capture + politics

  ---- by Paul Patton
  Deleuze and Guattari deny that the State is an apparatus that emerged as the result of prior conditions such as the accumulation of surplus or the emergence of private property. Instead, they argue that States have always existed and that they are in essence always mechanisms of capture. The earliest forms of State involved the capture of agricultural communities, the constitution of a milieu of interiority and the exercise of sovereign power. The ruler became 'the sole and transcendent public-property owner, the master of the surplus or stock, the organiser of large-scale works (surplus labour), the source of public functions and bureaucracy' (D&G 1987: 428). Historically the most important mechanisms of capture have been those exercised upon land and its products, upon labour and money. These correspond to Karl Marx's 'holy trinity' of the modern sources of capital accumulation, namely ground rent, profit and taxes, but they have long existed in other forms. In all cases, we find the same two key elements: the constitution of a general space of comparison and the establishment of a centre of appropriation. Together, these define the abstract machine which is expressed in the different forms of State, but also in non-state mechanisms of capture such as the capture of corporeal representation by faciality, or the capture of political reason by public opinion.
  Consider first the capture of human activity in the form of labour. Deleuze and Guattari argue that 'labour (in the strict sense) begins only with what is called surplus labour' (D&G 1987: 490). Contrary to the widespread colonial presumption that indigenous peoples were unsuited for labour, they point out that 'so-called primitive societies are not societies of shortage or subsistence due to an absence of work, but on the contrary are societies of free action and smooth space that have no use for a work-factor, anymore than they constitute a stock' (D&G 1987: 491). In these societies, productive activity proceeds under a regime of 'free action' or activity in continuous variation. Such activity only becomes labour once a standard of comparison is imposed, in the form of a definite quantity to be produced or a time to be worked. The obligation to provide taxes, tribute or surplus labour imposes such standards of comparison, thereby effecting the transformation of free action into labour.
  The same two elements are present in the conditions that enable the extraction of ground rent, which Deleuze and Guattari describe as 'the very model of an apparatus of capture' (D&G 1987: 441). From an economic point of view, the extraction of ground rent presupposes a means of comparing the productivity of different portions of land simultaneously exploited, or of comparing the productivity of the same portion successively exploited. The measurement of productivity provides a general space of comparison; a measure of qualitative differences between portions of the earth's surface which is absent from the territorial assemblage of hunter-gatherer society. Thus, 'labour and surplus labour are the apparatus of capture of activity just as the comparison of lands and the appropriation of land are the apparatus of capture of territory' (D&G 1987: 442).
  One further condition is necessary in order for ground rent to be extracted: the difference in productivity must be linked to a landowner (D&G 1987: 441). In other words, from a legal point of view, the extraction of ground rent is 'inseparable from a process of relative deterritorialization' because 'instead of people being distributed in an itinerant territory, pieces of land are distributed among people according to a common quantitative criterion' (D&G 1987: 441). The conversion of portions of the earth inhabited by so-called primitive peoples into an appropriable and exploitable resource therefore requires the establishment of a juridical centre of appropriation. The centre establishes a monopoly over what has now become land and assigns to itself the right to allocate ownership of portions of unclaimed land.
  This centre is the legal sovereign and the monopoly is the assertion of sovereignty over the territories in question. That is why the fundamental jurisprudential problem of colonisation is the manner in which the territories of the original inhabitants become transformed into a uniform space of landed property. In the colonies acquired and governed in accordance with British common law, the sovereign right of the Crown meant it had the power both to create and extinguish private rights and interests in land. In this sense, Crown land amounts to a uniform expanse of potential real property that covers the earth to the extent of the sovereign territory. It follows that, within these common-law jurisdictions, the legal imposition of sovereignty constitutes an apparatus of capture in the precise sense that Deleuze and Guattari give to this term. The imposition of sovereignty effects an instantaneous deterritorialisation of indigenous territories and their reterritorialisation as a uniform space of Crown land centred upon the figure of the sovereign.

The Deleuze dictionary. . 2010.

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