Mute Compulsion

Mute Compulsion:A Marxist Theory of the Economic Power of Capital

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A new Marxist theory of the abstract and impersonal forms of power in capitalism

Despite insoluble contradictions, intense volatility and fierce resistance, the crisis-ridden capitalism of the 21st century lingers on. To understand capital’s paradoxical expansion and entrenchment amidst crisis and unrest, Mute Compulsionoffers a novel theory of the historically unique forms of abstract and impersonal power set in motion by the subjection of social life to the profit imperative. Building on a critical reconstruction of Karl Marx’s unfinished critique of political economy and a wide range of contemporary Marxist theory, philosopher Søren Mau sets out to explain how the logic of capital tightens its stranglehold on the life of society by constantly remoulding the material conditions of social reproduction. In the course of doing so, Mau intervenes in classical and contemporary debates about the value form, crisis theory, biopolitics, social reproduction, humanism, logistics, agriculture, metabolism, the body, competition, technology and relative surplus populations.


  • Not a day goes by without a question imposing itself on the minimally sane mind: how can all this shit around us just go on? In this masterful study, Søren Mau methodically drills into the core of the matter: the deeply entrenched power of some people over others, and of capital over everyone. It is this power that drives the disasters of our time, and it is a specific form of power, one rooted in the most basal layers of existence—the economy, where human bodies are (supposed to be) sustained. Written with verve and clarity, analytically sharp and dialectically shrewd in equal measure, Mute Compulsion reinvigorates historical materialism for the mid-twenty-first century. Through close readings of Marx and critical dialogues with contemporary theory, it throws up fresh insights for a new generation of Marxists, as well as for long-time connoisseurs. A big red book to cherish.

    Andreas Malm, author of Fossil Capital (Verso, 2016), The Progress of this Storm (2018) and How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2021).
  • An instant classic. The best introduction to Marx's thought in any language.

    Aaron Benanav
  • This is the first in-depth investigation of a key concept used in Marx's Capital: mute compulsion. Far beyond a purely philological exercise, Søren Mau shows the centrality of this concept for a better understanding of capitalist class rule, subsumption and biopolitics. If we take the findings of Søren Mau's book seriously, it will considerably change our views on the "power of capital" and the political strategies to fight against this power.

    Michael Heinrich