Capitalism, The Embrace That Smothers: An Analogy

There are technical debates about how we should understand the nature of capitalism. One such debate pertains to the 'ontology of capital'. That is, how are we to understand the essence (or non-essence) of capital itself? Two prevailing schools of thought that are in tension would see capital as being either homogenous or isomorphic. The former term, homogenous, refers to capital's endless need to incorporate everything into its gamut in order to simply expand itself in every location around the globe. Capital-as-isomorphic means that there is a singular tendency but that heterogeneity is required by capital as such – that is, there must in fact be non-capitalist modalities in the periphery in order to sustain capital's power in the center. The former view fits more comfortably in orthodox Marxian circles, whereas the isomorphic view is loosely Deleuzian or post-Marxian (although these demarcations must be held loosely as they tend to slide past one another and cross-contaminate). 

That said, one analogy that has been bouncing around my mind to help me think through this tension is the ontology of Spinoza. Tersely, for Spinoza, there is a single substance that characterizes everything that exists (or insists). The totality of all things is what he referred to as God or Nature – substance. This is the single plane of being. It is immanence as infinite totality. But this totality – substance – is then divided into attributes and modes. Famously, Spinoza claimed that human minds can only know two attributes of substance: extension and thought (but let it be known that there is considerable debate among Spinozists what this means exactly). The modes on the other hand are infinite expressions or instantiations of substance. He says, "Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God." What he means by this is that everything that exists is a 'mode' of God, an affection; we might be more comfortable simply saying 'an instantiation of substance'. 

How this fits into the debate pertaining to capital's ontology is that it seems to me that (at least analogously, if not more concretely) we can view capital in a similar way: capital is substance with its attendant attributes and modes. This fits in nicely with Marx's definition of capital as "value in motion." As capital seeks to maximize itself, it does so through the proliferation of its instantiations (modes) which are themselves expressions of capital itself. Therefore, under the logic of capitalism, labor is a moment of capital's self-expansive value increase. Similarly, consumption is a modal activity of capital's self-expressive motion. And again, investment is an activity that generates from and reverts back into capital as substance.

What this means is that everything that exists within the capitalist matrix is therefore an instantiation of capital – or in the least, is inflected with capital's tendential motion. And this is where I think the debate between homogeneity and isomorphy becomes interesting. Because we might say that capital's "desire" is to be the substance; it's internal logic desires that it become God or Nature; and that it does this by expressing itself through an infinite proliferation of modes (commodities). But, even if capitalism's desire is to become the singular substance, it requires an Other to feed off of; which means that capitalism both seeks homogeneity and isomorphy. The problem with pure homogeneity is that it requires that everything become same, which would inevitably stop capital's growth. The limitation of isomorphy as a concept is that it requires an external relation between objects rather than seeing the infusion of capital being injected even into these heterogeneous elements. But perhaps the analogy of Spinoza's metaphysics helps us work through this impasse and bring them into a dialectical tension where they actually infuse one another. Perhaps, then, to complete the Spinoza analogy, homogeneity and isomorphy can be understood as two known attributes (transcendental conditions?) of capital's substance as value in motion that is expressed through infinite modalities...