In case you missed this (scroll down for the comments), we publish the more pertinent points here:
What do we mean by human beings being ‘mediated by the commodity form?’
What is meant by mediation? Following Richard Gunn, to mediate is to relate a term to itself or to one or more other terms through another term. The mediation is the relating term, which is itself the relation. There are several kinds of mediation but I am primarily concerned with the one in which two terms mediate each other, where each relates the other to itself reciprocally or we can say where each is the middle term for the other, as in capital and labor. This can also be referred to as an internal relation, which is what we are concerned with in dealing with social forms. An internal relation constitutes the terms it relates and as it is the relation itself, it is the mode of existence, form or appearance of the terms it relates. If the terms are contradictory then the mediation allows the terms to subsist in their contradiction. A properly Marxian notion of contradiction relies on this notion of mediation.
What then might it mean to say that social life is mediated by the commodity-form? Firstly, that sociality itself, as we live/experience/know it, subsists in and through the commodity form.
For example, capital entails a society in which the vast majority of human beings find their day-to-day existence not merely engaged with the purchase and sale of commodities, and not merely with the production of items directly for exchange, rather than for immediate consumption, but with the reproduction of themselves by such means and in order to sell their own life force as a commodity in turn qua labor power.
I find it amusing that we so frequently fail to realize what it means to have such a huge percentage of the population involved in the dominant form of the production of surplus wealth. In ancient Greece, slaves accounted for barely 35% of the population, less in some cases, and between that and pillage, provided the bulk of surplus wealth as the majority of the Greeks were subsistence farmers. In feudal Europe, a small part of the serfs’ time actually went to surplus production, and many people contributed no surplus whatsoever.
The universalision of the proletariat
By comparison, the majority of humanity at this point is brought, directly and indirectly, under the ambit of the capital-labor relation. Those who are not directly involved in wage-labor frequently 1) manage wage labor, 2) provide direct services for those within the capital-labor relation.
From another angle we might develop the degree to which almost nothing which we consume at this point is not a commodity or gotten with a commodity (if one say goes fishing at the lake or hunting in the woods, it is probably with equipment you bought, even if the fish or game is not a commodity and the activity is not either.) Further, there is very little left of so-called leisure time which is not also mediated by the commodity form.
We then have to ask if the way in which the commodity-form is expressed in the entire cycle of capital impacts forms of consciousness, that is to say, objectively shapes consciousness. Is there a way out of this?
Keeping on with the ideas of form, relation, and mediation, Lukacs takes the view that form and its content are not unified. For example, J.B. Say argued that crisis was impossible because sales and purchases always had to be equal. For Lukacs, crises in which stocks lay unsold while money flows in abundance gives the lie to this formal relation. The content of the capital cycle overflows the limits of the form because the form contains within itself a contradiction, which Marx shows to be a crisis of valorization.
This overflowing of content opens the way to consciousness, but consciousness does not simply overcome the mediation, but brings to awareness the necessity and the possibility of collective action that would overcome the mediation.
It is outside the scope of this discussion for me to lay out my issue with Lukacs and the concept of reification. I am actually quite skeptical of it and Lukacs’ appropriation of Weberian concepts, however much he might alter them. What matters is that I would say that he is not Hegelian enough and falls back into a kind of Fichtean immediacy.
On the so-called ‘state-derivation debate’
The direction Holloway and Bonefeld took actually was to say that properly speaking, the state is a social formation particular to capital, that is, to a society in which there is a genuine separation of sphere between the political or public power and the economic, or reproduction and private wealth. Both argued that this was reliant on the development of the capital-labor relation itself which separates production of goods from domination because all people enter into the market as equals, as equally possessing commodities, and equally seeking to buy and sell commodities. This form of interaction necessitates a disinterested arbiter, above civil society, to ensure the equality and fairness of the transaction is maintained.
This was developed systematically against Milibank’s idea that the state was a container filled with the class content of whichever class controlled it, and also against Poulantzas’ Eurocommunism, in which the state was hypostatized as its own field, acting ‘autonomously’.
I think if you look carefully at their contributions to the state debate you will get a better view.
Why traditional Marxism has to be overcome
Again, saying that labor is not the standpoint of the critique of capital is singularly NOT the same as saying that the communism entails the abolition of the working class. If you can’t tell the logical difference between the two, you have larger problems of comprehension. The latter only takes us part way there because if you think that labor is the standpoint of the critique (as a lot of people who hold the latter view do), then you still essentialize labor and fall into the old garbage about how direct sociality is our goal (Lukacs does this, actually), ‘free labor’ is wonderful, labor mediates humanity, etc.
Unfortunately, that view of labor is piffle and leads right back practically to capitalism, the society in which labor already is associated with freedom. We might even say, taking up Marx’s language in Vol. 3, that between the realms of Necessity and Freedom, necessity being the realm of Labor, that capital conceives of the Realm of Necessity as the Realm of Freedom, whereas pre-capitalist societies held an strict separation of the Realm of Necessity, reserved for slaves, serfs, and peasants, and the Realm of Freedom, reserved solely for the Lords, Masters, and all others who got to enjoy and create poetry, art, music, etc.