Marx and the Labor contract: symptom, counter-law and state of exception

Facundo C. Rocca


In this paper we intend to analyze some aspects of Marx’s theory of labor contract as a way of exploring the possibility of a marxian critique of modern rights that goes beyond their dismissal as mere illusionary or ideological forms. The labor contract, as a juridical figure, puts rights, juridical subjects and juridical relationships in the core of the concrete process of material production of modern capitalist societies. It’s the labor contract that enables the passage from the level of exchange of equally free subjects in the market (and in the political) to the hierarchies of command between unequal individuals in the production sphere. In order to explore this we will, firstly, point out young Marx’s symptomatic oversight of labor-contract like formulations, in opposition to slavery, in the French Declarations of Rights. This will stress the non-continuous character of Marx’s oeuvre while also providing a possible alternative genealogy to Althusser’s epistemological break. Secondly, we will outline the problems around the labor contract in Marx’s late works: 1) as a particular form of commodity exchange that produces the difference between value and use value of the work force that enables the production and appropriation of surplus value; and 2) as a way of producing the subsumption of labor to capital’s command in the work process. The relationship of these two aspects involves the intricate relationship of the legal and the non-legal, the judicial and the economical, in ways that surpass the opposition between an unreal form and a concrete practice. Here, Foucault’s treatment of the labor contract as an example of the counter-law effect of disciplines would be a useful reference. Lastly, following Agamben, we will discuss the possibility of considering the labor-contract as a form of multiple and economically fixed state of exception: a juridical instrument that produces the undifferentiation of right and non-right, of law and force, as a way of legally inscribing a relationship of dominion and inequality that tends to exceeds it at the same time that needs it as its logical and historical foundation.

Facundo C. Rocca (CONICET-UBA)

marx - critical legal theory - agamben - foucault - labor law - althusser