is clear that a state – or something like a state – is responsible for pre-capitalist forms of overcoding. To describe this more general and abstract state of affairs, D&G turn to Lewis Mumford’s “megamachine” as that which overcodes. In Mumford’s philosophy and history of technology, the megamachine is a despotic system that encompasses authoritarian governance dedicated to managerial protocols, an array of technical machines at their disposal, and a raw mass of humanity to be woven together with these technical machines in a system of control. His famous example is the vast assemblage that lorded over Egyptian society to build pyramids and sculptures to the gods. D&G go back a little further:

Immemorial Urstaat, dating as far back as Neolithic times, and perhaps farther still. Following the Marxist description: a State apparatus is erected upon the primitive agricultural communities, which already have lineal-territorial codes; but it overcodes them, submitting them to the power of a despotic emperor, the sole and transcendent public-property owner, the master of the surplus or the stock, the organizer oflarge-scale works (surplus labor), the source of public functions and bureaucracy. This is the paradigm of the bond, the knot. Such is the regime of signs of the State: overcoding, or the Signifier. It is a system of machinic enslavement: the first “megamachine” in the strict sense, to use Mumford’s term. A prodigious success in a single stroke; other States will be mere runts measured against this model. (A Thousand Plateaus, pgs. 427-428)

Some commentators have bristled at D&G’s turn towards this conceptual plane. Christian Kerslake, for instance, writes that “Absorbed in birdsong and speculations about ancient history, Deleuze and Guattari sound like they have checked out of historical and social reality. But history continued regardless; and the turbulence of Anti-Oedipus now seems more relevant than the static eternity of A Thousand Plateaus”. Such an assessment, I believe, is profoundly unfair, and misses the mark entirely on what is happening in this discourse. For starters, the seeds of this turn are on full display in Anti-Oedipus, containing as it does esoteric and profane passages such as “Flows of women and children, flows of herds and of seed , sperm flows, flows of shit, menstrual flows: nothing must escape coding. The primitive territorial machine, with its immobile motor, the earth, is already a social machine, a megamachine, that codes the flows of production, the flows of means of production, of producers and consumers”. (Anti-Oedipus, pg. 142)

Kerslake seems particularly peeved at the perceived loss of Marxism in the movement from Anti-Oedipus to A Thousand Plateaus, which is correlated to the so-called disappearance of “turbulence” and “social reality” in the text. Indeed, the same sections of the book that contain D&G’s reflections on both megamachine and reterritorializing axiomatics feature a distinctive decline of Marx, and sport an interesting engagement with economic marginalism and neoclassicalism that was not present in the previous work. But here, too, Kerslake seems to be missing the mark. “…the interest of marginalism resides not in its economic theory, which is extremely weak,” write D&G, “but in a logical power that makes Jevons, for example, a kind of Lewis Carroll of economics.” (A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 437) The reference to Lewis Carroll is the key point here; if we return to Deleuze’s own discussion of Carroll in his earlier work The Logic of Sense, we learn that Carroll’s work is a schizophrenic exploration of the surface – that is, the level at which we most immediately engage with what is. “One could say that the old depth having been spread out became width” is how Deleuze describes Carroll’s work (The Logic of Sense, pg. 9) – which is perhaps the perfect way to describe marginalism. The historical consciousness that was contained in classical economics, running from the Physiocrats up through Marx, disappeared into abstract conceptualizations of how capitalism worked. Models were developed that were treated in isolation; economic activity became separated from every other form of happening or event. If anything appears as a “static eternity”, it is capitalism as depicted in the work of the marginalists – which is precisely the image of capitalism as a market, unabated by interference or distortions from the state.

Contra Kerslake, A Thousand Plateaus engages with the marginalists only to move below that surface, to reveal the contours of history that continue bubble up to disrupt the tranquil sea of contemporary economic theory. It is telling, then, that if we turn to the footnote of the book, references to classicalism dominate. Marx and Engels are common points of reference, but the content is admittedly far less Marxist than Anti-Oedipus. It is Ricardo, in particular, who haunts D&G’s pages at this stage, and references to Marx are often tapered by the neo-Ricardian interpretations of Piero Sraffa on one hand, and by the distinctively non-Marxist perspective offered by Braudel.

So what does this have to do with reterritorializing axiomatics and megamachines?

In addition to overcoding and axiomatics, D&G introduce a third reterritorializing force: capture. In order to be overcoded or modulated via axiomatics, flows are captured through particular apparatuses – namely, ones utilized by the state. The recognition of the “apparatus of capture” in A Thousand Plateaus constitutes the mature version of the analysis of the state and capitalism that began in Anti-Oedipus. In the earlier work, D&G cite Bernard Schmitt (a French neoclassical economist and founder of the quantum economics school of economic theory) as a source for their vision of capitalism being composed of flows – “Bernard Schmitt finds strange lyrical words to characterize this flow of infinite debt: an instantaneous creative flow that the banks create spontaneously as a debt owing to themselves.” (Anti-Oedipus, pg. 236) In the later work, Schmitt also becomes the figure who recognized the apparatus of capture in action: “Bernard Schmitt has proposed a model of the apparatus of capture that takes into account the operations of comparison and appropriation.” (A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 455) Schmitt himself had been a student of Sraffa, and thus his own economic vision was indebted to neo-Ricardian thought. It is unsurprising, then, that when D&G look to construct a historiography of the apparatus of capture they look back to Ricardo – and Marx as well, at the points in which most engaged with the classicalist legacy.

When overcoding takes place, D&G tell us, something always escapes – such is the nature of deterritorializing. The particular coding of land led to its decoding in the form of private property, exchangeable by titles; the decoding of the land led to the deterritorialization of the people who worked the land and lived upon it, leading to the creation of the modern working class. Along with the deterritorialization of money flow, the tendency was set off for half of capitalism to tend towards its dissolving limit, and for the other half to stave off that limit. Hence the vision of capitalism as not simply a system, but a machninic force – a hydraulic machine channeling liquid flows, with the state acting as the regulator making sure the flows do what they need to do. In this context, D&G, following Ricardo, Marx, and Schmitt, identify three modes of capture corresponding to three different types of flows. For the flow of land, rent constitutes the capture; for the labor of people, profit by the entrepreneur; and for the flow of money, taxation. The first constitutes the “[m]onopolistic appropriation of land”, the second the “[m]onopolistic appropriation of labor, and the third the “[m]onopolistic appropriation of the means of comparison, the issuance of currency”. (A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 444) At this point D&G are able to tie together the various threads of discourse that have been coagulating:

That assemblage is the “megamachine”, or the apparatus of capture, the archaic empire. It functions in three modes, which correspond to the three aspects of the stock: rent, profit, taxation. And the three modes converge and coincide in it, in an agency of overcoding (or significant): the despot, at once the eminent landowner, entrepreneur of large-scale projects, and master of taxes and prices. This is like three capitalizations of power, or three articulations of “capital”. (A Thousand Plateaus, pg. 444)

What D&G are drawing our attention to, and what Kerslake mistakes as timelessness, is that the seeds of capitalism are intrinsically planted within Mumford’s depiction of the megamachine, and the most statist elements within the megamachine continue onwards within the core of capitalism. The development of capitalism, in Marx’s theory, required the state to unleash the flows of land, people and money, acting like the catalyzing agent in a complicated chemical reaction. D&G’s depiction of the megamachine’s apparatus of capture aligns with what Marx described as primitive accumulation, that force required for capitalism to take off in the first place; what they argue in contradistinction to Marx, however, is that these forces never disappeared. They occur at every single moment that capitalism remains intact and expanding. They are the element within and to the side of capitalism that allows it to maintain relative stability and to achieve expansion.

Capitalism, for D&G, is nothing less than a mode of civilization in which the flows of land, money, and people are monopolized by certain class formations, aided and abetted wholly by state apparatuses. Their vision of escape, accordingly, is one in which flows pursue a deterritorialization without being captured and rechanneled by the state – markets beyond capitalism.

[1] It would be interesting to put Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of overcoding, particularly in the context of Mumford’s megamachine, into dialogue with the dialectic of “metis” and “techne” laid out by James C. Scott. For Scott, metis is “represents a wide array of practical skills and acquired intelligence in responding to a constantly changing natural and hum an environment” (Seeing Like a State, pg. 313), that is, rules of thumbs and second-order knowledge systems that are developed by people navigating and acting within and against the environment around them.

“Technical knowledge, or techne,” meanwhile, “could be expressed precisely and com ­ prehensively in the form of hard-and-fast rules (not rules of thumn), principles, and propositions. At its most rigorous, techne is based on logical deduction from self-evident first principles. As an ideal type, it radically differs from metis in term s of how it is organized, how it is codified and taught, how it is modified, and the analytical precision it exhibits. Where metis is contextual and particular, techne is universal… The universality of techne arises from the fact that it is organized analytically into small, explicit, logical steps and is both decom posable and verifiable. This universality m eans that knowledge in the form of techne can be taught more or less completely as a formal discipline.” (Seeing Like a State, pgs. 319-320)

Scott has analyzed how power tends to align itself with techne, and has constantly used techne to supplant metis, often with disastrous results. This replacement of metis with techne, which almost always requires at least a partial absorption of metis, is an example of overcoding par excellence. It is thus very telling that Scott links colonization by techne to despotic state formations such as the Soviet Union on one hand, and to the take off of mass industry through the standardization of raw  materials on the other.

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