Actuel Marx   en Ligne

Conference Rethinking Marxism, University of Amherst, USA, October 2000

Jacques BIDET
Université de Paris-X, Paris

Actuel Marx en Ligne   n°11
( 3/10/2002)


This is a presentation of the book, Théorie générale, (General Theory), PUF, Paris, 1999, 504 pages, which is an attempt at refounding Marxism, as a social theory, including Law, Economics and Politics, on a broader basis. It comprises three Books : I. Metastructure, II. Structure and System, III. Politics. It is specially related to Marx's Capital, "Metastructure" corresponding to the first section of Book I, "Structure" meaning class structure, and "System" world-system.




 (provisional, not revised English version, not to be published)


Théorie générale [1] is an attempt at refounding Marxism.

Political practice is arguable only by starting from the beginning. Marx’s Capital starts with the modern fiction, which I call “ metastructural ”, that of “ natural (rational) law ”. He shows that it is from that point that the modern classes structure can be conceived as its inversion, as a “ reversed world ” . And that it is only from there too that one can undertake to think a world “ stood on its feet ” . I assume this dialectical diagram. I correct it, and develop it in three Books :  I. Metastructure, II. Structure and System, III. Politics.



I.                   METASTRUCTURE


Chapter 1. Contractuality


1. Section 1 of Capital poses a first abstract moment, that of the market as a rational and liberal logic of production, in terms of value. Section 2 defines the “ passing over ” , i.e. the relation, of market to capitalism. Section 3 (and what follows) describes the capitalist structure of class, in terms of extortion of plus-value. So one can see how the market relations, which are formally relations of freedom and equality, give way to their opposite : to relations of constraint and exploitation. Marx excludes the idea of a “ socialism with market ”. The competition dynamics of capitalism has however in his eyes the virtue of leading to its own surpassing. With the concentration of capital, the role of market decreases, while there grows organization, the other mode of coordination (manufacture was to provide the first model). As concentrated and scientific production develops, the working class grows in number and competence, and becomes able to take over this organization-form, which paves the way to socialism, i.e. to a democratically organized public order, along with transparency and immediateness of public discourse.

2. Today one is able to appreciate how much truth and how much error this analysis contains. In particular it is known that organizing socialism, the great utopia of the XX° century, generated a new class society. However we need to return to Marx and to his reflection on the theoretical beginnings that command the rest  of the exposition. In Grundrisse (1, 27), he provides a decisive insight : he reaches a higher level of abstraction than market : the moment of immediateness, that he illustrates with the example of Robinson conferring with itself on his island. The complexity of modern society supposes that one moves from this “immediateness” to the “mediations”. For Marx, there are two kinds of mediation, he opposes polarly : the mediation ex post of the market, which generates capitalism, and the mediation ex ante of the plan, of the organization, which on the contrary provides a favourable space for common freedom, for socialism. Marx appears to be the inventor of this theoretical matrix “Immediateness (discursive) / Mediations (market / organization)”, which governs both the post-weberian sociology (Habermas, etc.) and the heterodox economy (institutionalism, from Veblen to Williamson, regulationnisms, etc) today. His error is only to inscribe these two mediations in “historizing” dialectics, leading from one to the other : from market towards organization, paving the way to socialism.

3. For that reason, it is necessary to correct the theoretical program of Capital. The two mediations are not to be taken in their supposed historical succession, but in their constitutive co-implication, that of interindividual contractuality which the market requires and that of central contractuality that the organization requires. Freedom of the Moderns and freedom of the Ancients : two poles by which critical relation modernity is defined. Modern man does not know any transcendent or natural law, but only the rules which he gives himself as a sovereign-citizen. The market relation constitutes a relation of freedom only in so far as it is posed by a free common will, which, as it is free, can want something other than the market, that is to say some mode of organization, of planning, subjected to a social contractuality. But this social contractuality has correlatively public accounts to return for every limit which it brings to the interindividual contractuality. The rules have “ laws ” naturally, i.e. their own coherence, with series of effects to expect and thus measures to be envisaged for their implementation.

In short, the metastructure of modernity cannot be limited to the market form, as Marx poses it at the beginning of Capital. It forms from the very beginning a complex configuration, of which the two poles are market and organization, these two “ mediations ”. And it is by the contemporaneity of these two poles that interindividual contractuality and central contractuality stand in critical relation, i.e. are in a position of “criticizable claim to the validity ”, which can be surpassed only by the recourse to the public “  immediate ” discourse.


Chapter 2. The cooperation


These primary concepts of modern political philosophy have their correlate in those of political economy, as defining rational social co-operation. For the metastructural  configuration presents two homologous “ faces ”. The political face, the face of reason, Vernunft : that of the bipolar discrepancy between interindividual and central contractuality. The economic face, the face understanding, Verstand : that of the articulation between market-and-organisation coordination, which represents the productive presupposition of the modern relations of production. I propose in these terms an institutionnalist refounding of economic theory, based on a labor-use concept of value, which reveals the modern labour form as the correlate of the contract form. At stake is “ the modern institution ”  as the institution of a rational economy. This refounding supposes a reelaboration of the primary concepts in terms of a labour-use theory of value. It expresses -- in opposition to the neoclassical foundations of liberalism, which result in separating economy and politics-- the epistemological equi-primacy  (and co-definition) of market and organization. Economic understanding, however, can only provide one “ rational-optimal ” combinatory of these two modes of coordination. The critical element consists in the political face of the “  reasonable “ , where the interindividual contractuality and central contractuality are confronted. And this confrontation can be carried out only under the authority of the latter. Because the test of universality does not require that the universal be compatible with the idea that each individual -- each couple of private contractors -- has of his/her good; it implies on the contrary that every one, within a finite world, has an idea of his/her good compatible with the good of each of the others and with the common good. The equiprimacy of the two poles excludes that one can define a “  civil society“  in terms of private relations. The transcendantal asymmetry between them requires an authority of the universal, which can be only the public organization of public discourse.



Chapter 3. The metastructural State, or State of Law


The metastructure is understood as the articulation of these two faces and these two poles, as the mediation of discursive immediateness. Thus, considering the unity of the political and the economical, one is led to take up the famous question of Coase, “ why firms ? ” in the homological form of a “ why nations-States ? ”, and to propose a new definition of the “ civil society ”, which reveals the “ public sphere ” as quite as civil as the private one. The metastructural State, as the organization of the discourse, heads a market-organisational, public-private civil society. The market and organisational “ mediations ”, in the matrix they constitute with their other, juridico-political, face of the antinomic interindividual-central contractuality, are not to be understood as “ medien ”, in habermassian sense, i.e. as “ subsystems ”. They relay the immediate communication discourse in its triple criticizable claim for validity : claim to (economic) truth-effectiveness to (juridico-political) fairness, and, necessarily also, a claim to identity, the capacity for saying “ us ”  in the form of the legal State, which is supposedly the pure organization of the discourse. But therefore it is also in charge of the “ last word ”, leading to the exercise of constraint. And we still need to examine this constraint, this violence, of which the metastructure is the denial. 





Chapter 4. The meta/structural transformation


This modern metastructure, this fiction constitutive of modernity, is historically proclaimed, declared only in structural situations in which it is always-already (toujours-déjà) turned over, according to a dialectical process, into its opposite, which poses it. The organisational mechanism, presumedly subjected to the common power, actually implies that one has always-already divided and delegated power. And democratization is a reorganization : the relegations are surmounted only by being reproduced in new delegations. As for the market mechanism, supposedly subjected to a central contractuality, its operation implies always-already that property is established, in its factual inequality ; and that what is mine is mine. Some possess the means of production, others do not. The mediation is not system, but it is a mechanism, presumedly controlled. Dialectics is the contradictory relation between control and mechanism.

This transformation of the metastructure into its opposite -- indicated here by “ / ” -- defines modern classes structure. And modern society as a class society. But, because the two poles, interindividual and central, of social coordination imply each other, and because their rational face can operate only vis-a-vis their reasonable other-face, and thus under its criticism, the structure can be declared only in the terms of the metastructure, according to which the people are proclaimed free-equal and rational. Because of this constitutive invocation-provocation, modern class structure is a structure of class struggle.



Chapter 5. The structuring of modern society


1.        The market produces classes, as Marx demonstrated it. But so does the organization [2]. Capital is the articulation of market and organization in the process and the logic of exploitation. The modern class structure is based on the extremely complex interference of the two mediations, that are factors-of-class. But in this interference lie not only the modern conditions of domination, but also those of conflictuality and emancipation. The labour force, for example, can only be put forward as a “ commodity ” in relations that are not purely market ones, that is in relations that are at the same time centric and associative : the employee can “ change masters ” only insofar as he manages to be recognised, even unofficially, as a citizen able to influence the State rules, and that supposes the power of free association among workers, or my third term, the power of the immediate discursivity. By this trinomial metastructure (market and organizational mediations, discursive-associative immediateness), by the critical distance it defines, in its dialectical configuration, with the class relations which it forms, modernity is means class struggle.

2. Thus the meta/structural theory of class bases classes on the mediations. The modern class gathers, and opposes, groups of people whose more or less common situations and prospects arise from their position in the market and organisational capitalist processes, according to reproducible social relations of appropriation, exploitation, exclusion and domination, which also form the context of their interindividual relations and the framework of their collective action [3].

There is thus a modern space or “ arc ” of class, spread according to a market-organization axis, i.e. according to whether the contractual-“dominational” coordination takes place mainly on a market basis (farmers, small trade, small producers of “ services ”, etc.), or an organisational basis (various administrations), with the large area where both factors-of-class most strongly interfere, that of the capitalist firm. The specific situation of the modern worker consists in the fact that he/she is at the same time in the pyramidal organization of the firm or administration, and also on the market. To these two factors-of-class, market and organization, correspond two social logics of domination, implemented according two distinct kinds of capital endowment, two types of capital as appropriated by individuals, who thus form the dominant class. Here we take capital as a “ title ”, juridically enforced. I call respectively these two forms “ property ” and “ qualification ” in Bourdieu’s sense). The first term follows common usage. The second refers to centricity as fiction.

The process of reproduction of capitalism is thus analyzed in the double form of capital-endowment : that of property capital (described by Marx) and that of qualification capital (described by Bourdieu), considering the interference between their two intermingled dynamics[4]. The same is true of the principle of cleavage between two political poles : that of the traditional right which has its bases in property, and that of the social democracy which florishes in the organisational element of administration and firms.

The logic of capitalist reproduction is not that of a reproduction of society, but of capital, and of its accumulation. It requires the sweeping away, the destruction, of all that is opposed to it. But it cannot be freed from the metastructural presupposition and from the class struggle it commands. This is why modern history is not only that of capital, but also that of the people, — all the more so as the concept of class does not exhaust the richness of social relations : capital only appears as a new social logic which overdetermines forms emerging prior to modernity.

3. The meta/structural inversion concerns the superstructure as well as the infrastructure. It is thus necessary to develop, in its contrasted possibilities, the structural theory of the State : the functional State of the dominant class, the State as an institution of class compromises, and the more or less autonomized organisational State.



Chapter 6. The World System


1. The world system

This meta/structure, which defines, abstractedly, the specific nature of the social relations in modern times, develops in a “ world system ”. This concept defines a concrete historical entity : the modern world, as a set of parts forming a total system. Capitalism appears thus, from its historical origin, at the same time as a class relation internal to the nation-State, and as a plural geopolitical system hierarchically configured by the domination of certain nations over others.

Each nation-State presents an internal antinomic market-organization principle of order, which reigns on a space scale (or within the limits of a border) determined on the one hand by the development of the productive forces (transport, communications, possibility of control and extension of a central power, etc), and on the other hand by contingencies of all kinds,;: military, cultural, geographical, etc. And each one is also in external connection with neighbours, but only through the market relation, which here ceases being coupled with the organization. The metastructure is broken : the market ceases to be associated with the coordinational / contractual “bifaciality” which is the presupposition of modern contractuality. It forms couple with the systemic relation, according to the model center-periphery, under the prevalence of a systemic central power which is not supposed to be governed by a general or common will. Imperialism marks the completion of this process.

2. The ultimodernity and the World State

The world system, which emerged, between the year 1000 and 1500, is entering, about the year 2000, a critical period, that I propose to call ultimodernity. Because of the development of the productive (and destructive) forces, the economies, which had initially developed mainly within the borders and under the aegis of the nation-States, gradually move out from this territorial framework and interpenetrate more and more. Not in the form of a international “ civil society ”, but of a “ State of understanding ”. Versus a State of reason [5].

The deregulation, which dismantles the economic and social national institutions, does not abolish the modern command of the “ rule ”. It introduces a new one, presented as a natural “ law ” : that of competition within a world space where capital enjoys freedom of movement and the poor are assigned to (national) residence. This rule/law of the market regulates the class relations both within each national community and within the world space.

Actually world “etaticity” presents two aspects.

The manifest, though extremely ambiguous, aspect is that of the UN and of the institutions known as “ international ”. Because of the universal legitimacy which they affirm - and even if it is absolutely contestable, those (institutions and in particular WTO), - form the embryo of capitalist world over-State institutions, even if they function as apparatuses of the imperialist systemic centricity.

The occult aspect is the existence of the private institutions, such as the London Court of Arbitration, in charged of ensuring the market relations between firms (and States), Lex Mercatoria. These institutions, in spite of their private character, are nothing less than State apparatuses, apparatuses of a world class State. What they implement is not a law without State, but a State without law. Without law, because law it does not exist stricto sensu any interindividual market contractuality apart from its critical relation with the pole of the central contractuality. Now this global market relation is supposed to be a “ natural rational law ”, - that is the opposite of a legal rule. Such a supposed “ law ”, which applies not only to the capitalist users, but also to all those who work for them, exists only because of the world class power that imposes it.

3. The principal contradiction

The new era which is taking shape is thus that of the slow emergence, in the space of the system imperialist, of a class World State, or more precisely (because it does not abolish the States, nor the imperialist system) of a world over-State entity. And at this global level, the “ principal contradiction ” will be more and more that which already is outlined between over-State centricity and systemic centricity, between meta / structural form and systemic form. The first presents the potentialities inherent in the nation-State, that is to say to be the place of a class domination, but also of a potentially contractual center, possible place of exercise of a democratic will. The second, the systemic form, is much more unilaterally characterized by the domination of the States at the center. However it cannot henceforth ignore the first, ignore the question of a universal general will.

Just like the “ dominant class ” only dominates by appropriating a State apparatus which is itself a contradictory place, being subjected to the impact of the multitude, in the same way the dominant States can henceforth dominate only through one authority which, being able to claim only the supposedly universalisable, is, by essence, the place of a possible dispute of the systemic domination, of a negation of the system. And imperialism precisely exercises its wits in order to mobilize this universalism for its own ends.

This contradiction is illustrated by the ambiguous use which is made of the expression “ international community ”, which indistinctly covers NATO, UNO, OECD, G8, the IMF, the World Bank or the International Penal Court. Yet, according to the theory of the law State, there is no “ community ” having authority, legitimate power of constraint, if not  in the forms, supposed democratically established, of a constitutional order. In this sense, therefore there cannot be any “  international ”  legitimate community, but only a “ world ”  community, in the very weak form of existence of an world over-State authority, of which the UN is the only draft up to now. This is why the soldiers of imperialism disguise themselves as policemen. The systemic order claims to be the common State order. From now on, The scattered conflicts around the world, with their imperial interferences “ in the name of Humanity ”, are already those of ultimodernity, this ultimate phase, in which humanity slowly comes to claim to be a State.

4. Because it is a “ global ” question, the modern question of ecology must be considered again at this point, but following the genealogy of the various moments of my exposition : metastructure, structure, system and over-State. The metastructural  question of ecology is inherent in the materialism of the declaration of freedom-equality-rationality : only one coherent use of a finite environment is rational. The structural question is the one drafted by Marx, who, although he ignores the empirical extent of the threat, provides here essential concepts : defining the rationality of the production by the relationship between expense and use value, he illustrates the counter-productivity inherent to capital, whose end is the profit (versus use), whatever the impact on mankind and nature may be. The logic of “ abstraction ”. The “ worker movement ”  failed to recognise that an organizing socialism presents similar destroying tendencies; so the greens emerged against the reds. The systemic question concerns the irresponsibility that imbalance between central firms without control and peripheral not-States without power generates. The over-State question appears in the globalisation : natural balances are not interpretable in the fictitious terms of an economy ; the market of the rights of pollution reflects the relations of force within a world etaticity under imperialism. There finally emerges, as we will see later, a properly ethical, post-political, ecology question. 





The claim of politics is to submit to the common discourse the power of the two “ mediations ”  which claim to relay it, and whose multiple interferences configure the modern social order and class relations. So politics prescribes to confront with the metastructural declaration the problematics which privilege either the market contractuality (chap. 7), or the organized contractuality (chap.8.), and as much the discourse ethics (chap. 9), which claims to transcend these mediations. This critical reassumption, formulated from the consideration of class and State domination relationships, exposed in Book II, avoids the idealism inherent in the theories of justice. It liberates us from the hermeneutic circle and opens the practical circle.



Chapter 7. The critique of market contractualism


Liberalism is the political, economic and social doctrine defined in the space of metastructure (i.e. in the ignorance of the structural order) by the priority granted to the pole of the interindividual contractuality. It historically developed, according to “ metastructural bi-faciality ”, under two different versions, one, utilitarianist, under the aegis of understanding, and the other, contractualist, under the aegis of reason, proposed as a critique  of the first. So “ contractualism against utilitarianism ”  will be the thread of our discussion tending towards the critique of any contractuality.


The critique of rational liberalism

Contemporary economic Institutionalism, which, on the basis of the (market/ organization) duality of social coordination, reveals the homology existing between economic understanding and juridico-political reason, has nevertheless proved unable to conform to its requirements. It develops three theories which form system : the “ transaction costs theory ” requires a “ theory of property rights ” and a “ theory of agency ”. certainly on an idealistic and reactionary mode, it gets involved on the terrain of political philosophy. It encounters the inspiration of Marxism, renewing the problems against which Marxism stumbled.

1. The rational choice between bureaucratic effectiveness and market incentive according to their respective transaction costs, being posed to any firm or administrative entity and thus to the social whole they form, is therefore a “ choice of society ”, to be submitted, as such, to a possible agreement among all the citizens. The theory of the firm belongs thus to political economy. It is not sufficient to say that organization is in charge of production and market in charge of trade. Because the market is itself a “ relation of production ”, a mode of the division, of the coordination of labour ; and the organization, as a form of the division of labour, a space of transaction. The comparative analysis (see Williamson)  distinguishes the third dimension : beyond the choice between doing (organization) and getting done (market), the possibility of the direct contractual negotiation, - what I formulate as the “ metastructural trinom ”.

The concept of “ transaction cost ” indicates here what it costs that the technical relations are at the same time social relations, i.e. class relations. It represents purely comparative data, because social relations can only be appreciated in their relation with alternative possibilities. It leads to a strategic prospect, marked by the inherency of politics to economics. It could not be confined to the determination of the least expensive choice, insofar as the efficiency it claims must still prove to answer the universalisable requirement, admissible by everyone, i.e. both and at the same time rational and reasonable. The norm of the rational could not take the place of the norm of the reasonable. By the very display of its concepts (transaction, gouvernance), institutionalism inscribes economics into politics.

Now, in political philosophy, the test of the reasonable, that of the universalisable, has been established through two interrelated schemes, that of the legitimate property, that of the legitimate power. And we should not be surprised to meet, in the institutionnalist economics, in complement to the theory of transaction costs, a “ theory of property rights ”, and a “ theory of agency “ , which reiterate all the questions raised by political philosophy.

2. A. Alchian, who approaches the firm as a “ system of property rights ”, addresses the question of the foundation of their validation, that he treats in terms of efficiency : how is it possible to ensure the co-operation, the control on labour and the effective production. The traditional firm solves it by allotting to the capitalist all the rights over the process, the contracts, the product, etc. It thus solves the problems of the imperfection of information and distributes the risks so that the controller does not need to be controlled. Supposedly optimal effectiveness.

But, paradoxically, it is Marx who defined the firm as a “ system of property rights ”  : as a set of relations between owner and non-owner of the means of production, as a relation of force and of rights with its specific rationality. He saw in this legal system the superiority and the “ historical justification ” of capitalism, astage towards another configuration, that of “ common property “ . The ownership of the labour force is analyzed as partitioned between the capitalist, whose user right concerns a temporary productive employment, and the employee, who can at any moment suspend it and entrust it to another employer, “ juridical ” constitution of a relation of force. Such a rule (règle), fruit of a “ century-old struggle ”, can hold only insofar as it appears preferable to other possible rules to the eyes of beings considered free and equal, who cannot miss calling it into question. So the theory of property rights, which is devoted to the apology of capitalism, is established on a ground recognized and marked out by Marx. However the metastructural  analysis, i.e. the analysis according to the two (contractual, rational) faces and to the two (interindividual, centric) poles' of social coordination, encourage us to examine again the Marxian question within a broader framework : to whom must rights be recognized and which ones ? That is one of the objectives of the research now undertaken under the name of “ new models of socialism “ .

3. With H. Simon and others has emerged the concept of authority, that of a hierarchical relation, alternative to the market relation. For the theory of agency, authority ultimately boils down to a pure contractual symmetry. The approach is similar to the preceding one : what is distributed is here power which regulates property, just as, in the other theory, property regulates power. In the supposed relation between the principal, who engages an agent, to act as his name, one recognizes the problem raised by Hobbes. All give all their power to only one and authorize him to act in their name. Without such a choice, there is, for the individual, no capacity to act rationally, but only unfolding of “ opportunisms ”. Specular figure : the primary delegation of all to only one, constitutive of a sovereign power, is supposedly the principle of a true power of everyone. The order of the capitalist firm is thus “ selected ”.

The structural critique  consists in saying that the power of the capitalist, far from proceeding from a contract, is constituted by the historical development of this production mode. That however does not mean that this theory is without metastructural  object. The constitution of a classless society supposes the determination of the relations of rights which must exist between individuals. The theory of agency is thus on the right ground, on which it can only be defeated. The symmetry that it induces, according to which, as in the neo-classic theory, it is indifferent that capital employs labour or the reverse, occults the asymmetrical hobbesian moment of the origin, that is however presupposed : the moment by which all form a pact and supposedly delegate together their power to only one. At the beginning is the multitude, problematic subject of a constituent contractuality.

In short, the neo- institutionnalist discourse re-inscribes the economic theory in thepresuppositions and the concepts of traditional juridico-political philosophy. But it maintains them within the limits of utilitarianism, those of efficiency, i.e. of a philosophy which believes it is able to think reason within the limits of understanding. This results in a typically modern ideology, available for various political projects, from technocratic paternalism to authoritative neoliberalism.


The critique of reasonable liberalism

It is against this recurring utilitarianism, true misery of economism, that Rawls reacts, carrying to its extreme limit, i.e., to its bursting point, the emancipatory potential of liberalism. Various criticisms may be adressed to him : he is devoid of any theory of social structure, he takes the market rule as the natural-rational principle of efficiency, and, remaining confined on the ground of the “ realizable Utopia ”, he does not finally propose any political philosophy in the sense of a theory of practice. Its “ difference principle ” , however, connected to the idea of “ original position ”, constitutes, by its implications, a fracture which is likely to ruin the liberal utilitarian construction (and as much, it will be seen, the standard republican doctrine). Compared to the Kantian statement of the juridical imperative, strictly understood, it comprises two decisive innovations. It introduces the moment of efficiency, i.e. that of economics, and it reveals the “ point of view ” of the underpriviledged, as the universal one, by which is determined what all may understand as efficiency. Teleological rationality, which articulates for each one its own ends with the suitable means, finds place here within the limits of practical reason, which recommends efficiency, but circumscribes it from the point of view of those who would obtain less. Rawls vainly wrote the remainder of his work, against this principle that marks the moment where the liberal axiomatic goes beyond itself in the practical maxim of those which have less. It will be reinterpreted in the terms of the “ principle of equality-potence ”.



Chapter 8. The critique of organizing socialism


1. Collectivism appears retrospectively as an historical experiment, which, aiming at socialism through the extinction of the market, tends to set up an entirely “ organized ” society. Marx, who provided the strongest theoretical incentive to go beyond capitalism, avoided proposing a substantial theory of socialism. If he points in the direction of collectivism, it is not for lack of democratic conviction, but because he ignores the metastructural  matrix, of which he is however the initiator. As we have seen above, he historicises the relations, that still exist in contemporaneity, of market and of organization, interpreting modern history as the path from the first to the second, which appears to him as a suitable space for liberty. The critique of “ real socialism ” supposes that the marxian construction be corrected at its very beginning (principe). All the difficulty lies in the beginning : in the relation which Marx outlines between the modern class structure and its market presupposition, supposedly that of free and equal relationship. That the modern presupposition is as well organisational, that it concerns the central contractuality as much as the interindividual one, is actually shown in Marx’s critique  of fetishism, which, referring the do ut des to a presupposable facio ut facias (the exchanges of things are to be conceived as permutations of labour times, that they occult), establishes an equivalence between these two terms and the do ut facias. So there is a metastructural statute of contractual labour, which concerns the claim of both central and interindividual contractuality. And the reversal in classes relations concerns correlatively the dialectical relation between them : it is by the impact of their power on a “ central contractuality ” (by the laws which they are able to impose) that the workers acquire some “ property ” of their labour force, and obtain that the wage relation not be reduced to a simple fact of market. And it is for this reason that a theory of “ socialism ” is possible for this period of the history in which the need for an market-organized coordination of the production still remains a dominan factor of capitalism and a terrain of the struggle against him [6].


2. Socialism is the modern class struggle for the abolition of classes. It struggles with an hydra with two heads : this class structure with a double factor, market and organization, that are however, at the same time, the social forms of our reason, Vernunft, and of our understanding, Verstand. This struggle does not aim at removing them, but at abolishing the class relations they cause. It aims at submitting economics to a deliberative politics, to the common appropriation, by the control and the effective use of the means of production, exchange, administration and communication. Not a simple legal transfer, but acultural (education, information) and institutional (democratization of the society, legislation of solidarity, etc.) revolution.

Socialism prefers, as far as possible, the plan publicly concerted to fetichized and exclusive market relations. National appropriation of the principal entities of production and exchange (or the participation in their capital) and self-management remains, up to now, its principal economic references. However these models are valid only in so far as they break the class-effect inherent in the organization itself, and the imperial logic specific to the corporations of the Center, but favor the productive processs of internationalization.

Squaring of the circle? Actually, the circle is closed only if the presumedly natural-rational requirements of the market is accepted. And there exists, actually, in all the contemporary societies, in constantly changing conditions, concrete, “ socialist ” struggles, identifiable as such in the meta/structural categories [7].

In addition, because production produces culturally determined use values, the struggle for the common appropriation is always also a cultural one. If property is ultimately nothing else than a recognized right of using things, its monopolization by a dominant class is limited insofar as the whole population manages to imprint its influence on the choice of what is to be produced (guns or schools, cars or trains, casinos or theatres, etc.), on internal (labour, remuneration) and external (education, information) conditions of production, and on its consequences (public health, environment). This reference to a political-cultural collective actor does not take the place of the traditional problem of the (public/private) property, but points out the criteria for a discrimination of the effective common appropriation, for a common free-equal control of the mediations.


3. As for Communism, it irresistibly emerges, beyond what the plan or the market can coordinate, in the development of associative forms of material and cultural production. And, correlatively, in legal provisions freed from any relation to work, which ensure a universal guarantee of education and income, material existence, peaceful sharing of the environment, etc. It emerges from the modern class struggle. The dialectics of communism and socialism consists in this emergence of the multi-active, multi-associative, auto-flexible person, who will be also able to control the market and the organisational springs of modern class relations. Communism is the agent of socialism. And, as Marx suggested, it aims, beyond the mediations, at an order of immediate transparency, that of shared discourse.


Chapter 9. The critique of Discourse Ethics


This critique of the mediations, based on the analysis of the structural relations (Book II), brings us back to the declaration of modernity. And, joined to systemic and ecological critique, it leads to radicalize this claim inherent in modern societies by the setting in equivalence its three formulations : (1) the position of discursivity, according to which “ we commit ourselves to cooperate in the mode of the discourse ”, (2) the declaration of contractuality, by which “ we recognize ourselves free, equal and rational ”, (3) the assertion of equi-mondanity, according to which “ the world equally belongs to all ”. People cannot contract freely if not about a certain use of the world, which concerns everybody. And whoever believes he/she is able to tell “ this is mine ” engages (enters) the discourse of the criticizable claim to property. Circularity of the materialist hermeneutics.


1.        The principle of equality-potence, U -, maxim of  the praxis

The ethics of the discourse supposes, as its own critique, a anarcho-spinozist requirement : that be abolished any inequality of power and property which does not raise the people at the bottom. Or “ principle of equality-potence ”, U -, U LESS : “ the universalisable is determined from the point of view of those who have less ”. The pertinence of the principle of justice thus conceived follows from its definition a point _____of view, that of the people at the bottom, irrecusable and impregnable from the top, as the universal point of view. That is not a transcendent principle, set as a precondition, but the very presupposition of the argumentative posture, as implying symmetry between speakers and exclusion of all constraint.

It is on this point that the habermassian problematics bursts, of which the concept of compromise forms the hidden mainspring. It can be summed up by saying : “ we admit that the world belongs to the powerful (Machthaber), we require only that they grant us the liberal, democratic and socialists liberties, which will allow us to deliberate the point together ”. Performative contradiction as obvious as the “ contract on slavery ”, criticised by Rousseau.

In order to escape this contradiction, one must admit quite a different presupposition : namely that nothing is, stricto sensu, negotiable, if not from the procedural principle U -, always immediately considered, which concerns not only the relationship between persons, but also the relation with the things, under the sign of the abolition of any inequality in which the people the bottom would not find the sine qua non condition for their power to rise. Free, equal and rational. But of a rationality, moment of the efficiency, Verstand, inscribed within the limits of the universalisable reason, Vernunft. The largest good for all, but (against utilitarianism) from the point of view of those who have less : from the point of view of their interest, of what is “ efficient ” for them. That is, fixed in advance, the object of a “ deliberative ” politics, because apart from such a point of view, there is no deliberation, but only “ perlocution ”, manipulation, unfolding of symbolic violence, precondition to other violence.

The claim that nothing is “ arguable ” from another point of view than that of the greater number of those who are at the bottom, requires a concept of praxis that discourse cannot claim to contain. Not only the response, but, the condition of any argued deliberation, the understanding and the gathering of oppressed forces, and the lowering of adverse forces, impose themselves as legitimate. Discursive practice calls for agonistic praxis. Not an idealistic revolt in the name of natural right, but, at every moment and in any place, “ revolutionary prudence ”, which determines the agenda of resistance or of insurrection. Rights being always already given within relations of force, there is nothing else, or almost nothing else, save “ compromises. But it is from the bottom, against the grain, that such compromises are to be considered, according to the order of the battle against all the inequalities, dominations and exclusions. Strategic maxim of the modern prince, who is multitude.


2.        Politics of Mankind

This triple and single modern claim of discursivity, contractuality and equi-mondanity is binding not only on individuals, but as much so on nations, whose territories, at one time considered inviolable (i.e. given a sacrality similar to that of the person) are hence forth only provisional. In the ultimodernity, the contractuality is geopolitical, or it is not : it concerns first all human beings, in their relation to the single common means, which is the world. And the horizon of the modern State is obviously the planet as a common territory and inheritance. We do not have the choice any more, because the social (productive, cognitive, destructive) process of which we have the common responsibility has become an integrated world process. The polis has turn into a cosmos, as has the oikos.

This generates the requirement from triple cosmopolitanism :

A. Global  : a democratic world government is needed. That cannot be obtained without a struggle aiming at radical reform, i.e. at the destruction, of the current institutions of the world etaticity. A constitution, not a charter ad libitum, must preserve the rights of every person and every State. The power of the Legislative Assembly must rest on a representation of persons as much as of States. The Executive must run the economy from the point of view of the extinction of class relations. It is in the sense a people’s struggle that must be directed.

B. International : this government is primarily in charge of the protection of nations. Such would be, at least for a long period, its principal task : to defend the nations, and more specifically the poorest against the aggressions and imperialist encroachments of the more  powerful ones. This is all the more urgent as the world system henceforth is not only composed of nation-States, but also of private entities freed from any State trusteeship (but not from any State support), i.e. of any democratic control, under the supposed “ law ” of the market. Just like, in the Soviet space the abolition of market in favour of the sole rule of organization tendentially produced the extinction of State of law, the same occurs today when there prevails in the “ global” space the sole merchant law, which cannot be law since there is law, order of liberty, only where a common free will articulates market and organization rules according to a universalisable maxim, U -. So the market world order, as the other unipolarism, constitutes the other form of “ totalitarianism ”.

C. Local  : each person is everywhere at home

The idea that the world belongs equally to all does not induce only the category of a world State, but correlatively that of freedom of movement and installation for individuals, as well as that of freedom of the exchanges. The right for all to settle wherever they want on the planet concerns first of all the right to migration, which allows the more deprived to go to the places where they can make use of the common means. Such a freedom comprises for each one the right to be citizen where one is established.

Those who proclaimed that “ the proletarian does not have a fatherland ” were only two centuries too early. A capitalist world State is definitely emerging, supported by its characteristic authorities. But it cannot be seen only as the capitalist’s State : it is a challenge for all, a promise as well as a provocation. The proof that there is already something like a world State is the fact that “ world  citizens ” declare it, as do the Chiappas, Seattle, the NGO, the initiatives like ATTAC or the Women World Demonstration (Marche Mondiale). In various ways, the spirit anticipates. The contemporary emergence of an international humanism, of cosmopolitan cultural forms (by music, which springs over languages and borders, as well as also henceforth images), of forms of religiosity or universalist ethics, etc, expresses the irresistible tendency of the new coming to find their references out of the traditional framework of ethnicity, nation and religion. This humanism must always be suspected of conveying appropriative passions and imperial interests. It is nevertheless, from now on, in last instance in an indivisible bio-noosphere, according to the point of view of a universal community, and that of weakest of this community, that law can be declared and our common spiritual power can be affirmed.


3. The abolition of gender

The analysis left aside, up to this point, a question that its own categories, which have as a characteristic to articulate economics and politics, could not embrace : the gender division, as significant as the class division, and factor of a similar domination. I approached “ modernity ” according to a structuralist epistemology : to explain the event, is to locate it in a determined historical social structure, the historical conditions of appearance and disappearance which must be established. Gender domination is to be understood according to an other historicity, or supposes another mode of explanation : it relates, in my (and others’) opinion to “ original circumstances ” which make the man-woman couple, as what has been at stake is the reproduction, an asymmetrical relation. This unequal relation of force is translated and overdetermined, according to circular and cumulative processes, by the whole of culture and social life, in particular by the relations of production, but does not have its specific determinant in it. So the abolition of gender, understood as the unequal social construction of the relationship between sexes, is emerging from the self-control of fecundity. Its sociocultural surdetermination, sediment of the oldest history, implies it however narrowly in other struggles, as those of the structure and the system, better known as those of “ class and race ”.


4. The politics and beyond

 If the concept of contractuality governs politics and the political theory in modern time, it is for a paradoxical and constraining reason. The reason is not, as liberalism would have it, so that contractualism would represent the spirit of our time, but, as I showed at the beginning, that the “ mediations ” of contractuality are, in modern times, the factors generating the whole load of domination, oppression, exploitation and exclusion : the structural relations (or modern class relations, as their vectors are the market and the organization), and as much, though in an indirect way, the systemic relations (centrifuge system-world violence) can only be understood starting from contractual-coordinational metastructure. And this is why eventually the political emancipation in terms of communism can itself be represented only as Aufhebung of the mediations, as the establishment of immediately discursive relation, public space of deliberative democracy.

A last point. Contractuality and discursivity are given only in contemporaneity. The right political action is always a struggle, and the political logos cannot be conceived separately from an “agon”. But the characteristic of both is to be a affair between contemporary human beings. We do not contract, we do not speak, with the generations which follow us. The challenge of politics runs among co-present persons, who also always relate to the absent ones. It contains an asymmetrical relation to those who will never enter the deliberative discourse, at least ours. Like the Kantian monarch, we are reduced to do “ as if ” : to calculate what would obtain the universal free agreement. It would be only a wager, if we could not judge with certainty that, for “ treating them like ourselves ”, we must at least should them an equal possibility of good life in the form of an intact planet.



[1]. General theory, Theory of Law, Economics and Politics, PUF, Paris, 1999, 504 pages. Of course, this book could not be summarized in the space of an article. So I will only develop here one thin discussion thread, leaving aside many problems. For the definition of the concepts, the reader can refer to the glossary, pp. 493-497, One will note that “ metastructure ” does not have the signification of “ superstructure ”. That “ meta/structure ” indicates the whole of metastructure and the structure, and “ / ” the dialectical relation of one to the other (see § 412B, which forms the pivot of exposition). Mind the very specific signification of the concepts of (antinomic) “ contractuality ”, of  “ structure ” and “ system ”, “ poles ” and “ face ”, of the couple “ reason-understanding ”, as well as the word " supposedly ", which underlines the character of simple presupposition of the metastructure. This text is a reelaboration of the article, The ultimodernity, to be published in La Pensée, Dec. 2000.


[2].      You will find here just an outline of the market/organisation relation, without considering for itself this last term, if not in an allusive way. To do so would need to put in relation several disciplinary fields (economy, sociology, law, history), and consider various problematics such as that of Weber on bureaucracy and that of Foucault in Surveiller et punir (To supervise and to punish) .


[3].      Compare with the definition proposed by Lenin : " classes are vast groups of people characterized by the position that they occupy in a historically definite system of social production, by their (most of the time fixed and consacrated by laws) relations with the means of production, by their role in the social organization of labour, by the modes of obtaining and the importance of the social richnesses they dispose of" (La grande initiative, 1919, œuvres, Editions of Moscow, divides into volumes 29, p. 425).

[4].      This cleavage refers the polarity finance / managers, which concerns in particular  the periodisation of capitalism. See G Duménil and D. Lévy, La dynamique du capital, PUF, 1996.


[5].      Cf. Principles of Philosophy of Law, § 183.


[6].      Il y a donc bien, comme l’a dit Althusser, une “ interpellation juridique ”, qui doit faire l’objet d’une critique appropriée. Mais elle ne peut s’entendre que de la facticité historique de la déclaration-prétention moderne de liberté-égalité-rationalité, qui n’institue le sujet moderne qu’en le présupposant souverain. Cette présupposition n’a rien d’un fondement, puisqu’elle n’est posée que dans le rapport de classe, son inverse. Elle dénie et occulte la réalité structurelle du capitalisme. Mais, dans cette dialectique, elle en appelle contradictoirement à l’insoumission tout autant qu’à la sujétion. Je ne puis donc suivre ceux qui pensent aujourd’hui pouvoir relire Althusser en déniant le lien patent qui existe entre sa théorie étroite de l’interpellation, celle des Appareils Idéologiques d’Etat et la conception “ marxiste-léniniste ” très traditionnelle dont témoigne son écrit Sur la reproduction, dans lesquels trouvaient leur place ces fameux énoncés. On ne sauvera pas l’héritage althussérien sans en revoir les concepts dans le contexte méta/structurel


[7].      Et c’est en termes à certains égards comparables, que la recherche anglo-saxonne a renouvelé l’approche : de nouveaux “ modèles de socialisme ” se présentent comme autant de schémas, divers, de distribution des tâches et des prérogatives entre coordination centrale (organisation, planification), marchande ou associative. Soit : des schémas d’action collective productive, fondés sur des modes déterminés de partage de la propriété des moyens de production, sur des principes de gestion, de distribution, sur des formes de fonctionnement financier, d’accès à la formation et à l’information, supposés assurer un ordre “ socialiste ”. Ils diffèrent entre eux notamment par leur conception de la combinaison des trois moments de la coopération (centricité, interindividualité et association discursive), des conditions coordinationnelles de l’efficacité et de la justice..