The Matter of Fictitious Capital

Though Karl Marx stands an irrefutable and even obligatory touchstone in most trajectories of materialism, his historical materialist analysis of capital proceeds by way of a number of formulations that subsequent Marxists would, and do, critique as idealist: conceiving labor as a differential substance that “is more than it has” and that marks the human’s distinction from animals (or, at least, from “bees” as the example goes) by virtue of its ineluctably ideational aspect; conceiving capital as “illusory, but (with) its own laws of motion for all that”; conceiving value as “in reality impossible”; and conceiving capitalism as a mode of production that is simultaneously a metaphysical system. As our present financial crisis has prompted various returns to Marx, particularly to his theory of fictitious capital, this entwining of the material and the ideal once again demands critical attention. This paper focuses on a few signal moments when thinking capitalism requires a materialism merged with its other – moments when it is a necessity, rather than a weakness, for Marxian materialism to have been something more multifaceted than we epigones generally avow.