Marx against Marx: A Critical Reading of the "Fragment on Machines"

  • Martin Spence Independent scholar
Keywords: fixed capital, general intellect, Grundrisse, labour, Marx, value


Marx’s Fragment on Machines is sometimes held up as a creative departure from orthodoxy, and a prescient harbinger of a knowledge economy. In particular the concept of general intellect, which appears uniquely in the Fragment, is celebrated as a key theoretical innovation. This article presents a close reading and critical interpretation of the text of the Fragment to argue, firstly, that its primary theme is not general intellect, but fixed capital; secondly, that its emphasis on fixed capital is unduly narrow and productivist, leading to an equally narrow treatment of labour and value; and finally, it seeks to explain why Marx produced this odd work, so much out of step with the main current of his thought, at the time and in the way that he did.