In my new paper entitled ‘Moishe Postone, the Mode of Production of Capital and Cuban Agriculture’ published in Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, I dive into the thought of Moishe Postone as conveyed in his remarkable work Time, Labor and Social Domination to question his ambivalent proposal for overcoming the system of capital. For this purpose, I develop a sort of reading from the periphery, taking the experience of the Cuban Revolution in the agrarian sector as a standing point for the critique.
My article recognises the significance of Postone’s contribution for the understanding of the logic of capital and the renewal of Marxist debates on the theory of value. The focus on the sphere of production instead of circulation, the implementation of a rigorous systematic and dialectical analysis of the categories of value, labour, commodity, and capital, the emphasis on the social form of labour under the capitalist system, the difference between historical and trans-historical categories, the analysis of the ongoing reconstitution of socially necessary labour time in line with the treadmill dynamic and the distinction between value and wealth are certainly among the richest aspects of his critical social theory. The work of Postone provides absolutely clear and indisputable elements for a radical critique of the mode of production of capital which embraces the need to overthrow value as measure of wealth, surplus-value as the goal of production, and labour as a central form of social mediation. This is undoubtedly crucial if one wishes to address the devastating social and environmental consequences of a form of economic growth rooted on value as a form of wealth. Yet, Postone’s proposal for overcoming the capitalist system presents a series of ambivalences.
Postone contests those Marxist approaches arguing that the inherent contradiction between relations and forces of production refers to the capitalist relations of production becoming, at a certain stage of development, a barrier or a fetter for the further development of the productive forces. Consequently, the abolition of private property and market regulation would allow for the further development of productive forces. Postone rejects this idea of the mode of production of capital as a mere technical process that could serve as the basis for a new society. Rather, he argues that this form of temporal domination rooted on value entails the technological transformation of the means of production into a form adequate to the system of capital. A process that is completed with the emergence of large-scale industrial production as result of capital’s relentless necessity to reduce necessary labour time in order to increase surplus value. Through this material transformation of the productive forces, capital achieves its veritable control over the mode production. The real subsumption of labour under capital.
Yet, although in the first instance Postone criticises socialist experiences of the twentieth century for focusing on the relations of production without questioning the mode of production itself, he surprisingly reaches the contradictory conclusion that the overcoming of capital would be possible through the mere appropriation by the people of this technological development, resulting from the historical objectification of living labour into dead labour as the productive power of capital. The very same industrial production initially analysed as historically specific to capital becomes independent from the social relations that gave birth to it. Yet, for Postone the acclaimed emancipatory role of technology is not simply related to a better distribution of wealth, but to the constitution of a new social formation where the creation of wealth would rely on the system of machinery instead of the direct expenditure of human labour time.
So, what would be the impacts of freeing workers from labour via this socially general productive power? My article thus questions Postone’s proposal for the abolition of value. I interrogate to what extent the appropriation of this technology shaped by the logic of value is suitable for the constitution of a new social formation. Or, on the contrary, to the degree that a different social formation and mode of production should correspond to a different technological model. For this purpose, I call upon the Cuban experience in the agrarian sector after the Revolution in 1959. Indeed, the vast effort of the revolutionary government to improve the living conditions of the rural population and to humanise agricultural work through massive mechanisation, the industrialisation of agriculture and the implementation of the “Green Revolution” technological package did not come without contradictions. Hence, I use modern agriculture and Cuban development strategy in the agrarian sector to illustrate the limitations of the forces of production inherited from the system of capital and the negative impacts their uncritical appropriation can have in terms of nature destruction, workers alienation and people’s needs satisfaction.
In this way I bring into discussion Postone’s ideas concerning the movement beyond capital while reflecting upon the non-neutrality of technology. I look at the way the uncritical appropriation of this techno-organisational model shapes the kind of wealth to be created, the labour organisation, the content of work and the relation to nature. In addition, I examine the sort of unidirectional vision of progress for countries of the periphery with a low level of development of the productive forces and whether they should follow the path of advanced capitalist countries, increase their level of productivity, and develop their productive forces into an automated machinery system before envisioning any socialist alternative able to free people from work. This is without mentioning the devastating impact such strategies might have for the environment and the current climate crisis. Finally, drawing inspiration again from Cuban experience, I propose some modest reflections on the potentiality of the historically accumulated yet marginalised productive knowledge of small farmers and grassroots counter-hegemonic practices for the constitution of a mode of production corresponding to a socialist alternative.