The “Total Worker” at Verdun

The "Total Worker" at Verdun

Burrowing in the hills of Vauquois


History and Obstinacy

See Part 3: The Violence of Relationality; Chapter 6: War as Labor, pp. 299-340.

“French miners—‘workers in uniform’—dig tunnels into a hill near Verdun in 1916. Also dressed as soldiers, German miners drill an opposing tunnel from the other side. Both groups of specialists intend to blow each other up sky-high. Whoever is faster will survive. To succeed, each of the opponents must pay close attention to the actions of his adversary. (They listen, drill, or dig faster or slower depending on how the other behaves). If an extraterrestrial saw this, it would appear, as the dramatist Heiner Müller once observed, to be a form of cooperation. It is, however, a horrifying example of the COLLECTIVE LABORER, a concept which Karl Marx elucidates in the fifteenth chapter of CAPITAL entitled ‘Machinery and Modern Industry.’ The term combines all the labor capacities on earth into one concept. That does not prevent them from fighting to the death” (p. 299; italics in original).

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This video segment complements the 2014 English-language edition of History and Obstinacy by Alexander Kluge and Oskar Negt, edited by Devin Fore and translated by Richard Langston (Zone Books).