Technically, we might replace the whole schema laid out in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
(aka 'Historical Materialism') with an evergrowing extension of the process of formal subsumption,
dating back to the invention of the money commodity in Ancient Mesopotamia and perhaps before (certainly by the time of coins in 7th century Athens). If we are to take Marx seriously: Since it is the form of Value
that causes us to fetishise the products of our labours as innately "valuable", commodity fetishism must have already existed on a small scale as far back as that. However, of course this phenomenon only gains genuine significance when it is more or less universalised, in the era of capitalist production.
Looked at this way, we can disinherit the uncomfortably rigid categories derived from Adam Smith and Hegel (slave society, feudal society &c) in favour of something much more fluid and uneven.
In our present epoch - let's call it neoliberalism -
the formal subsumption of our private lives continues at a rapid rate, I think it's accurate to identify this with Foucault's biopolitics
. There is striking evidence of this in the newsmedia everyday and I think it's safe to say that it is an accelerating process. Formal subsumption now occurs at the level of the personal, the affective and the immaterial (think how most low-level service sector work involves the producing of emotions, making customers feel happy, desired, safe etc). For Foucault, biopolitics was about the continual drive of the State and capital to measure and record our lives in ever more stringent and intrusive ways. This short analysis nails it: www.newappsblog.com/2014/01/bi…
I don't mean to make the crude error that neoliberalism/our present era is fundamentally a break from the recent past, or capitalism altogether, just that the exponential acceleration of these trends is particularly noteworthy.
It is interesting to make a note of what the great classical economists would make of our society: Smith/Ricardo/Mill/Marx etc would judge only a small fraction of our annual material output "productive". (In Britain, this is currently a figure slightly below 20% - service sector and knowledge labour makes up about 78% of GDP). Automation keeps driving this down, as per the Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (Marx).
I want to do another post about the counterpart to formal subsumption, called real subsumption
, automation and possibly explain the role of money according to Marx's Capital and why the Labour Theory of Value is not what most modern economists think it is