The Civilized Money Machine: Political Economy in Anti-Oedipus (I)


What would’ve been of the past decades accelerationist movements without Anti-Oedipus’ (AO) celebrated suggestion that, rather than simply opposing capitalism, we should acknowledge its ability to liberate as well as oppress people; that we should seek to strengthen its anarchic tendencies and go still further in the movement of the market; not to withdraw, but to accelerate the process? Deleuze and Guattari’s (D&G) 1972 AO is a seminal contribution to a wave in French philosophy that set to integrate, in a theoretical analysis of political economy, an understanding of the social construction of human desire.

It was a response to the new libertarian mood induced by May 68’, which stood against the traditional socialist aspirations for rational state planning, instead insisting on a proliferation of desire which could only be liberated by radicalizing the deterritorializing forces of capitalism itself in such a way as to ultimately exacerbate it to the point of collapse. The main aspects of AO made clear that emancipation from capitalism wouldn’t come from an inevitable development of the dialectic, but from the multiplication of the polymorphic desires liberated by capitalism itself.

D&G saw capitalism as a relentless decoder of social relations, an engine as productive as the immanent universal schizophrenia. So instead of trying to find emancipation through party politics navel-gazing, AO asserts that only “capitalism’s intrinsic revolutions in production can complete the metamorphic process of bodies” [1]. A highly unorthodox vision of economics was condensed to reflect the turbulent times of its writing: at the turn of the 70s, at the peak of the long boom and on the eve of the Nixon shock, the OPEC and the “stagflation” crisis, i.e., a time when a crisis of profitability due to overcapacity and overproduction seemed like the main problem.

1971 Seminars in Vincennes

Such questions of political economy were first laid down by Deleuze in his december 21st lecture at the 1971 seminars in Vincennes and were ambitiously synthesized in The Civilized Capitalist section of AO. He proposed combining the thought of Suzanne de Brunhoff (1929-2015), a contemporary Marxist economist, and Bernard Schmitt (1929-2014), a “neo-capitalist” which, despite (or precisely because of) both appearing to have diametrically opposed points of view, Deleuze found that they shared identical proposition concerning the duality of money in modern capitalism [2]. The Civilized Capitalist Machine thus addresses core issues of economy, the process of deterritorialization, and establishes a dialectical dynamic for relations between the productive centers and peripheries.

In doing so, D&G employ a particular vocabulary to enlarge their cybernetic view of the productive process par excellence: capitalism. This language describes natural processes of economics, psychiatry, society and nature. Machines of machines exchanging codes and signifying chains; codes achieve a certain degree of abstraction and are set off in a positive feedback loop vortex of surplus production, which initiates an indiscriminate deterritorialization and fluxion of codes.

Money Flows

Money, as a general equivalent, effects a decoding of flows through increasing abstraction. Which explains why indigenous cultures (or primitive territorial machines) were/are repressive towards money. As a decoder of flows, money poses the threat of destroying cultures and disrupting ways of life. Definitive anthropological aspects of money are presented through the lens of the Bohannans’ study of the Tiv of central Nigeria’s economy: the introduction of money into primitive economic formations represents, for tribal societies, a real limit: “a sign of approaching death” [3].

D&G’s economic propositions are rooted in the logic of a commodity economy, a starting point that is reached via sustained deterritorialization. Specifically, from Brunhoff and Schmitt’s agreement on the dual nature of money, one refers to the formation and management of means of payment, i.e., actual metallic money and the other, to the structure of financing and capitalist accumulation, i.e., credit money. The former, a means of exchange; the latter, a way of increasing the means of exchange [4].

D&G develop this dualism:

  1. Exchange money goes into the pocket of the wage-earner; a flow of means of payment relative to consumer goods and use value, and a one-to-one relation between money and an imposed range of products.
  2. Credit money is entered on the balance sheet of a commercial enterprise. It is a sign of the power of capital and the flows of financing; “a system of differential quotients of production that bear witness to a prospective force or to a long-term evaluation, not realizable here and now, and functioning as an axiomatic of abstract quantities” [5].

Money acquires its modern functionalities with the emergence of the credit system, which embraces a wider range of “means of payment” (acceptances, bills of exchange, banknotes, and cheques, in short, all evidence of debt). The duality of credit and exchange money in capitalism are hardly conceivable without their relation to the banking system. The fact that banks participate in both, that they are situated at the pivotal point between financing and payment, is indicative of the multiple interactions between both operations.

The two money forms might seem heterogeneous, but banking practice effects a rather profound dissimulation between them. An expression of the movement and the necessity of money on both boards (payment and financing), the social nature of the general equivalent is only realized through a credit system that also supports exchange money.

Brunhoff views the centralized banking system as where the different kinds of money become seemingly homogeneous and appear as the components of an articulated whole. It is the bank who holds sway over the whole system and investment of desire, and it is the bank who must promote the emergence of consumer culture. A functional money dualism is meant to facilitate the movement of desire. In fluxion, industrial capitalism functions through its alliance with commercial and financial capital, i.e., as merchant capitalism.

Schmitt finds that the true economy is in the “instantaneous creative flow that the banks create spontaneously as a debt owing to themselves, a creation ex nihilo that, instead of transferring a pre-existing currency as means of payment, hollows out at one extreme of the full body a negative money (a debt entered as a liability of the banks), and projects at the other extreme a positive money (a credit granted the productive economy by the banks)—«a flow possessing a power of mutation” that does not enter into income and is not assigned to purchases, a pure availability, nonpossession and nonwealth»” [6].

The monetary conception presented in AO describes a scenario where a banking infrastructure with a high degree of financialization exists in order to sustain a credit-based consumer society. The fluidity that money displays seems to tap into a latent schizophrenia at the heart of capitalism: “this whole economic schema … is profoundly schizo” [7]. Money is understood as a flow rather than a stock [8].

The Capitalist machine

Capitalism arises from the “encounter of two sorts of flows: the decoded flows of production in the form of money-capital, and the decoded flows of labor in the form of the «free worker»” [9]. Driven towards a deterritorializing and decoding of surplus value of code (“the ruins of the despotic State”), the capitalist machine subsumes and redirects money’s decoding. “Capitalism is the only social machine that is constructed on the basis of decoded flows, substituting for intrinsic codes an axiomatic of abstract quantities in the form of money” that keeps moving further and further; whereby money begets an increasing amount of money [10]. The encounter of flows of “free” labour and independent capital don’t just happen one fine day, it reflects rather a threshold passage—ruptures and limits, and not continuity —through sustained and protracted decoding and deterritorialization, i.e., history, wherein the immanent axiomatic of capitalism is engaged.

The most schematic way of achieving this is through the differential relation of decoded flows (Dy/Dx) which expresses the fundamental capitalist phenomenon of the transformation of the surplus value of code into a surplus value of flux. Dy derives from labor power and constitutes the fluctuation of variable capital, and Dx derives from capital itself and constitutes the fluctuation of constant capital. The filiative form of capital (x + dx) results from the fluxion and the conjunction of decoded flows, from the breakdown of subsisting codes. This of course is Marx’s famous description of capital’s vampiric disposition, the capitalist machine offers an intrinsic filiation: “commercial capital and financial capital will now take the form of a new alliance by assuming specific functions” [11].

D&G’s capitalist axiomatic owes a lot to the Marxist conception of credit relations in the capitalist machine and its orientation towards limitless quantitative expansion. The capitalist machine begins when capital ceases to be a capital of alliance to become filiative capital. “The equivalence itself points to the position of a relation without limitation: in the formula M-C-M, «the circulation of money as capital has therefore no limits»” [12].

We already know from Marx and Engels that capitalism functions by revolutionizing itself— from constant technological upgrades to the financial flows meant to spark consumer spending. And, precisely, an instrument of revolution are the ex nihilo flows of credit money who rid the axiomatic of reaching a saturation point. It is “always capable of adding a new axiom to the previous ones” [13]. The previously described differential relations act as an immanent vacuum of surplus value; an absence of exterior limits that is “filled” by the widening of internal limits “and the effusion of antiproduction within production so as to be filled by the absorption of surplus value. And monetarization everywhere comes to fill the abyss of capitalist immanence, introducing there, as Schmitt says, «a deformation, a convulsion, an explosion—in a word, a movement of extreme violence»” [14].

Dissimulation of fluxes

What AO offers is an ad hoc economic perspective that reflects the turbulence of the late 60s and early 70s. The elaboration is around the antithetical economic views of Suzanne Brunhoff and Bernard Schmitt since their monetary conception seems to converge in viewing money as an ebb and flow, circulating through the banking system taking on various forms, but with two distinguishable stages. On the one hand, the reflux (exchange money), an impotent money sign of exchange value; a dead-end in the sense that it’s money revenue created by enterprises. On the other hand, the flux (credit money), a creation ex nihilo by banks. The banks create money, while the productive enterprises create monetary revenues.

Kersalke (2015) reviews exhaustively both Brunhoff and Schmitt and the ways they’re interpreted in AO. He discusses the unlikely agreement of Brunhoff and Schmitt on the duality of money and the role of banking, the tendency for modern money to dematerialise provides the conditions for monetary dissimulation, but also the conditions for the unravelling of that dissimulation in a crisis and subsequent depression.

Schmitt claims that banks create an ex nihilo flow of money to enterprises that is only “charged” or “enriched” with the key property of ‘purchasing power’ once it becomes a nominal sum of wages for workers in enterprises (who then buy the current product of the enterprises); according to him, profits only emerge through a ‘capture’ of income or revenue by individual enterprises from this nominal sum of wages. The equivalence of the nominal sum of wages with the sum of commodities produced, he argues, is the necessary condition for the integration of banking money into the real economy.

Schmitt’s description is a neo-capitalist version of what happens when banks takeover credit, it “effects a demonetization or dematerialization of money”, based on the circulation of drafts instead of money circulation [15]. Capitalism’s axiomatic favors keeping the bank’s debt-machine churning ad infinitum—a scenario where the State interferes as a regulator protecting its economic interests. This is, of course, the problem of the ex nihilo money flows, translated into actual terms the problem of quantitative easing (QE). When banks loans to an institution, there occurs a dissimulation in the mutation of money forms. Money is printed ex nihilo and flows down from the financial sphere to the wage earners; this interplay between banks, central Bank and enterprises, exerts pressure over commodity prices. Additionally, the reliance of financial reflux on conditions in the labor market is dissimulated. Modern capitalism has multiple ways of dissimulating the flows of money.

There is thus dissimulation in the “mutation” that occurs in the loaning of capital to enterprises, during which money “takes then it loses its value as instrument of exchange” [16]. On the one hand, the money that is paid to workers appears to them as an instrument of exchange descended from the impersonal level of finance; the financial circuit and the pressure on commodity prices that result from the interplay between banks, central Bank, and enterprises remain inconspicuous. On the other hand, the dependency of financial reflux on conditions in the labour market is dissimulated.

The dissimulations all conceal the dominant contradiction in financialised economies: the instability of credit, and the liability of credit crises to turn into banking crises. The tendency for modern money to dematerialise provides the conditions for monetary dissimulation, but also, the conditions for the unravelling of that dissimulation in a crisis and subsequent depression. For example, in light of the 2008 financial crisis, Brunhoff’s theories allow us to understand an underlying cause of the crisis (dematerialised speculative bubbles), to the specific character of the mechanisms used by the State to control the crisis, and interprets the manner in which the expansion of the money supply is a way of protecting capitalism; how the state-jargon of “austerity” means austerity to the poor, workers, students, the disabled and the young. This is the inevitable consequence of the mechanism of quantitative easing, of dissimulation, which exists primarily to support financial capital and to provide a cushion for enterprises no longer willing to risk investing in production [17].

AO’s discussions on money are the post-68 burning questions. They’re characterized by the early 1970s stagflation, a distinctive falling rate of profit, and a crisis of overproduction along with the problem of rising machine automation aimed at increasing productivity and creating value. There is a deep urgency to rethink the nature of work and value. D&G return to Marx’s comment on Golden Age classical economists who, cynically, didn’t hide the fact that, capital needs to extort surplus value from somewhere, and observe in contemporary neoclassical economists a new, heightened, kind of cynicism: a refusal to even acknowledge the subject of surplus value [18]. Further subjects concerning work and automation and their relations towards a comprehensive labor theory of value in AO will be addressed in future posts.


[1] [MA, 11-12].

[2] [V].

[3] (AO 176).

[4] (AO, 229).

[5](AO 228).

[6] (AO, 237).

[7] (AO 238).

[8] (K 11): “The «flux» generated by the banks as a whole is seen as being compensated by a «reflux» that is channelled through production and the payment of wages as a whole. The fluxes that run from banks to enterprises undergo «mutations»: from the creation of money by the banks to its transformation into purchasing power for workers, the selling of products by enterprises and the final reflux to the bank, money changes form in various ways and must be understood as a «mutant flux»”.

[9] (AO 33).

[10] (AO, 139).

[11] (AO, 228).

[12] (AO, 248).

[13] (AO, 250).

[14] (AO, 250).

[15] (AO 229).

[16] (AO 120).

[17] (K 9).

[18] (AO 238).


[AO] Deleuze, G., Guattari, F., 1972, “Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia”, Penguin Classics, p. 400.

[K] Kerslake, C., 2015, “Marxism and Money in Deleuze and Guattari”, Parrhesia, num. 22, p. 38-78

[MA] Mackay, R., Avanessian, A., 2014, “#Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader”: Urbanomic Press, p. 544.

[V] Deleuze, G., 1971, Vincennes Seminar, 21/12/1971:

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