The Time of Capital and the Messianicity of Time: Marx with Benjamin
In 1978, Giorgio Agamben wrote an intriguing commentary summing up his take on revolutionary critiques of capitalism.
“The original task of a genuine revolution […] is never merely to ‘change the world’, but also – and above all – to ‘change time’. Modern political thought has concentrated its attention on history, and has not elaborated a corresponding concept of time. Even historical materialism has until now neglected to elaborate a concept of time that compares with its concept of history.”
Taking my cue from Agamben’s plea, I will argue in my paper that it is in Marx himself that we can find grounds for a materialist theory of time. Marx never wrote a chapter on “the time of capital”; however, the concept of time-as-measure is crucial to his entire theory of the value in terms of materialized, “congealed” labour. Distilling from Marx’s ‘mature’ writings on the critique of political economy my paper confronts his implicit theory of the “time of capital’ with Walter Benjamin’s late writings on messianic time as outlined in his famous theses On the Concept of History (1940). Benjamin’s messianic inversion of historical materialism addresses Marxism’s most decisive points of critique: (1) the historicization of capitalism as a socially specific and historically contingent mode of production, and (2) the conceptualization of history as a process of dynamic social forces and their struggles. As we shall see, Benjamin’s criticism of vulgar-Marxist and historicist historiography lays bare the fundamental paradox of any concept of history based upon linearity, succession, and homogeneity. Benjamin’s deeply Marxian question is: how to conceive of a historical presence which, on the one hand, constitutes its own historical horizon (that is to say, a historically specific consciousness of its epoch) and, on the other hand, locates itself within a meta- or trans-historical trajectory extrinsic to this very horizon (that is to say, capitalism itself as one epoch within Weltgeschichte, preceded by Feudalism etc.). Or, to put in different terms: how to historicize capitalism’s own mode of historicization without relying on either a teleological or a meta-historical concept of history.
1. Marx, or the Time of Capital
In Marx, we can detect at least two dimensions of temporality: a homogeneous, cyclical, and ultimately “time-less” time of capitalism and a disruptive, revolutionary opening-up of historical time. This duality is itself twofold: it can be addressed in terms of a historical process within time, that is to say, political struggles, social relations and dynamic productivity, as well as in terms of time itself as a repetitive time of capital. The same applies to the prognosticated end of capitalism: whereas for orthodox Marxism history was immanently driven by “objective” historical forces towards its communist telos (the classless society) within history, or, rather, to end pre-history and to enter history proper, critical Marxism attempted an anti-teleological, utopian or messianic blast of the horizon of history itself. To unravel these two aspects of historical temporality, I propose to differentiate between two levels of presentation: firstly, on the level of capitalism as a social formation within history; secondly, on the categorical level of capital as the production of capitalism’s own historical time. The question, however, is: how do these two levels interact?
As a starting point, I take the basic nexus of time and society. If the proverbial saying ‘time is money’ is to be taken literally, we have to examine the temporal structure of capital accumulation and labour-power in their mutual interdependency. Capital, as Marx claimed, “is not a thing, but rather a definite social relation of production, belonging to a definite historical formation of society, which is manifested in [presented by] a thing and lends this thing a specific social character.” If capital is a historically specific relation of production, how can we conceive of the temporal structure of this relation? The movement of capital is defined as the self-valorization of value, the “substance” of which is formed by congealed, “abstract” human labour. If the latter consists of “condensed” labour time devoid of any specific quality or subjectivity, how can its temporality be measured? Is there a specific “time of capital” beyond or above chronometric time? As a preliminary hypothesis, I take my cue from Heinz Dieter Kittsteiner’s ‘Hegelian-Heideggerian’ definition of the “time of capital”: “The movement of the self-valorizing substance-subject temporalizes [zeitigt] the historical time of capital.” In other words, the circular movement of capital produces an intrinsic “capital-time” which transcends the extrinsic chronometric time measured by weeks, days, and hours. As we shall later see, Moishe Postone’s path-breaking study Time, Labor, and Social Domination (1993) discovers a similar dimension of “capital-time”.
The basic question of this paper hence is: How can capital as the “automatic subject” (Capital I, 255) proceed in time while producing its own temporality? – And furthermore, to what extend can we think of time as a social relation? Unfolding this question, I will argue that a materialist subtraction of capitalism cannot merely rely on traditional concepts of temporality such as absolute Newtonian, relativist Aristotelian, or transcendental Kantian time. Since orthodox Marxism was constructed along a scientific-economist concept of time broadly based on Newtonian physics and Aristotelian ontology, it retrospectively might not be surprising that its revolutionary thought remained within the boundaries of an objectivist linear, evolutionist or historicist framework. Walter Benjamin’s late messianic Marxism might be one of the richest contributions to the question of how to blast open history without relying on a metaphysics of history – be it historicism’s implicit reference to a historical ‘God’s-eye view’ or a teleological belief in historical progress.
2. Benjamin, or the Messianicity of Time
In his thesis On the Concept of History, Benjamin rejected any utopian or evolutionist orientation towards futurity; instead, he called for a revolutionary “tiger’s leap into the past” based on a messianic stasis or standstill of history. Written in 1940, Benjamin’s theses were politically directed against vulgar-Marxism and its belief in historical progress that was irretrievably discredited after the Hitler-Stalin-Pact in 1939. For Benjamin, however, the political miscalculations made by Western European socialist and communist parties were not only derived from tactical or strategic failures but concerned their underlying historicist and progressive concepts of history. Consequently, Benjamin’s messianic Marxism tried to conceive of an alternative concept of history and temporality. He calls this alternative time Jetztzeit or Now-Time: a fulfilled or contracted time providing a model of messianic time as opposed to the repetitive, “homogenous and empty time” (GS I, 701) implied by vulgar-Marxist, historicist, or evolutionist historiography. In doing so, Benjamin enlists theology, or, more precisely, the Judaist and early Christian motif of messianic time, to blast open the historical horizon of capitalist modernity. But how are we to conceive of this theological allusion from a materialist point of view?
In the 1940 draft version [Handexemplar] of On the Concept of History, Benjamin stated a stunning résumé summing up his political take on messianic thought, Marx, Marxism, and Social democracy.
“In the idea of classless society, Marx secularized the idea of messianic time. And that was a good thing. It was only when the Social Democrats elevated this idea to an ‘ideal’ that the trouble began. […] Once the classless society had been defined as an infinite task, the empty and homogeneous time was transformed into an anteroom, so to speak, in which one could wait for the emergence of the revolutionary situation with more or less equanimity. In reality, there is not a moment that would not carry with it its revolutionary chance– provided only that it is defined in a specific way, namely as the chance for a completely new resolution of a completely new task. For the revolutionary thinker, the peculiar revolutionary chance offered by every historical moment gets its warrant from the political situation. But it is equally grounded, for this thinker, in the right of entry which the historical moment enjoys vis-a-vis a quite distinct chamber of the past, one which up to that point has been closed and locked. The entrance into this chamber coincides in a strict sense with political action, and it is by means of such entry that political action, however destructive, reveals itself as messianic.” (Thesis 17a)
As I will argue, the historical horizon of this “infinite task” is precisely the ‘spuriously infinite’ horizon of capitalist time. Against the latter, Benjamin proposes a messianic politics of urgency that is opposed to neo-Kantian idealism as well as to any secular or religious versions of Social Democracy. Consequently, Benjamin’s take on the messianic idea is neither to be confused with a theological version of Marxism nor with a Marxist adaptation of political theology; rather, he attempts to conceive of a different historical temporality suspending any linear and progressive concepts of futurity. Although Benjamin fully affirms a Marxian secularization of the idea of messianic time, he does not claim “an atheological heritage of the messianic”. Paradoxically, for Benjamin profane history can only be truly historical insofar as it maintains standing in an antithetical, unresolvable, and undecidable relation to the messianic. For “[o]nly the Messiah himself completes all history, in the sense that he alone redeems, completes, creates its relation to the Messianic.” (GS II, 203) This inaccessible relation (or a-relation) is not directed toward a utopian future but accounts for a certain constellation short-circuiting past and present as Now-Time [Jetztzeit]. This a-synchronic actualization of the past corresponds to a “weak messianic power” (GS I, 694) of past generations striving for redemption. Thus, for Benjamin history is not based on the linear, irreversible flow of “homogeneous and empty time” but on a “conception of the present as now-time shot through with [punctuated by] splinters of messianic time.” (GS I, 704)
In his interpretation of Benjamin, Slavoj Žižek stressed Benjamin’s attempt to retroactively redeem the potentialities of past failed revolutions and to actualize the still insisting – however weak – claims of the ‘undead’ of history. That is why Benjamin, in contrast to the historicism of orthodox Marxism, had to invert the traditional understanding of historical dialectic suggesting a continuous, quasi-organic flow of events. Hence, Benjamin’s anti-progressive stance is not limited to an alternative historiography but aims at a new concept of history affecting the ontological status of the past happening. History is never completed or perfect but radically imperfect and open to its retroactive modification. The task of the historiographer, therefore, ultimately coincides with the historical subject – both exposed to their unfulfilled past without being contemplatively separated from it. Following this line of interpretation, Benjamin’s criticism of progress is not limited to a critique of social democratic ideology but points to the Realprozeß of capital-history itself; that is to say, “homogenous and empty time” is not only a question of false historiography but also a question of a never closed or accomplished ontology of capital-time. In capitalism progressivist ideology has ultimately become part of reality.
3. The Aporia of Time-as-Measure
Already in The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), we can find a preliminary outline of what later might be called a Marxian ‘theory of time’.
“Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at the most the incarnation of time. Quality no longer matters. Quantity alone decides everything: hour for hour, day for day […].”
In capitalism, time appears as an alienating, negative principle systematically subordinating the human being under its laws. As a result of modern industry, man is abstracted from all of his generic faculties, abilities and potentialities and becomes the mere embodiment of an empty mechanical time. Marx’s ‘humanist’ critique of time in terms of a homogenous, quantitative and leveling principle can also be found in his later Grundrisse (1857) where he opposes the limiting forces of capitalism to the “absolute working out of creative potentialities” [“absolute Herausarbeiten seiner schöpferischen Anlagen“] (Grundrisse, 387). His succinct résumé reads: “Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself.” (Grundrisse, 89) If the economy of time becomes the organizing principle of the social order, any attempts to change the latter must also affect the constitution of time produced by a given society. Therefore, the difference between capitalism and communism is not only social but also temporal as Peter Osborne has shown. Dwelling on this Marxian opposition, he developed the following schema:
capitalism v. communism
wage labour v. free activity
alienation v. appropriation
value v. wealth
quantitative v. qualitative
homogeneous empty v. absolute movement of becoming“
As we shall see, Osborne’s instructive schema is subverted by the “mature” Marx of Capital. Already in the Grundrisse, Marx rejected a merely reductionist view of capital: “Capital is not a quantity simply, nor an operation simply; but both at the same time.” [”Das Kapital ist nicht einfache Quantität, noch einfache Operation: sondern beides zugleich.”] (Marx, Grundrisse, 519) The operation Marx is referring to consists of the self-movement of capital proceeding according to the basic formula “Money – Commodity – More-Money” (M-C-M’) as well as to the temporal operation which is implied by this movement. For the moment it is worth noting that Marx’s temporal opposition as presented by Osborne is echoed by Benjamin’s fundamental distinction between a “homogeneous and empty time” and a messianic Jetztzeit. In contrast to Benjamin and the earlier Marx, the later Marx, however, knows at least two temporal dimensions of capital. With the rise of capitalism, time becomes the expression of a social relation that is itself measured by time. Time, however, is not just a measure but expresses a social relation at once producing and limiting the creative potentialities of human productivity. In other words, the time of capital is both quantity and quality and therefore cannot be opposed symmetrically to the qualitative time of communism or free activity. To unravel this paradoxical temporality – time as measure (quantity) and time as a social relation (quality) – I will take a closer look at the temporal structure of the value and its substance.
4. Abstract Labour, or the Temporal Dimension of Value
According to Marx’s theory of the value, the commodity is the materialization or crystallization of a certain social substance: “What is the common social substance of all commodities? It is Labour. [...] And I say not only Labour, but Social Labour.” Two years later, in Capital I, he specifies this “social labour” in terms of its substance and measurement.
“How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the ‘value-creating substance’, the labour, contained in the article. The quantity of labour, however, is measured by its duration, and labour time in its turn finds its standard in weeks, days, and hours.” (Capital I, 129)
Philosophically speaking, Marx’s definition of the value as being measured by time follows the Aristotelian concept of time. In his Physics, Aristotle defines time as the measure of movement and vice versa, movement as the measure of time.
“For time is just this – number of motion in respect of ‘before’ and ‘after’.” (219b1) “Not only do we measure the movement by the time, but also the time by the movement, because they define each other. The time marks the movement, since it is its number, and the movement the time. We describe the time as much or little, measuring it by the movement, just as we know the number by what is numbered, e.g. the number of the horses by one horse as the unit.” (220b15) “Hence if a thing is in time it will be measured by time. But time will measure what is moved and what is at rest, the one qua moved, the other qua at rest; for it will measure their motion and rest respectively.” (221b16)
Being in time thus is being measured by time. The expenditure of labour-power is in time; yet, this time is measured by labour’s expending movement. Following this reversible nexus, Marx transposes the Aristotelian structure of time to the social domain: to the “value-creating substance” which becomes the socio-temporal basic-unit allowing for the measurability (commensurability) and countability (quantity) of the value. This basic-unit, however, is itself “made” of time – of social or ‘abstract labour-time’ which is not measurable in time; rather, it is the crystal of the totality of all socially expended labour measured by time. Unlike in Aristotle, abstract labour time cannot be measured by its “movement” (here: expenditure) but only retroactively by its results. These results are expressed in the register of the value since capital is indifferent to the “material” quality, the use-value aspect of the commodity. In short, from an Aristotelian perspective, abstract labour time is not “in time”.
Nevertheless, value is determined by time, a specific time, or, as Marx put it, “[s]ocially necessary labour-time” (Capital I, 129). On the one hand, the latter implies an abstract measurement, since the very idea of a socially necessary time span is already an abstraction from the multitude of concrete labour-time; the standard of this measurement is the chronometrical time counted in “weeks, days, and hours.” On the other hand, it is abstract labour itself that produces the very standard allowing for quantifiable time-units. In other words, the category of abstract labour already implies a social mode of “time-as-measure” which is not merely a concept (e.g. absolute Newtonian time) applied to a given mode of production but the very production of this standard qua abstract labour time-unit. This temporal unit is not fixed or predetermined but a historical variable resulting from what Marx called the “struggle for a normal working day”.
“What is a working day? […] [T]he working day contains the full 24 hours, with the deduction of the few hours of rest without which labour-power is absolutely incapable of renewing its services. Hence, it is self-evident that the worker is nothing other than labour-power for the duration of his whole life, and that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and by right labour-time, to be devoted to the self-valorization of capital. […] It is not the normal maintenance of labour-power which determines the limits of the working day here, but rather the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory and painful it may be, which determines the limits of the workers’ period of rest.” (Capital I, 375f.)
Labour power, as the potentiality to create more value in a given time-period than necessary to reproduce it, is not a fixed parameter since its “greatest possible daily expenditure” historically changes. This change cannot be measured by an external standard of time but is itself the historically accelerating movement of this standard, the basic unit of which is the expenditure of abstract labour-time. Since there is no labour power as such – as generic quality or pure potentia [dynamis] – abstract labour is at once effect and precondition of historically different levels of the productivity of labour power. Abstract labour is thus the bearer of an historical index that cannot be measured by chronometric time as external to the movement of the self-valorization of capital. Paradoxically, on the one hand, abstract labour remains ahistorical since it is the abstraction from all historically determined concrete labour and its temporal specification; on the other hand, the temporal ‘density’ of abstract labour retroactively changes the historical level of productivity. Yet, the level of productivity can only be determined when abstract labour is already presupposed as the condition of the possibility of quantifying concrete labour.
In order to grasp the temporal peculiarity of the ‘auto-temporalizing’ movement of labour time as quantity (measurement) and quality (social relation), we firstly have to reject any essentialist, physiologist or empiricist interpretation of abstract labour as the “value creating substance”. Value is a social relation introducing a socio-temporal register that has a material objectivity [Gegenständlichkeit] but nonetheless cannot be reduced to the sensuous-empirical sphere. Marx’s term for this “sensuous-super-sensuous” [sinnlich-übersinnlich] (MEW 23, 85) “materiality” is the oxymoronic compound Wert-gegenständlichkeit, a term imperfectly translated as the “objectivity of the value”.
“In contrast to the coarsely sensuous Gegenständlichkeit [objectivity] of the embodiment of the commodity, not one atom of matter enters into the Wertgegenständlichkeit [”value-objectivity] of the commodity. We may twist and turn a single commodity as we wish; it remains impossible to grasp it as a thing possessing value. However, let us remember that commodities possess a Wertgegenständlichkeit only in so far as they are all expressions of an identical social unit, human labour, that their Wertgegenständlichkeit is therefore purely social. From this it follows self-evidently that it can only appear in the social relation between commodity and commodity.” (Capital I, 138f.)
Therefore, abstract labour or, more precisely abstract human labour, can neither be grasped in spatial terms of sensuous materiality (quanta of simple or average labour) nor in temporal terms of chronometric time (measured by weeks, days, and hours) but only as the purely social relation of all expended abstract labour providing, in the first place, the identical social unit that allows for the commensurability of all commodities. The register of abstract labour thus implies the temporal transformation of concrete labour-time (measured by chronometrical time) into abstract labour-time (implying the totality of all social relations in a given society). This socio-temporal transformation is at once a reductive abstraction from concrete labour-time as well as it designates a conversion always already presupposed by this abstraction.
5. The Historical Time of Capital
In light of the temporal paradox of abstract labour-time, I propose to differentiate between an intrinsic “time of capital” and an extrinsic measurement of time that is the chronometric time of concrete labour (measured by clocks). The attributes of these different modes of time are antithetical: whereas the time of capital is non-linear, contracted, and congealed in its crystallized aggregation status as money or commodity, chronometric time provides a linear, continuous, and homogenous time-scale which functions as the measurement of concrete labour. Following Moishe Postone, I call the former the “historical” or concrete and the latter the “abstract” dimension of capitalist time. Given this terminology, we have to be aware that the two-fold character of abstract and concrete labour as mentioned on the level of the commodity form is not symmetrical to Postone’s distinction between abstract and historical time. Rather, their attributes of abstract and concrete form a chiasm: while historical time expresses the temporal dimension of abstract labour, abstract (chronometric) time functions as an absolute measurement of concrete labour.
“Historical time, in this interpretation, is not an abstract continuum within which events take place and whose flow is apparently independent of human activity; rather, it is the movement of time, as opposed to the movement in time.”
In capitalist everyday life, however, the historical time of capital (“movement of time”) and the abstract time of chronometric measurement (“movement in time”) are intertwined – they depend on each other in a reciprocal manner which Postone calls a “treadmill effect.” Whereas the historical time of capital is constituted by the historical standard of productivity in terms of more goods produced within a given time span, the abstract time seems without any traces of historicity. However, according to Postone, “the interaction of two dimensions of the commodity form involves a substantive redetermination of an abstract temporal constant.” Consequently, within a given time span the increase in productivity results in shorter or “denser” units of abstract labour that retroactively re-constitute a new level of productivity. This new level of productivity or density in terms of abstract labour cannot be measured by abstract time. Hence, the inner conjunction of historical and abstract time – its treadmill effect – resides in the fact that historical time expresses the movement of the entire abstract time scale or, in Postone’s words: “The entire abstract temporal axis, or frame of reference, is moved with each socially general increase in productivity; both the social labor hour and the base level of productivity are moved ‘forward in time.’” Hence, historical time is a function of abstract time retroactively changing the parameter of this function. Without going further into this inextricable interaction of the two temporal dimensions of the commodity form (abstract and historical time), I follow Postone’s conclusion “[t]hat this paradox cannot be resolved within the framework of abstract Newtonian time.” But how could this new “form of concrete temporality” be conceived?
In contrast to Postone, I argue that the temporal dimension of the value and thus the temporal structure of capital do not only transcend the framework of abstract Newtonian time but also the traditional Aristotelian concept of time. For Postone, historical time emerges from the permanent re-constitution of the historical level of productivity. “Hence, this movement of time is a function of the use value dimension of labour as it interacts with the value frame.” In other words, historical time becomes a function of space. This is precisely the underlying idea of the Aristotelian concept of time as mentioned above: “Time is a measure of motion and of being moved” (Physics, 220b33). Analogously, in Postone’s definition of the historical level of productivity in capitalism, time functions as a relative measurement of spatial (commodities’) movements, that is to say: concrete being-in-time is being measured by abstract time. Consequently, the “concreteness” of concrete temporality is only achieved in spatial terms (i.e. more articles produced per unit of time). In this interpretation, time is thus a spatial modality expressing the spatial extension or movement of things. Ultimately, Postone’s attempt to rethink time in terms of a historical time remains within a traditional Aristotelian framework always already relying on the convertability and commensurability of space and time.
6. The “Spirit” of Capital
As I have argued, capital as ‘the self-valorization of value’ does not designate a static situation but a dynamic process in time (quantity) and of time (quality). If we call the latter dimension “historical time” (Postone), the question remains of how to conceive of it in non-Newtonian and non-Aristotelian terms. As other scholars have argued, the circulation of capital alludes to a cyclical time. However, in contrast to a Nietzschean “eternal recurrence of the same,” the circulation of capital is not repetitive in the strict sense; rather, it proceeds as a dynamic process directed to future circles of accumulation. Every circulation of capital needs the externalization of money turned into commodity and its reversal. Although capital seeks to minimize its time of circulation, it can never fully abolish the necessary metamorphosis of capital from one mode of its existence (money) into its other (commodity). In doing so, the temporal index implied by capital circulation can never acquire a historical form proper since its cyclical movement lacks historical openness. Ultimately, the “historical” horizon of capital-time is closed: it is effectively “spurious infinity,” a process of endless regression. Nevertheless, the time of capital actually proceeds as progress necessarily oriented to future circulations of capital. As Kittsteiner has argued, capitalism’s historical time – its “historical” horizon in terms of a specific non-chronometric historicity – is the result of the revolving self-valorizing movement of capital. At this point, I am coming back to my introductory question: how can we think of a “historical” time intrinsic to a social relation that is itself a historical formation? Or, in other words, how can we historicize capitalism if capital itself generates its own historical “arrow of time”?
In addressing this paradox, I will avoid a Hegelian reading of the peculiar nature of capital-time. The self-deployment of capital never constitutes a purely self-referencing circle. Although Marx famously calls capital an “automatic subject,” this self-reflecting process is not structurally identical with the self-movement of the Hegelian Begriff. If we strictly read Marx’s capital as an identical subject-object reflecting itself in its externalized moments of its self-movement, we miss one crucial feature of capital-time: unlike the Hegelian Notion capital can never accomplish its circulation and return into itself.
“This is why, although Marx’s Darstellung of the self-deployment of Capital is full of Hegelian references, the self-movement of Capital is far from the circular self-movement of the Hegelian Notion (or Spirit): the point of Marx is that this movement never catches up with itself, that it never recovers its credit, that its resolution is postponed forever, that the crisis is its innermost constituent […], which is why the movement is one of the ‘spurious infinity,’ forever reproducing itself.”
Žižek’s reference to an eternal postponement points toward a strange peculiarity of capital’s dialectic movement: in contrast to Hegel, the dialectic of capital does not fall into historical time; rather, it already ‘contains’ time – a capitalist “time differential” alluding to the Benjaminian idea of a “dialectical image”. Reading Marx with Benjamin, within the dialectics of capital there already “lies” an abbreviated or contracted time ex-posed/post-poned to an eternal future as spurious infinity.
7. Capital-Time versus Jetztzeit
As I have argued the time of capital is twofold: it proceeds in “homogeneous and empty” time measured chronometrically while producing its own non-linear and contracted historical time of capital. But how could we conceive of the latter dimension of capital-time in terms of a dynamic social relation producing its own intrinsic temporality that reaches beyond temporal countability and spatial determinations like quanta of articles, goods, and commodities?
With regard to the aporia of “time-as-measure”, one might think of an inverted version of Benjamin’s Jetztzeit. In a polemical comment on Benjamin, Antonio Negri suggested a reading of Jetztzeit as capital’s own utopian temporality.
“Capital presents itself not only as measure and as system but also as progress. This definition is essential for its internal as well as external legitimization. From this perspective political economy is entirely directed towards drawing the innovative element that history – in any case – produces inside the time of administration (that is, the time of accumulation as administration, the reversible and cyclical time of the eternal return). Jetzt-Zeit, innovative punctualness, utopia: capital considers them as its own. Progress is the eternal return lit up by the flash of a Jetzt-Zeit.”
Before challenging this stunning misreading, Negri’s intuition is not as wrong as it seems at first sight. If one reduces capital-time to the “reversible and cyclical time of the eternal return”, one cannot conceive of innovation, progress, or, as Benjamin put it, the “eternal recurrence of the new” – the Benjaminian definition of which is “fashion”. One could stress Negri’s argument even further: Structurally not unlike Benjamin’s kairological Jetztzeit, the historical time of capitalism consists of contracted and congealed time forming always new relations between historically different base levels of productivity. Nevertheless, there remains a thin but crucial line of difference: While Benjamin’s Jetztzeit introduces a redemptive short-circuit between certain moments of the past (e.g. failed or unfulfilled revolutions) and the now of political acting irreducible to “homogeneous and empty time” of official historiography, the ‘perverse’ Jetztzeit of capital cannot escape its measurement by abstract time. Rather, the capitalist “now-time” always demands an endless repetition of its retroactive measurement – even though a final measurement is endlessly postponed. Against this form of spurious infinity, Benjamin insisted on a messianic cessation of all events [messianischen Stillstellung des Geschehens (GS I, 703)] breaking off this inner temporal dynamic of capital-time.
In his comment on Negri, Cesare Casarino rightly criticized Negri for his “perverse reading” of Benjamin; however, he finds a strong argument in Negri’s parallelization of Jetztzeit and capital time implicitly laying bare the radical break with capital-time as proposed by Benjamin.
“What Negri finds so pernicious about the Jetztzeit is that it transcendentalizes the plane of immanence constituted by time as productivity. The time of the now is zero time, that is, the negation of the real time of production. The problem faced by Benjamin was real enough: bourgeois historicism sublates time into the history of progress. The solution he found to this problem, however, backfired: in attempting to escape the history of progress, the Jetztzeit ends up escaping time altogether. Benjamin’s “Messianic cessation of happening” in the end turns out to be precisely that negation of time as productivity which capital itself – whether in its bourgeois or in its socialist forms – at once yearns for and can never accomplish. Now we can see that if the Jetztzeit is so co-optable, that is so because it has cut itself loose from the productive flux of becoming: once separated from its life supply, it becomes easy enough to reduce it to the abstract unit of time as measure and to put it in the service of the time of death.” 
If the Benjaminian “now” marks the irreducibly contingent encounter of the true image of the past and the revolutionary chance of the struggling, oppressed class – which is, even for the late Benjamin, the proletariat – the idea of messianic time concerns the temporal structure of the political. Unlike Casarino’s and Negri’s reading, Benjamin’s Jetztzeit is not simply “zero time” or a “negation of time”; rather, messianic time “is not another time beyond and above the ‘normal’ historical time, but a kind of inner loop within this time” – a Zeitdifferential (GS V, 1037), a time of an epistemologico-political operation unearthing a hidden potentiality of the past. This inner loop within time allowing for Jetztzeit – at a certain moment in the “now of recognizability” (GS V, 578) – is not co-optable by capital precisely because “it has cut itself loose from the productive flux of becoming” of capitalist time. Hence, Jetztzeit it is not representable by abstract time (time-as-measurement): it cannot be pinned down by the temporal-spatial register of the instant-point and linear-continuum. The task of the Benjaminian ”historical materialist” is to conceive of this inner loop within time, giving us time to free and retroactively redeem the contracted, congealed time encapsulated in capital-time. If the latter consists not only of condensed chronometric “empty and homogeneous time” but also expresses a non-linear time-function of congealed abstract human labour spatialized/reified in the form of the commodity, a materialist reading of messianic time is motivated by the temporal structure of capital itself. On the one hand, Benjamin’s messianic redemption of the past has to be strictly differentiated from a retroactive (and always postponed) measurement of abstract labour time. On the other hand, however, the kairologically punctualizing Jetztzeit and the chronologically condensed capital-time (abstract labour time “thrown” into time while temporalizing its own time) are not to be conceived as non-dialectical oppositions belonging to heterogeneous spheres.
As Agamben has pointed out, the classic Greek distinction between chronos and kairos does not necessarily involve a categorical split between two radically different temporal orders. Even though the Greek understanding of kairos can be linked to the messianic idea in Judaism and to early Pauline Christianity, the specific temporal structure of the messianic cannot fully be understood in terms of antithetical attributes such as sequence-rupture, linear-curved, empty-full etc. Against a common understanding according to which “[k]airos and chronos are usually opposed to each other, as though they were qualitatively heterogeneous,” Agamben argues that the kairos – the ‘right’ or ‘opportune’ moment indicating a time in between, a moment of an undetermined period of time in which something extraordinary happens – can also arise from chronological time. Moreover, the kairos, the instant in which the messianic “healing” happens, “is nothing else than seized chronos.” Hence, the kairological time, the time of the “Event” is not of a different quality opposed to mere chronological or “vulgar” (Heidegger) time; rather, authentic messianic time is a contracted and “enacted” chronological time. This messianic seizure subtracts the “productive flux of becoming” as in Negri. It rather designates a deactivating or inoperative ‘operation’ that cannot be translated into productive time at all. This irreducible difference is precisely what differentiates Benjamin’s Jetztzeit from the “now-time” of capital. For messianic time is nothing else than an inner loop of/within capital-time providing an “operational time” to subtract human labour from capital-time – to deactivate capital-time and ultimately to bring the latter to an end. This (in)operative ending of capital-time in terms of a classless society, however, “is not the final goal of historical progress but its frequent miscarried, ultimately [endlich] achieved interruption.” (GS I, 1231)
 A reedited version of this article has been published in the journal “Studies in Social and Political Thought “, Volume 20 – Winter 2012, pp. 46-69, http://ssptjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/sspt-20-pdf-online.pdf. The article is an ongoing work based on two papers presented at the “Historical Materialism” conference, London (UK), Nov. 28, 2009, and at the “Spirit of Capital” conference, New York, New School, April 29, 2011. I would like to thank Kieran Aarons, Cinzia Arruzza, Ali Alizadeh, Frank Engster, Andrew McGettigan, Alison Hugill, Blair Ogden, Moishe Postone, Massimiliano Tomba, and Alberto Toscano for their comments and critical remarks to of earlier versions of this article.
 Giorgio Agamben: “Time and History. Critique of the Instant and the Continuum”, transl. by Liz Heron, in Infancy and History. The Destruction of Experience. Verso, London; New York, 1993, p. 91.
 In the Grundrisse, Marx highlights this methodological problem when he points at the teleological effect of linear historiography: “Die sogenannte historische Entwicklung beruht überhaupt darauf, daß die letzte Form die vergangnen als Stufen zu sich selbst betrachtet und, da sie selten und nur unter ganz bestimmten Bedingungen fähig ist, sich selbst zu kritisieren [...] sie immer einseitig auffaßt.“ (Marx, Karl: Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. Rohentwurf 1857-1858, Berlin 1953, p. 26; henceforth references to this edition are abbreviated as “Grundrisse”.)
 Cf. Marx, Capital, Vol. III: “[…] das Kapital ist kein Ding, sondern ein bestimmtes, gesellschaftliches, einer bestimmten historischen Gesellschaftsformation angehöriges Produktionsverhältnis, das sich an einem Ding darstellt und diesem Ding einen spezifischen gesellschaftlichen Charakter gibt.” (MEW 25, p. 822) If not otherwise indicated, all German references to Marx are taken from this edition: Karl Marx; Friedrich Engels: Werke, ed. by the Institut für Marxismus-Leninismus beim ZK der SED, Dietz, Berlin, 1956ff.; henceforth references to this edition are abbreviated as “MEW”.
 Heinz Dieter Kittsteiner: Mit Marx für Heidegger – mit Heidegger für Marx, Fink, München, 2004, p. 120; translation mine.
 If not otherwise indicated, all references to Marx’ Capital, Vol. I (4th edition, 1890) are taken from the Penguin edition, Karl Marx: Capital. Volume I. A Critique of Political Economy, transl. by Ben Fowkes, London et al., 1976, 1990.
 Walter Benjamin, Walter: Über den Begriff der Geschichte, in: Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. I.2, ed. Rolf Tiedemann; Hermann Schweppenhäuser, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a. M. 1974, p. 701; henceforth abbreviated GS, translation mine.
 Benjamin’s idea of this messianic standstill is not to be mistaken for an eschatological or apocalyptic end of history. For Benjamin, messianic time does not designate the end of time but its Vollendung, fulfilment. In his commentary on St. Paul, Giorgio Agamben has convincingly argued that messianic time is the “time of the end” or, more precisely, the “time that time needs to end”. Hence, this messianic “time of the end” has to be strictly differentiated from a merely eschatological “end of time”. (See Giorgio Agamben: The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, transl. by Patricia Dailey, Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, 2005, pp. 62-68.)
 Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, ed. by Marcus Bollock; Michael W. Jennings, Vol. 4, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1996ff, pp. 401-402; translation modified, cf. the German original, GS VII, 783f.
 Jacques Derrida: Specters of Marx. The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, transl. by Peggy Kamuf, Routledge, London; New York, 1994, p. 211.
 Cf. Žižek: “[W]hat specifies his historical materialism – in contrast to the Marxist doxa according to which we must grasp events in the totality of their interconnections and their dialectical movement – is its capacity to arrest, to immobilize historical movement and to isolate the detail from its historical totality. In this very crystallization, this ‘congelation’ of the movement in a monad, which announces the moment of appropriation of the past: the monad is an actual moment which conceives itself as a repetition of past failed situations, as their retroactive ‘redemption’ through the success of its own exploit.” (Slavoj Žižek: The Sublime Object of Ideology, Verso, London 1989, p. 139.)
 Cf. Benjamin: “What science has ‘determined’, remembrance can modify. Such remembrance [Eingedenken] can complete what is incomplete (happiness) and make incomplete what is complete (suffering). This is theology; but the experience of remembrance forbids us to grasp history in fundamentally atheological categories, however little we may [dürfen] try to write it in directly theological terms.” (Walter Benjamin: Arcades Project, transl. by Howard Eiland; Kevin McLaughlin, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1999, p. 471, N 8,1.)
 “Die Zeit ist alles, der Mensch ist nichts mehr, er ist höchstens noch die Verkörperung der Zeit. Es handelt sich nicht mehr um die Qualität. Die Quantität allein entscheidet alles: Stunde gegen Stunde, Tag gegen Tag […].” (MEW 4, 86.)
 If not otherwise indicated, the English translation of the Grundrisse is taken from the Penguin edition, transl. Martin Nicolaus, London 1973.
 Peter Osborne: “Marx and the Philosophy of Time”, Radical Philosophy, 147/ (January/February 2008), p. 17.
Karl Marx: Value, Price, Profit (1865), in: Karl Marx; Friedrich Engels: Gesamtausgabe (henceforth abbreviated MEGA), Vol. II, 4.1, ed. by the Institut für Marxismus-Leninismus beim ZK der KPdSU und der SED, Berlin 1988ff., pp. 405f.
 “Wie nun die Größe seines Werts messen? Durch das Quantum der in ihm enthaltenen ‘wertbildenden Substanz’, der Arbeit. Die Quantität der Arbeit selbst mißt sich an ihrer Zeitdauer, und die Arbeitszeit besitzt wieder ihren Maßstab an bestimmten Zeitteilen, wie Stunde, Tag usw.” (MEW 23, 53)
 English translation is taken from the edition Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1991.
 By “material” I mean a material or immaterial commodity resulting from the expenditure of labour. The commodity-form of these results is not depending on their materiality or persistence in time. That is to say, a commodity which is not resulting in a stable object but is immediately consumed during the expenditure of labour (e.g. service industries) can nevertheless be a commodity in the strict sense of being one form of existence of capital. At this stage, I do not follow Marx’s distinction between “productive and non-productive labour” as stated in Resultate des unmittelbaren Produktionsprozesses (MEGA II, 4.1, pp. 108ff.; resp. pp. 115-116).
 “‘Was ist ein Arbeitstag?’ […] Der Arbeitstag zählt täglich volle 24 Stunden nach Abzug der wenigen Ruhestunden, ohne welche die Arbeitskraft ihren erneuerten Dienst absolut versagt. Es versteht sich zunächst von selbst, daß der Arbeiter seinen ganzen Lebenstag durch nichts ist außer Arbeitskraft, daß daher alle seine disponible Zeit von Natur und Rechts wegen Arbeitszeit ist, also der Selbstverwertung des Kapitals angehört. […] Statt daß die normale Erhaltung der Arbeitskraft hier die Schranke des| Arbeitstags, bestimmt umgekehrt die größte täglich mögliche Verausgabung der Arbeitskraft, wie krankhaft gewaltsam und peinlich auch immer, die Schranke für die Rastzeit des Arbeiters.” (MEW 23, 280f.)
 In post-structuralist terms, one could call the register of the value a sensuous-super-sensuous sphere introducing a third register “between” the register of the “real” (the site of ontology of capital as a social relation) and the register of the “imaginary” (the site of the critique of ideology). The “symbolic” register of the value could then be conceived of as “commodity language” (MEW 23, 66).
 Translation modified. Cf. “Im graden Gegenteil zur sinnlich groben Gegenständlichkeit der Warenkörper geht kein Atom Naturstoff in ihre Wertgegenständlichkeit ein. Man mag daher eine einzelne Ware drehen und wenden, wie man will, sie bleibt unfaßbar als Wertding. Erinnern wir uns jedoch, daß die Waren nur Wertgegenständlichkeit besitzen, sofern sie Ausdrücke derselben gesellschaftlichen Einheit, menschlicher Arbeit, sind, daß ihre Wertgegenständlichkeit also rein gesellschaftlich ist, so versteht sich auch von selbst, daß sie nur im gesellschaftlichen Verhältnis von Ware zu Ware erscheinen kann.” (MEW 23, 62)
 Cf. Postone, Moishe: Time, Labor and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory, Cambridge, Mass. 1993, pp. 291ff.
 Postone, 1993, p. 294.
 Postone, 1993, pp. 289ff.
 Postone, 1993, p. 292.
 Cf. Postone: “In Capital Marx roots capitalism’s historical dynamic ultimately in the double character of the commodity and, hence, capital. The treadmill dynamic that I have outlined is at the heart of this dynamic. It cannot be grasped if the category of surplus-value is understood only as a category of exploitation– as surplus-value – and not also as surplus-value– as the surplus of a temporal form of wealth. The temporality of this dynamic is not only abstract. Although changes in productivity, in the use-value dimension, do not change the amount of value produced per unit time, they do change the determination of what counts as a given unit of time. The unit of (abstract) time remains constant – and, yet, it is pushed forward, as it were, in (historical) time. The movement here is not the movement in (abstract) time, but the movement of time. Both abstract time and historical time are constituted historically as structures of domination.” (Moishe Postone: “Rethinking Marx’s Critical Theory“, in Moishe Postone et al. (eds.): History and Heteronomy. Critical Essays, Tokyo 2009, p. 42.)
 Postone, 1993, p. 293.
 Postone, 1993, p. 292.
 Postone, 1993, p. 293.
 Cf. Guy Debord’s distinction between the “cyclical time” of ancient and feudal societies and the “pseudocyclical time” of capitalism. (Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle, Chapter 6: Spectacular Time, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Zone, 1994.)
 Cf. Jean-François Lyotard, “Notes sur le retour et le Kapital”, in Pierre Boudot et al. (eds.): Nietzsche aujourd’hui. Vol. 1: Intensités, Paris 1973, pp. 141-157.
 Although today’s stock market transactions are highly automatized by means of computer-to-computer communication, a minimal temporal delay between buying and selling yet remains. Latest up-to-date communication technology seeks to limit these delays toward the absolute speed of today’s light-wave cable technology: the speed of light. Nevertheless, the separate transactions of selling and buying, be it M-M, C-M, or M-C, can never be identical by definition. Without this necessary circulation (and its temporal delay – as minimal as it may be) the commodity-form cannot be maintained.
 Cf. Heinz Dieter Kittsteiner, Mit Marx für Heidegger – mit Heidegger für Marx, Fink, München, 2004, p. 124.
 Slavoj Žižek: The Parallax View, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2006, p. 51.
 Benjamin’s idea of the “dialectical image” and its “time differential” could provide a model of how to conceive of the inner structure of capital-time and its dialectics: “On the dialectical image. In it lies [steckt] time. Already with Hegel, time enters into dialectic. But the Hegelian dialectic knows time solely as the properly historical, if not psychological, time of thinking. The time differential [Zeitdifferential] in which alone the dialectical image is real is still unknown to him. […] Real time enters the dialectical image not in natural magnitude – let alone psychologically – but in its smallest gestalt.” (Benjamin, Arcades Project, p, 867, Q°,21.) Reading Benjamin with Marx, the self-movement of capital could be conceived of as a dialectical image containing an abbreviated time the Marxian name of which would be “abstract labour time”.
 Antonio Negri: “The Constitution of Time”, transl. by Matteo Mandarini, in Time for Revolution. Continuum, London, 2003, p. 108; modified translation is taken from Cesare Casarino: “Time Matters: Marx, Negri, Agamben, and the Corporeal”, in Cesare Casarino; Antonio Negri: In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics Univ. of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2008, p. 226.
 Walter Benjamin: “Zentralpark”, in Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Hermann Schweppenhäuser; Rolf Tiedemann, Vol. I, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt a. M 1974, p. 677; translation mine.
 Cesare Casarino: “Time Matters: Marx, Negri, Agamben, and the Corporeal”, in Cesare Casarino; Antonio Negri, 2008, p. 227.
 Casarino, 2008, p. 229.
 See Benjamin, Paralipomena to On the Concept of History, GS I, 1232.
 Slavoj Žižek: The Puppet and the Dwarf: the Perverse Core of Christianity, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2003, p. 134.
 Giorgio Agamben: The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans, transl. by Patricia Dailey, Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, 2005, p. 68.
 Agamben, 2005, p. 69.
 Agamben, 2005, pp. 65-68. Agamben borrows this term from the French linguist Gustave Guillaume (ibid, pp. 65-66.)
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