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The Human-As-Waste, the Labor Theory of Value and Disposability in Contemporary Capitalism

Michelle Yates
University of California, Davis, CA, USA; myates@ucdavis.edu
Abstract: This paper takes issue with various theoretical perspectives that examine waste within the context of consumption, distribution, or excretion, yet fail to address capitalism as a totalizing mode of production. In failing to do this, these theories are not able to make the conceptual leap to the human-as-waste. By contrast, this paper engages in a productionlevel theoretical standpoint and argues that capitalism, in its reduction of labor to a factor of production, speaks a logic of human disposability. On the one hand, the body of the laborer is used up or wasted at accelerated rates so as to secure the most profit. On the other hand, the exigencies of capitalist profit-making may lead to this factor of production being excreted (as a form of waste) into unemployment or underemployment, creating surplus populations that are separated partially or fully from domains of capitalist exchange and social life. This rethinking of labor as a factor that is expended or excreted allows for a re-examination of both waste and capitalism, and points toward the natural and historical limits of the capitalist mode of production. Keywords: human-as-waste,value, labor, environment, capitalism, green Marxism

Introduction
Mike Davis argues that rapid urbanization (and subsequent urban population growth), particularly in the global South, has contributed to the expansion of urban slums and shantytowns. Davis argues that this rapid increase in urban slums points to a surplus portion of the working population that is a permanent surplus (superfluous) population with little to no possibility of ever being exploited by capital. As Davis writes:
This outcast proletariatperhaps 1.5 billion people today, 2.5 billion by 2030is the fastest growing and most novel social class on the planet. By and large, the urban informal working class is not a labor reserve army in the nineteenth-century sense: a backlog of strikebreakers during booms; to be expelled during busts; then reabsorbed again in the next expansion. On the contrary, this is a mass of humanity structurally and biologically redundant to global accumulation and the corporate matrix (2004:11).1
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Without access to employment and wages, these surplus populations are left without the means to access subsistence, and many end up trying to survive through the black market or trash pick. The formation and growth of this kind of permanent surplus population can also be theorized as a kind of disposability and throwing away within capitalism. Once relegated as permanent surplus, meaning that capital no longer needs these populations as labor, these populations are little more than the human-as-waste, excreted from the capitalist system.2 As Davis points out, because of their relative permanence as a surplus, these populations are also different from the industrial reserve army of labor that Marx and Engels wrote extensively about in the nineteenth century. Yet, Marxs general theory and critique of capitalism as laid out in his mature works (ie the three volumes of Capital and Grundrisse; Marx 1990 [1867], 1991 [1894], 1993 [1857]) is still applicable to understanding and critiquing the way in which contemporary capitalism functions to create a permanent surplus population excreted from the capitalist system.3 Those who still have access to wage labor are also embedded in a logic of disposability. The body of the laborer is used up or wasted at accelerated rates in order to secure the most profit. Those who have work could easily be disposed of and end up as part of the permanent surplus population as well. Scholars across a wide range of disciplines have theorized that humans take on the form of waste in contemporary capitalist society. Yet, as I will explain in more detail below, many of these theories fail to grasp the historical specificity of capitalism and the fundamental social categories that constitute the capitalist mode of production that allow for the theoretical leap to the human-as-waste. This paper advances the argument that examining the contemporary phenomena of a rising permanent surplus population within the context of waste as a concept allows for an immanent critique of capitalism that enables a productive discussion of its non-sustainability. The argument that the human takes on the form of waste in contemporary capitalism also permits a broadening of traditional definitions of waste. Traditionally, environmental scholars across disciplinary and theoretical fields speak of waste as something produced physically or socially by humans. Waste is thus understood as that which is other than the human. Likewise, many environmental scholars studying the concept of waste tend toward an analysis of capitalism that is limited to consumption or distribution. Thus, they fail to see capitalism as a mode of production that determines both consumption and distribution. As a result, these theories on waste are limited in their ability to make the theoretical leap to the human, itself, as a waste product within capitalism.
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By contrast, a Marxian analysis considers that the human-as-waste is rooted in the fundamental logic of the capitalist mode of production that produces waste as an inherent by-product in the course of its reproduction. In closely examining what fundamentally constitutes capitalism, a theoretical position can be advanced that denatures waste and opens it up to a more comprehensive mode of scrutiny. In theorizing waste as an essential element of capitalist production, waste is no longer merely an object or result of production. By relocating waste as necessary to capitalist production itself, more complex questions about both the nature of capitalist production and what is constituted as waste become necessary. Intrinsic to capitalisms generation of objective waste is the logical necessity of wasting human lives. For labor is only one of the objective factors of production and is, like any of its factors, expendable if its expenditure bolsters a rate of profit. These two modalities of by-productthe redundant worker and the residuals from the production process itselfdemonstrate the necessary relation between the generation of (surplus) value and the generation of surplus populations (as a form of waste). I will begin my paper by pointing to scholarship that examines waste within capitalist contexts in terms of the particularities of its objective forms, for example, waste generated through consumption, distribution, or excretion. I argue that by focusing on consumption, distribution, and excretion, these theories fail to grasp capitalism as a totalizing mode of production that mediates and determines the processes of consumption, distribution, and excretion. I then examine scholarship that makes the connection between waste and humans. While much of this scholarship is astute in the observation that humans are wasted under capitalism in comparable fashion to natural resources, much of this literature, similar to that on objective waste, fails to engage in a production-level theoretical standpoint that allows for the theoretical leap to the human as waste. Next, I advance a productionlevel theoretical standpoint that examines how the fundamental social categories of capitalism (ie value, labor, the commodity form, and capital) mediate and determine what is historically specific about capitalism that allows for the categorical leap to the human as waste. I also discuss how waste, both in human and objective form, is embedded in the contradictions of the fundamental social categories of capitalism, and in value in particular. I end with a brief discussion of how waste reveals the contradictions embedded in the fundamental social categories of capitalism, and points toward an immanent critique of capitalism.

On Waste: From the Objective to the Historically Specific


Many scholars who examine waste draw on concepts of distancing and separation. Exemplified by the proverb out of sight, out of
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mind, this approach foregrounds the separation between production and consumption as well as consumption and excretion. Consumers (who also function as labor) are generally unaware of where products consumed come from, who made them, under what conditions they were made, and the ecological impact (waste byproducts) of the production process, both on the environment and also on human health. Similarly, consumers generally have a reified consciousness around post-consumer waste, that is, where garbage goes and who is affected. Garbologists William Rathje and Cullen Murphy write of this out of sight, out of mind mentality in the United States.
People put their garbage in the garbage can under the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, in the den, and then someone collects it all and takes it out. The garbage that is taken out is eventually left at the curb or in the alley, and very soon it is gone. All of this garbage is quickly replaced by other garbage. Garbage passes under eyes virtually unnoticed, the continual turnover inhibiting perception. One of the handful of things that every American does every daythrow garbage awayis among the least likely of all acts to register. The clich e about garbage we have all heard is: Out of sight, out of mind. Yet even when its in sight garbage somehow manages to remain out of mind. That individual failure to perceive has its counterpart in American society at large (Rathje and Murphy 2001:4546)

While scholars are adept at revealing the reified and fragmented appearance of contemporary capitalist society (ie the appearance of a separation between production, consumption and excretion), what is missing from this scholarship is the historical specificity of the capitalist mode of production: that capitalism is, in reality if not in appearance, characterized by a greater unity of production, consumption, and excretion. Under capitalism the latter processes (ie consumption and excretion) become subordinated to and mediated by the former through production for productions sake. Yet many scholars study waste and the process of excretion as an isolated process, somehow separate from the unity of the capitalist mode of production that produces and perpetuates environmental degradation. Even the scholarship that advances an argument linking waste, environmental degradation, and capitalism still fails to theorize what is historically specific about capitalism. Many scholars have a tendency to define capitalism as a mode of consumption, failing to see how capitalism is characterized by a greater unity of production and consumption, where consumption is subsumed to and mediated by production. For example, Jennifer Clapp argues that waste is typically examined from the standpoint of production, specifically citing production as industrial waste-management policies such as prevention and minimization, source reduction, better waste treatment,
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and enhancement of recycling opportunities (2002:156). Clapp goes on to critique this standpoint of production, arguing that, Through a production lens, the issue is not one of too muchthat is, too many items consumed per person, or just too much consuming in the production process. Instead the focus is on how to manage waste (2002:156; italics in original). Clapp argues for studying waste through a consumption lens as a way of call[ing] attention to the contribution of consuming to the generation and distribution of waste (2002:157). More specifically, she proposes that studying waste through a consumption lens will educate consumers about their waste footprints and diminish the waste distancing effect, which she defines as the mentally and geographical distancing of waste in such a way that makes people unaware of the ecological and social impact of their consumption habits. While Clapp is correct in assessing that much of the waste crisis literature focuses on management, I would hardly argue that this literature is focused at the level of production. Rather, much of this literature either emphasizes excretion as an isolated process, or offers the sort of consumption-level analysis that Clapp favors. It is problematic, then, that in mis-identifying waste management literature as coming from the standpoint of production, Clapp dismisses what an actual production-level analysis might look like. Furthermore, in advocating for a consumption-based analysis, she fails to see how consumption is subsumed to and mediated by production. She assumes instead that reducing consumption, or insisting on ecologically friendly products, will ultimately result in capitalism producing less or in ecologically friendly fashion. Historians Susan Strasser (1999) and Martin Melosi (2001) both argue that the quality and quantity of contemporary garbage is historically specific to industrial capitalism. Yet, after acknowledging this, Strasser goes on to characterize capitalism as a mode of consumption, arguing that the qualitative and quantitative shift in garbage from the precapitalist to industrial-capitalist United States is caused by a consumer culture centered around disposability. Melosi goes on to look at garbage policy and issues of distribution that include where waste gets sited. While Strasser and Melosi do examine the historically specific conditions of waste (in regard to consumption and distribution), they overlook the historically specific character of capitalism as a mode of production, which might be the foundational cause for the generation of waste in capitalism. Even Marxist scholars studying waste and environmental degradation tend toward a reified theorization of capitalism. Moishe Postone argues that traditional Marxists have a tendency to define capitalism as a mode of distribution centered on property relations and the market, but that this fails to grasp capitalism in its totality as a mode of production. Much green Marxism also ends up greening the basic
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presuppositions of traditional Marxism. For example, John Bellamy Foster defines capitalism as the institution of private property, and the alienation of labor as constituted by the separation of the proletariat from the land, while Fosters definition of communism is nothing other than the positive abolition of private property, by means of association (2000:79). In subscribing to these traditional Marxist notions of capitalism and communism, Foster fails to address what is historically specific about the alienation of labor in capitalismnamely, that labor in capitalism is value-producing. In making connections between the alienation of labor and the alienation of nature, Foster fails to address how value as the dominant form of social wealth mediates the dominant social relations in capitalism to (re)produce both relational forms of alienation. Most of these theories define waste objectively, in terms described by Jennifer Clapp as pre-consumer and post-consumer: pre-consumer waste is associated with production, such as pollution and toxic industrial chemicals, while post-consumer waste is associated with garbage, or the kind of postconsumer waste that cannot be reused or composted (2002:160). Yet, in failing to engage in a productionlevel theoretical standpoint, these kinds of excretion, consumption, and distribution-oriented theoretical standpoints critiquing waste within capitalism are incapable of examining how the fundamental social categories of capitalism (ie value, the commodity form, capital), mediate and determine what is historically specific about waste in capitalism. Furthermore, these theories do not allow for the categorical leap to the human as a waste product within the capitalist mode of production.

On Humans as Waste: From Identity to Labor


There are many scholars across disciplinary fields who have attempted the connection between waste and the human in capitalism. Yet, similar to scholars who examine waste in its objective form, much of this scholarship fails to engage in the kind of production-level theoretical standpoint that allows for the categorical leap to the humanas-waste. Furthermore, many social theorists have observed that certain social classes, for example factory workers, the homeless, and prison populations, are represented as a kind of social waste.4 In focusing on social class as a function of identity (race, gender, or class), these scholars shift attention away from how waste, and the human-as-waste in particular, are embedded in the historically specific social categories that are fundamental to capitalism. Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L Hunter Lovins (1999) advance an argument in favor of green capitalism that claims changes can be made to the environmentally destructive and waste-producing
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aspect of capitalism through re-valuing nature as well as industrial and individual consumption of ecologically friendly technologies, without fundamentally changing what constitutes the capitalist mode of production (ie profit). Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins argument, in failing to critique the fundamental social categories that constitute the capitalist mode of production (ie value, labor, the commodity form, and capital), advance an argument similar to the kind of consumption-level arguments made by scholars like Jennifer Clapp. Hawken, Lovins and Lovins fail to see how the environmentally destructive and waste-producing aspects of capitalism are inherent to the way capitalism functions as a mode of production, for the purposes of profit. In capitalism, nature is the use-value that embodies labor power, the actual source of profit. Natural resources then are extracted, processed, and commodified for the purpose of embodying and realizing profit, and not necessarily for the valuing of nature as nature. As a fundamental aspect of the role of nature in capitalism, nature cannot be revalued without a fundamental shift in the mode of production. Thus, changing the environmentally destructive and waste-producing aspects of capitalism is not as simple as consuming ecologically friendly technologies. Rather, it is necessary to proceed through critiquing (and ultimately abolishing) the social categories that constitute capitalism as a mode of production.5 In their explication of waste in capitalism, Hawken, Lovins and Lovins do, however, define waste as both objective and inclusive of peoples lives. In their brief summary of the human-as-waste, they include the 1 billion plus people in the third world who function as a permanent surplus population, as well as workers, prison populations, and the unemployed in overdeveloped countries. While Hawken, Lovins and Lovins are astute in their observation that humans, much like natural resources, are wasted in capitalism, in failing to engage in a production-level theoretical analysis that examines what is historically specific about waste in capitalism, they are unable to transform their observation into a deeper theoretical investigation that explains how this is so. Melissa Wright argues that Mexican and Chinese women workers are framed as disposableas wasteby factory managers, supervisors, and engineers. In her book Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism, she refers to this phenomenon as the myth of the disposable third world woman. Wright correctly observes that disposability is an ideological and discursive tool used to frame factory workers, many of whom are women, in the third world. Yet Wrights framework of myth seems to mystify how the disposability of workers is not just grounded in ideology and discourse. Rather, third world women factory workers as the embodiment of labor confronting capital are, in material reality, disposable, and this disposability is grounded in the historically specific
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logic of capitalism that hires and fires workers as needed in order to further capital accumulation and profit-making.6 Despite the framing of disposability as a myth, Wrights usage of waste as a metaphor to define the working conditions of the third world female worker is a valuable contribution to a theory of the human-aswaste. In particular, Wright argues that the myth of the third world woman tells a story: the valuation of capital is simultaneously a devaluation (a wasting away) of the third world woman worker, as the worker transfers her value into the commodities she produces. Wright describes the way in which Mexican and Chinese female workers develop repetitive stress injuries and other work-related illnesses, as the corporations for which they labor require them to put together as many products as possible in a short time period (for example, they are required to assemble from 7 to 11 parts in a circuit board in 22 seconds). In this respect, Wright describes how the wasting away of workers bodies is necessary for capital to accumulate as much profit as possible. However, instead of following through with a Marxian theoretical framework to fully elaborate on how capitalism functions to waste the human (as labor) discursively, and in material reality, Wright shifts to a feminist post-structural theoretical framework that mystifies the dominant social categories that fundamentally constitute capitalism, and value in particular. Following post-structural feminism, Wright defines value as something intrinsic to the individual worker that can be valued or devalued by the configuration of the individual workers concrete form of labor. Thus, Wright argues that the value of female workers labor, much of which is devoted to electronic assembly, is devalued; while the labor of male technical workers, much of which is devoted to the assembly of the electronic parts into a finished or nearly finished product, is increasingly valued. As I will elaborate in more detail below, in contrast to the post-structural definition, Marx envisioned value as the dominant form of social wealth and a social category that mediates and determines the dominant form of social relations in capitalism. In Marxs definition of value, social designates the totality of capitalism. Value, according to Marx, designates what labor produces at the level of the mode of production (or social totality), and not necessarily as a designation for what is embodied or produced by individual workers. In emphasizing post-structuralism, much of Wrights theoretical argument becomes grounded in an analysis of the very identity politics (eg class in particular, but also race and gender as a function of identity), that she critiques in her works Introduction, rather than the Marxian concept of labor.7 Wright fails to fully examine what she initially identifies as fundamentally constituting capitalism (eg labor as value producing), and how the capitalist logic of human disposability is rooted in the fundamental social categories of capitalism, and in value in particular.
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Wrights theory, then, ends up subscribing to a kind of reformism, where the logic of human disposability can be resisted through changes within the current system. Yet changing the nature of how, for example, third world women factory workers are disposable, is not just about modifying ideology or reframing discourse. Nor is it about changing the way in which labor is consumed by capital, so that labor could be consumed in a less exploitative (or more ecologically friendly) fashion. It is about making fundamental changes at the level of the mode of production: shifting away from what fundamentally constitutes capitalism to another mode of production, so that individuals are no longer disposable by the system. Zygmunt Bauman (2004) argues that certain social classes of the human become waste as an outcome of the modernizing process. Bauman argues that a main part of the colonizing process in early capitalism was the displacing of wasted humans from capitalist spaces to non-capitalist ones. In a global world of capitalism, where capital has spatially expanded across the globe and there are no longer places not dominated by capitalist relations, there are no longer any non-capitalist spaces left in which to displace the objective waste and wasted humans produced by capitalism. Hence, Bauman argues that there are cultural anxieties around security (terrorism) and immigration.8 Similar to Bauman, Vinay Gidwanis essay (2011), included in this collection, examines how India has engaged in a politics of waste management and disposal throughout various capitalist historical moments. Gidwani argues that this politics of waste management and disposal has most recently taken on the form of what he calls eviscerating urbanization, one significant factor of which is the cleaning up and removal (management and disposal) of slums and slum residents. In this sense, the argument being advanced in this paper overlaps with the basic theoretical model of the human-as-waste as advanced by Bauman and as interpreted by Gidwani within the context of contemporary urban India. Yet, Bauman and Gidwanis theories extensively emphasize (much like theories on objective waste) waste disposal and management. In particular, Baumans theory of the human-as-waste seemingly emphasizes excretion, albeit that of the human, as either an isolated process or as an outcome of consumerism. However, the terms of Baumans analysis and his emphasis on waste disposal and management seem also to suggest a distribution-level theoretical standpoint rather than a theorizing of capitalism as a mode of production. Thus, Bauman fails to ground the modernizing process, and waste as outcome of this process, theoretically, in the capitalist system in which it is properly embedded.

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The Labor Theory of Value and the Dis-accumulation of Capital


What these theories of waste do not address is how the fundamental social categories of capitalism (ie value, labor, the commodity form, and capital), mediate and determine what is historically specific about capitalism that allows for the categorical leap to the human-as-waste. In this respect, Marxs general theory and critique of capitalism as laid out in his mature works is applicable to understanding and critiquing the way in which contemporary capitalism functions to waste humans. Marx defines production as based upon the unique configuration of the social relations in a particular society, in a particular historical moment. In our societys contemporary historical moment, with its capitalist mode of production, value is both the dominant form of social wealth and the dominant social category that mediates social relations. That the capitalist mode of production produces objective waste and waste in human form is rooted in value as the form and content of social wealth and social relations in capitalism. In his mature works, Marx clearly defines value and provides the basis for a theory of value, which he calls the labor theory of value. Here labor is not a function of identity (ie class politics), but the Marxian concept of labor that allows for an elucidation of how the social category value mediates and determines the dominant social relations in capitalism.9 Under capitalism, labor takes on the form of a commodity. Thus, like other commodities on the market, labor is consumed (in this instance, by capital) and can then be disposed of when no longer needed. Yet, labor in capitalism is also a commodity unlike other commodities; it is unique in its ability to produce value. Value, then, is the unique configuration of social wealth and social relations in capitalism. As a form of social wealth, value is rooted in labor, produced through the expenditure of labor power (or the consumption of labor power by capital). Value also has a temporal dimension as the abstract yet fundamental social category of capitalism that represents the expenditure of labor time. Furthermore, capital accumulation is predicated upon the realization of surplus value: the representation of the surplus time extracted from labor in order to procure a profit. The value form, for Marx, then, as Postone writes, is at the very heart of capitalist society. As a category of the fundamental social relations that constitute capitalism, value expresses that which is, and remains, the basic foundation of capitalist production (1993:25). Thus, labor in capitalism as value-producing is fundamental to the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production. The contradiction here is that waste in human form conflicts with capitals internal drive for ever increasing value, which can only be produced by and extracted from human labor.10

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This contradictionon the one hand, the disposability of labor (humans) and, on the other hand, labor (humans) as fundamental to the reproduction of capitalismis rooted in the very dynamic of the capitalist mode of production, based on value as the dominant form of social wealth, specifically as capitalism develops historically to extract and produce as much value as possible, and the foundation for the accumulation of capital. In the initial stages of capitalist development, the expansion of the capitalist production process and increased accumulation of capital (profit) involved a shift from cooperation and manufacture, and then from manufacture to large-scale industry. Now that capital has reached the current stage of largescale industry, increases in profit (and the extraction of surplus value) occur mainly through increasing the productivity of labor. Increasing the productivity of labor is marked extensively by the introduction of machinery into the production process, which strives to reduce necessary labor time to a minimum (through the production of more use-values that then lower the value of the commodities necessary for subsistence). While the introduction of machinery holds the possibility of lightening the workload of the workers, machinery also functions to increase the intensity of those still working for capital, without regard for the workers health. Thus, as Marx argues, workers waste their lives laboring for capital at the expense of their health as well as for the artistic and intellectual capabilities that could be useful to society.11 Simultaneously, the introduction of machinery correlates to a decrease in necessary labor, which corresponds to the number of workers necessary for capital to extract a surplus (profit). Thus, increases in the productivity of labor through the introduction of machinery in large-scale industry increasingly render a large and growing portion of the working population superfluous; humans relegated as the waste necessary for continued capital accumulation.12 As production processes become more efficient, less labor is needed relative to the totality of labor. Thus, the wasting of the lives of workers is dependent upon a certain portion of formerly active labor being made into a kind of waste excreted from the system of production and wages; hence, also from capitalist markets and exchange. Marx refers to this process as the general law of capital accumulation, where increasing capital accumulation relies on an ever increasing surplus population. Yet, as capital accumulates, the quantity of labor necessary for continued capital accumulation diminishes. Marx refers to this latter process as the capitalist law of population. Marx writes, The working population therefore produces both accumulation of capital and the means by which it is itself made relatively superfluous; and it does this to an extent which is always increasing. This is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production (Marx 1990 [1867]:783784).
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Marx argued that surplus populations are necessary for continued capital accumulation, hence the production of an ever increasing permanent surplus population of millions, if not billions (Larsen 1997). Yet, more recent Marxist scholars, particularly the Wertkritik School in Germany and Neil Larsen in the United States, point to the ever increasing crisis and dis-accumulation of capital. Within the context of current levels of intensified productivity, capital cannot continue to perpetuate itself if it is simultaneously excreting human labor, the producer of its dominant form of social wealth, value. While capital may still be extracting and producing value that is profitable, the accumulation process does not occur in the perpetually increasing fashion that capital desires to reproduce itself. Following the argument of German scholar Robert Kurz, Neil Larsen writes that:
Such enormously enhanced productivity, that is, leads not only to a classic crisis of over-production in which existing world markets are unable to absorb the increased flow of commodities, but to a general crisis of social reproduction in which the labor power of millions, if not billions of newly proletarianized residents of the South and East become superfluous to the economic needs of capital . . . Efforts to initiate a rapid process of primitive accumulation of capital, whether made under the banner of Soviet-style socialism or third worldist national liberationthe revolutionary drive to what Kurz terms a recuperative modernizationcould not but ultimately come to grief, since the level attained by the enormous stocks of capital in the West, a level presupposed if any further growth is to result, is no longer attainablewithin the existing commodity logicin other regions of the world (Larsen 1997).13

Value and Objective Waste


The logic of disposability contributing to the contemporary mass quantity of objective waste is also embedded in the contradictions of the fundamental social categories of capitalism, with value in particular as the dominant form of social wealth.14 As already stated, the growth in the productivity of labor occurs through the introduction of machinery, which then generates an excessive increase in material wealth, which is necessary for the increasing reduction of necessary labor (through the cheapening of commodities necessary for the workers subsistence), so as to extract more surplus labor (surplus value/profit). As capitalism historically develops in large-scale industry, increasing material wealth becomes the main form of increasing capital accumulation. Despite the increased production of material wealth, value (as determined by socially necessary labor time) still remains the determining form of social wealth and social relations in capitalist society. This contradiction between value as the dominant form of social wealth in capitalism and
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material wealth as the desired form of social wealth creates a crisis of overproduction that results in an excess of products that need to be purchased for the value contained within each product to be realized.15 Thus, a shift to a consumer society dominated by an ideological and material investment in disposability, throwing away, and consumption becomes necessary for continued capital accumulation. Furthermore, once the value of a commodity is realized through its purchase (ie the realization of profit), capital no longer cares what happens to that item. It is indifferent to the spatiality of that item, or its effect on the physical environment (namely the social and ecological impacts of postconsumer waste and waste disposal practices, understood predominantly as landfills and incineration, both of which have their negative ecological and social impacts).16 Additionally, due to the size of the means of production (eg large-scale industry), capital lays waste to the environment through the extraction of massive amounts of natural resources, which are extracted not to meet the needs of society, but for profit. It likewise generates a massive quantity of waste products (that then get sited back into the earth through landfills, as the dominant method of waste management). Because such a massive amount of waste is generated, capital could re-incorporate this waste product back into the processes of production to save on the expense of extracting and/or purchasing raw materials. Yet, despite access to the technologies necessary for the recycling of waste back into production, there is still a massive amount of waste produced that is incapable (or refused by capital as capable) of being re-used, (especially as a certain amount of waste is expected to be a socially necessary part of production, ie an average amount of waste generated given the average technological and human capabilities in industry).17

Immanent Critique and the Overcoming of (Limits to) Capitalism


Marx argued that the overcoming of capitalism would occur through the contradictions embedded within the dominant social categories of capitalism, or within the internal logic of capital itself. For example, in one passage from Capital volume I, Marx writes:
By maturing the material conditions and the social combination of the process of production, it matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of that process, and thereby ripens both the elements for forming a new society and the forces tending towards the overthrow of the old one (1990 [1867]:635).

Following Marx, Postone argues for an immanent critique of capitalism, which locates itself as internal to capitalism, the object of investigation. The social categories (ie value, labor, the commodity,
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and capital) that grasp the object of study, capitalism, are by their nature inherently structured from within the context of that object. An immanent critique finds hope for another, more egalitarian mode of production from within the capitalist social categories; it sees the contradictions embodied within these social categories as possibly pointing towards resolution in another social formation.18 Waste is one of the products of the contradictions embedded within value as the dominant form of social wealth and social category that mediates social relations in capitalism. Waste also reveals how these contradictions point to the non-sustainability of capitalism, to the natural and historical limits of capital, and toward capitalisms overcoming. On the one hand, how can capital produce use-values (to embody value) if it has laid waste to the environment and natural resources necessary for production? On the other hand, how can capital continue to accumulate, as mediated through the production of value (the dominant form of social wealth in capitalism), if it has rendered labor superfluous, and excreted human labor from the production process? In striving for its own limitless (profit) accumulation, capital drives toward its own natural and historical limits.19

Acknowledgements
Thank you to: Heidi Nast, who invested a great deal of energy and effort into putting this special issue together, and for her generous support of my paper and the larger project in which this paper is embedded; Nicholas Diehl, Kristin Koster and Margareta Lelea who read and gave feedback on several drafts of this paper; and Neil Larsen, who, in addition to reading drafts, pointed out to me the idea of the dis-accumulation of capital. I also benefited from presenting a version of this paper at the 2009 Association for American Geographers Annual Meeting and the 2009 Interdisciplinary Marxist Working Group conference.

Endnotes
1 2

See also Davis (2006). Some scholars might take issue with the usage of the word excreted here. How can the permanent surplus population be excreted from the capitalist system if it has not been consumed as labor? Yet, excreted is used in this paper to illuminate the way in which labor as a totality (as opposed to individual workers) is increasingly expendable as an inherent functioning of the capitalist mode of production. 3 Many scholars argue for the contemporary relevance of Marxs general theory and critique of capitalism, most significantly David Harvey. See also Postone (1993). 4 For example, Kevin Lynch (1991) notes that humans who live on the margins of society, such as the homeless who often also live in or off waste-littered environments, are categorized as a kind of social waste. 5 For more on the role of nature in capitalism, see a variety of green Marxist scholarship, including Burkett (1999) and Foster (2000).
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This sort of disposability, where workers could be hired and fired at any time to meet the demands of capital accumulation, is how Marx defined the industrial reserve army of labor. See Marx (1990 [1867]:784785). 7 Focusing on race, class, and gender inequality is not an uncommon theoretical thread through much of the literature theorizing the human-as-waste. In contrast, Heather Merrills essay included in this collection advances a Marxian argument that grounds racial politics in the dynamic of capital accumulation. Using Italy as an example, Merrill argues that capital functions in such a way to exploit racial differences. In Italy, racialized immigrant populations often function as the reserve army of (surplus) labor, hired and fired for the benefit of the profit-making processes of Italian corporations, as well as used by capital to lower wages and working conditions of Italian-based labor more broadly. 8 See also Merrill (2011), in this collection, regarding cultural anxieties around immigration in Italy. 9 For this section, Postone (1993) was most helpful in elucidating Marxs general theory and critique of capitalism as advanced in his mature works, ie the three volumes of Capital and Grundrisse. 10 Neil Larsen writes, The contemporary history of really existing globalization, however, presents us with a new reality in which the commodification of labor in much of the postcolonial world is nearly simultaneous with its becoming unemployable for capital. If Kurz and others are right, and the continued accumulation of capital and valorization of capital now rests on levels of labor productivity (and an organic composition of capital) so elevated as to render superfluousunexploitablethe labor power of all but a dwindling number of individual laborers, then what comes into view is a dialectic in which labor bursts through its abstract form as labor power only to become, so to speak, a subject alongside the commodity fetish, not (or not yet) in place of it. The commodification of labor continues to operate as simultaneously, its socialization, but within the new terms set by the globalized society that also simultaneously de-socializes a constantly increasing number of its members. This is the world inhabited, in Kurzs phrase, by Geldsubjekten ohne Geld [monetary subjects without money], on impending sekundar Barbarei, a world envisioned by the Manifesto as a scarcely thinkable common ruin of the contending classes (2001:73). 11 Marx writes in Capital volume III that any expenditure to protect the health and safety of the workers would be a senseless and purposeless waste (1991 [1894]:180). Marx further writes that, Yet for all its stinginess, capitalist production is thoroughly wasteful with human material, just as its way of distributing its product through trade, and its manner of competition, make it very wasteful of material resources, so that it loses for society what it gains for the individual capitalist (1991 [1894]:180). He also writes that, Yet [capitalism] squanders human beings, living labor, more readily than does any other mode of production, squandering not only flesh and blood, but nerves and brain as well. In fact, it is only through the most tremendous waste of individual development that the development of humanity in general is secured and pursued, in that epoch of history that directly precedes the conscious reconstruction of human society. Since the whole of the economizing we are discussing here arises from the social character of labor, it is in fact precisely this directly social character of labor that produces this waste of the workers life and health (1991]1894]:182). For a more contemporary description of the wasting of workers lives, see also Wright (2006). 12 As Marx writes in Capital volume I, It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to extort a given quantity of labor out of a smaller rather than a greater number of workers, if the cost is about the same (1990 [1867]:788). He further writes that, If the means of production, as they increase in extent and effective power, become to a lesser extent means for employing workers, this relation is itself in turn modified by the fact that in proportion as the productivity of labour increases, capital increases its supply of labour
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more quickly than its demand for workers. The over-work of the employed part of the working class swells the ranks of its reserve, while conversely, the greater pressure that the reserve by its competition exerts on the employed workers forces them to submit to over-work and subjects them to the dictates of capital. The condemnation of one part of the working class to enforced idleness by the over-work of the other part, and vice versa, becomes a means of enriching the individual capitalists, and accelerates at the same time the production of the industrial reserve army on a scale corresponding with the progress of social accumulation (1990 [1867]:789790). 13 Larsen cites Kurz, Robert (1991) Der Kollaps der Modernisierung: Vom Zusammenbruch des Kasernsozialismus zur Krise der Weltokonomie. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn Verlag, pp 198199. 14 The mass quantity of waste produced in capitalism has been well documented. See, for example, Royte (2005). 15 On the contradiction between material wealth and value in contemporary large-scale industry, see Postone (1993). 16 See Martin Melosi (2001) for a historical perspective on waste management practices in the United States. See David Pellow (2002) and Julie Sze (2007) for an environmental justice perspective on waste disposal in the United States. 17 A special report on waste in The Economist notes that recycling is often too expensive and not profitable enough, particularly with certain waste materials. For example, recycling aluminum is more cost effective, because bauxite is particularly expensive to extract as a natural resource. However, glass is more effective to extract as a natural resource than to recycle. The point here is that capital is motivated by profit (and dominated by value as the dominant form of social wealth) and not necessarily by the good of society or the environment. 18 See Postone (1993:8790) for a more elaborate discussion of immanent critique. 19 Albeit waste is not the only way in which the contradictions of capitalism are revealed, eg financial crises are yet another way.

References
Bauman Z (2004) Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcomes. Cambridge: Polity Burkett P (1999) Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective. New York: St Martins Press. Clapp J (2002) The distancing of waste: Overconsumption in a global economy. In T Princen, M Maniates and K Conca (eds) Confronting Consumption (pp 155176). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Davis M (2004) The urbanization of empire: Megacities and the laws of chaos. Social Text 22(4):915 Davis M (2006) Planet of Slums. New York: Verso Foster J B (2000) Marxs Ecology: Materialism and Nature. New York: Monthly Review Press Gidwani V (2011) The afterlives of waste: Notes from India for a minor history of capitalist surplus. Antipode this issue Hawken P, Lovins A and Lovins L H (1999) Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. New York: Little, Brown, and Company Larsen N (1997) Poverties of nation: The ends of the Earth, monetary subjects without money and postcolonial theory. Cultural Logic 1(1). http://clogic.eserver.org (last accessed 10 March 2010) Larsen N (2001) Determinations: Essays on Theory, Narrative, and Nation in the Americas. New York: Verso Lynch K (1991) Wasting Away. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books
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Marx K (1990 [1867]) Capital, Vol I. New York: Penguin Marx K (1991 [1894]) Capital, Vol III. New York: Penguin Marx K (1993 [1857]) Grundrisse. New York: Penguin Melosi M (2001) Effluent America: Cities, Industry, Energy, and the Environment. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press Merrill H (2011) Migration and surplus populations: Race and deindustrialization in northern Italy. Antipode this issue Pellow D (2002) Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental; Justice in Chicago. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Postone M (1993) Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marxs Critical Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Rathje W and Murphy C (2001) Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press Royte E (2005) Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. New York: Little, Brown, and Company Strasser S (1999) Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash. New York: Owl Books Sze J (2007) Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press The Economist. (2009) A special report on waste. 28 February8 March Wright M W (2006) Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism. New York: Routledge

C 2011 The Author Antipode C 2011 Editorial Board of Antipode.