I read Gayatri Spivak's "Scatttered Speculations on the Question of Value" (Diacritics, Winter 1985, pp. 73-92) as an exercise in indeterminate (rather than dialectical) materialism. That is, I take her project in the article as one of demonstrating the possibility of a materialism that is indeterminate, open for transformation, contestation, and resignification. The steps in the argument include exposing moments of openness and indeterminacy in the representation of relations between labor, value, money, and capital (and hence the openness of what might have seemed one of the most determining of Marxian concepts) and showing the way oppositions between economy and culture don't work (and hence the falseness of idealist or culturalist attacks on economic determinism). The argument also employs a "materialist predication of the subject" as part of its overall conceptual apparatus. My questions concern the way that this concept of the subject fits within indeterminate materialism more broadly.
First, regarding the definition of Value in Marx: Spivak emphasizes (77) that in the chain from labor to capital, Value appears not simply as a representation of labor but also as a differential. For Spivak, this is the "subtle openended at the origin of the economic chain." I take this to mean that labor could have been configured otherwise, that it might have been differently linked to value (or not linked at all) and hence that the presumption of a continuous unified chain occludes relations and practices of domination and exclusion that are irreducible to the economy but part of what we might think of as culture. So the relations between the elements in the chain (labor, value, money, capital) are indeterminate. Spivak writes on 78: "I am suggesting that Marx indicates the possibility of an indeterminacy rather than only a contradiction at each of these moments constitutive of the chain."
Second, Spivak moves to so-called primitive accumulation. Here the point seems akin to something like "retroactive determination" wherein the system (capital logic) gives birth to itself (capital). Spivak views this point as the emergence of the predication of the subject as labor power. The expropriation of the means of subsistence from peasants and artisans compels them to sell their labor power; "Capital consumes the use-value of labor" (rather than relying simply on the circulation of exchange values, say).
A question here: is it possible that in what I've described as the second move, Spivak introduces as a matter of history the determination that she eliminates in her 'textual' reading of the chain of value? I raise this question not as a critique at all: my worry is that the emphasis on indeterminacy potential erases precisely that element of economic determinacy that I find crucial to any material analysis. Without some element of determination, one slides back into idealism. Hence, it makes sense to me to read this aspect of the discussion as "retroactive determination"--it could have gone otherwise, but it didn't.
Third, Spivak considers further accelerations in Capital--technologization and financialization. Two aspects of this discussion seem important: time and a new split between what we might call the primitive and the postmodern. Speed ups entail changes in relations between work and consciousness such that circulation occurs at the speed of thought (and faster...). This pushes technology, innovation, obsolescence, consumption--but, in ways generally limited to those technologically privileged such that those in the so-called Third World are increasingly exploited in ever more horrific ways. Thus, we are left with a combination of post and pre-modern or technology and barbarism: "the post-modern ... reproduces the 'premodern' on another scene" (86).
As I understand the discussion of economic reductionism that follows (one that seems primarily to indicate the limits of digital enthusiasism in the eighties and the too-often ignored context of this enthusiasm within a global economy), Spivak aims to retain the labor theory of value. Thus, she wants to demonstrate the continued importance of the concept against those Marxist economists who try to jettison it. And, she wants to keep the labor theory of value in all the indeterminacy she introduced at the beginning. Thus, she urges that the implications of the theory of value cannot be fully realized and must be postponed. And, as I see it, this openness is the space in which the political subject operates (not on the basis of or according to a theory, but in the gaps necessary to any theorization).
A question here: but what makes the subject materialist or, to use Spivak's language, why are we working with a materialist predication of the subject or why is a materialist predication of the subject necessarily a predication linked to labor power? It seems that we have come quite far from such a materialist predication, particularly with regard to the changes associated with technology. Spivak suggests (91) at this point, that such a predication is really just a metonymic substitution for the subject. If so, then the possibility is open for a different account of the subject, perhaps in terms of the lack, gap, or irreducibility between the idealist and materialist predications. (I say the possibility is open here because Spivak draws from Lacan at this point). If one considers the subject at this point as a subject of lack, then one may be in a better position to consider what's at stake in the limits of any attempt to predicate the subject--and this would mean that the terms in which Spivak introduces the essay themselves are unstable and breakdown. A further implication, one that Zizek draws out, would be that materialism, properly conceived, can emphasize both economic determination and openness precisely because the material world is incomplete, non-all, and the subject is one of the names of this incompleteness.