Moishe Postone and Post Marxism

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pingu
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May 30 2009 16:51
Moishe Postone and Post Marxism

I've just been reading some of Moishe Postone's stuff. Like a lot of post- marxists he seems to attatch a lot of importance to the dual and contradictory nature of the commodity the contradiction between use value and value. Now maybe I'm missing something here, but just like the article "Maxism is Dead- Long Live Marxism" elsewhere on this website, he seems to be saying that the major contradiction in modern society is no longer between capital and labour , one being external to the other,as it was in the time of the genesis of marxist theory, but between the two contradictory aspects of the commodity form. Just what does this mean for the formation of a revolutionary subject if this is no longer located in the conventional, specialised industrial proletariat. I think that he and others like him, seem to be saying that the law of value and the proletarian condition has become general throughout the whole of society. Can anybody enlighten me on this subject?

clandestinenglish
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May 30 2009 19:43

at Aufheben Review - Moishe Postone - capital beyond class struggle.pdf

is a good critique

Angelus Novus
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May 30 2009 21:27

Oh man, please people, stop pimping that Aufheben review of Postone. Seriously, it's so bad. I'm not even a fan of Postone; I think there are valid criticisms to make (his exclusive focus on production and hence neglect of the essential role of finance in Marx's critique of political economy), but that Aufheben belongs in the International Socialism journal or somewhere else where there's a "line" to defend.

I suspect the only reason people keep referring to that Aufheben review is because it's the only encounter they've ever had with Postone, but it gives them the assuring pat on the head that they don't have to worry their simple little heads by actually engaging with his work, since the proper "line" has already been developed by the revolutionary leadership.

What is it that you people criticize about Trotskyists again? confused

P.S. There was a very short review by Chris Arthur that appeared in Capital & Class years ago. It's not very detailed but it's far more nuanced than the Aufheben drive-by. I don't know where you can find an English version online but there's a German version here:

http://www.ca-ira.net/verlag/rezensionen/postone-zeit.arbeit_rez-arthur.html

clandestinenglish
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May 31 2009 19:24

now that i read it, i think that Chris Arthur's presentation is also good, despite his good intentions wink

Sean68
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May 31 2009 21:34

In quite a fair summary of how the ideas that crystallise around Postone's reading of capitalism 'concretise' themselves in terms of real life political intervention, David Black argues:

'to attempt to separate Marx's critique of the commodity fetish (which the Postone-school say is what makes Marx so relevant now) from his critical engagement in the workers movement during the exact same period (which they say was wrong). is unscholarly, dogmatic and irrational.'

'What is Living and What is Dead in the Philosophic Legacy of Geroge Lukacs' (the whole of this article is probably available on the Hobgoblin/Marxist Humanist website)

In response to the accusation that 'the Postone school' separate out the two sides of Marx, I would argue that it is less a case of 'separating out' than observing a few glaring problems that aren't currently being addressed by the Left/radical milieus...

I thought someone might take me up on my outrageous slur on the good name of the SWP as representative of this mainstream on another discussion board somewhere here, but I don't think anyone did. Instead, a lot of people got upset at the slur itself! In a recent 'communique' the SWP have called for a 'struggle to defend pensions.'

Which is a typical example of the 'fetishism' that David Black says we ('the Postone school' I suppose he means!) seek to critique.

It seems to me that without referencing 'the deep Marx', that Marx which exposes the inner working of the value system, we end up in joining in with calls that seek to put the system back on its feet - in other words, the Left help to reconstitute capitalism.

The problem is how to walk the tightrope of supporting demands (obviously) to allow people (specifically, in this case, pensioners!) from living a life of complete penury, while at the same time pointing out the uselessness of applying a critique of political economy to a situation that in practice means giving covering fire to a left that sets out to help 'repair' the system - by demanding workers to work harder! (through the Leftist demands, this reality sneaks its way in through the back door, because the only way the system can meet the Left's demands is by carrying out that very task!)

This is the problem of fetishism.

It is an immanent problem - which is why I think David Black's critique offers us only a half-way house analysis....(in positing the 'split' as a Marxologist interpretative historical one - ie, 'the workers movement' analysis versus 'Marx's understanding of the fetish' analysis actually disguises the nature of the real split)

The two 'horizons' are enmeshed - and not historically either!

No matter - I am sure there are many people who are eager to correct my 'bourgeois' deviations etc. etc. but Robert Kurz, in a recently translated article outlines that there are real limits - fast approaching - to the system itself, and whatever the hopes are for 'the Left' to create a 'fight' with 'the bosses' in order to facilitate the last great showdown, (to reorder the distribution of a surplus value that is fast disappearing. Whatever illusions people may have, it doesn't constitute a pile of cash, and it isn't there to be 'wrestled back from the 'ruling class'!) and to usher in the socialist paradise, that which is awaiting us on the horizon could, in fact be the barbarism already visited on those unlucky enough to live outside the circuit.

But to not engage in that dick waving mentality of 'I'm more anti-bourgeois than you' is a surefire way of 'failure' round here, it seems.

Robert Kurz, who shares some similarity with Moishe Postone in his outlook, has had a recent article translated into English. The whole article is available via the link below:

"The confidence in capitalism is apparently unshakeable; also on the Left. Out of all crises it will rise like a phoenix from ashes and will start a new recovery."

http://chicagopoliticalworkshop.webs.com/educationalresources.htm

Sean68
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May 31 2009 22:23

Sorry, wrong link - this one will lead you to the Kurz article:
http://chicagopoliticalworkshop.webs.com/writings.htm

RedHughs
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Jun 1 2009 01:09
Quote:
I thought someone might take me up on my outrageous slur on the good name of the SWP as representative of this mainstream [left] on another discussion board somewhere here [actually it was this board but a different thread you ninny], but I don't think anyone did. Instead, a lot of people got upset at the slur itself! In a recent 'communique' the SWP have called for a 'struggle to defend pensions.'

Uh, here, no one else give a shit about the SWP and almost no one gives a shit about the mainstream left. I think someone wondered why you brought the SWP up at all... maybe you can consider that a small victory to your cause...

If you really want to draw flack, make a call for reducing pensions yourself, Perhaps someone then could take the time to punch you a few times, if that would make you feel even better.

This isn't 1958, you aren't founding another SI with the unique strategy of insulting the left to those who already are ostensibly against it, etc.

If you wish to appear uniquely revolutionary in uniquely cracked kind of way, I suggest you consult John Zerzan. He has you beat at the "drawing the left with a broad brush" event.

This isn't saying I agree with spectrum of tendencies here. Indeed I'm sure folks will be willing to say how much they hate me too. Hah!

eccarius
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Jun 1 2009 03:52

Pingu says "[Postone] seems to be saying that the major contradiction in modern society is no longer between capital and labour , one being external to the other,as it was in the time of the genesis of marxist theory, but between the two contradictory aspects of the commodity form."

Marx was quite aware that capital and labour don't remain external to each other in 'Results of the Immediate Process of Production', known as the "Unpublished Chapter Six of Capital Vol.I". He says that the formal domination of labour by capital passes into "real domination" . The formal phase, in which the worker is already subjugated to the means of production, corresponds historically to the 1830-50 period of class struggle in England (and perhaps also to pre-1917 Russia):

"From the start, the worker is superior to the capitalist in that the capitalist is rooted in his 'process of alienation' and is completely content therein, whereas the worker who is its victim finds himself from the beginning in a state of rebellion against it and experiences the process as one of enslavement".

That's the external conflict between capital and labour, right?

In the phase of real subordination, the worker is faced with the "collective unity" of the social forms of labour under the domination of social capital. One might think today of the destructive means by which natural resources are exploited; the appropriation of surplus vale by financial speculation; state bureaucracies and policing; ideological consent-manufacturing, capital-serving technologies, militarisation, permanent war etc - all of which objectively promote the collective unity of the capitalists and prevent the collective unity of the working class AS A HISTORICAL SUBJECT.

"The major contradiction in modern society is no longer between capital and labour"?
Postone says that? Can we have the quote? Marx's Capital is ABOUT the dialectic of capital and labour; and no amount of 'deep' reading can change that. The current economic crisis has everything to do with the fact that the bursted bubble was powered by the surplus value accumulating from the transformation of hundreds of millions of peasants into sweated proletarians since the 1980s. The death of the old 'workers movement' hasn't abolished the class basis of capitalist oppression; it's actualised it on a planetary scale.

pingu
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Jun 2 2009 01:40

I am actually paraphrasing what I think Postone said, I am not saying he is right merely that I don't understand what he means. Anyway here is the quote; By ‘traditional Marxism’ I do not mean a specific historical tendency in Marxism but, more generally, any analysis of capitalism essentially in terms of class relations rooted in private property relations and mediated by the market. Relations of domination are understood essentially in terms of class domination and exploitation within this general interpretive framework; socialism is understood primarily as a society characterized by the collective ownership of the means of production and centralized planning in an industrialized context: a just and consciously regulated mode of distribution adequate to industrial production.
.......If, however, such notions are valid only for capitalist society, Marx now had to uncover the grounds for their validity in the specific characteristics of that society. He sought to do so by locating the most fundamental form of social relations that characterizes capitalist society and, on that basis, unfolding a theory with which he attempted to explain the underlying workings of that society. That fundamental form is the commodity. Marx took the term “commodity” and used it to designate a historically specific form of social relations, constituted as a structured form of social practice that at the same time is the structuring principle of the actions, worldviews and dispositions of people. As a category of practice it is form both of social subjectivity and objectivity. (This understanding of the categories, strongly emphasized by Lukács, suggests an approach to culture and society as intrinsically related moments of a social form; it is quite different from the base/superstructure model.)
What characterizes the commodity form of social relations as analysed by Marx is that it is constituted by labour, it exists in objectified form, and it has a dualistic character
(Postone in Principia Dialectica online at http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk/blog/?p=48)

The actualisation of the antagonism between capital and labour on a world scale which eccarius talks about seems to be absent from this particular piece by Postone instead he seems to resort to talking about the dual nature of the commodityas being more fundamental.If this is what he is saying then I don't understand his point
)

eccarius
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Jun 2 2009 06:38

Postone, in rejecting the old base-superstructure model, takes from Lukacs the idea that commodity production is not just a structured form of social practice, but also a structuring principle of consciousness. Postone rejects however Lukacs’ notion of proletarian class consciousness as the defetishising identity of subject and object. Postone recognizes that because of its dualistic nature (value and use-value) commodity production has to reconstitute labour in order to continue, but he refuses to grant labour any historical subjectivity. The only subject he sees is capital, although he does state in Time Labor and Social Domination that “overcoming the historical Subject would allow people, for the first time, to become the subjects of their own liberation.” (p. 224) But how you abolish commodity production without the proletariat abolishing itself is not clear.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 2 2009 11:32

Actually, unless my memory is extremely faulty, towards the end of the book, Postone does say something along the lines that the proletariat has to abolish myself. It may even be in a footnote, but I'm almost certain it's there. I'll go look it up later and post here.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 2 2009 11:41

I'm not sure if this is the passage I meant or not. My memory sucks:

p. 371-372 of Time, Labor, and Social Domination:

Quote:
...if a movement, concerned with workers, were to point beyond capitalism, it would both have to defend workers' interests and have to participate in their transformation - for example, by calling into question the given structure of labor, not identifying people any longer only in terms of that structure, and participating in rethinking those interests.
Angelus Novus
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Jun 2 2009 11:45

Here we go. Page 276, footnote 42:

Quote:
for Marx, the proletariat is an object and appendage of capital, one that is and remains the necessary presupposition of capital even as it becomes increasingly anachronistic. The possibility Marx seeks is the self-abolition of the proletariat; this class is not, and does not become, the Subject of history.
eccarius
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Jun 2 2009 18:49

Thanks for digging that out. Postone is right and wrong at the same time. If the proletariat abolishes itself it doesn't "become", ie end up as, the subject of history, since it won't exist. However in the process, it has to abolish itself in becoming a historical subject,

Sean68
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Jun 12 2009 22:44

Whether we want to argue about the hoped for reappearance of the proletariat or not, perhaps a thorough investigation of the role of labour itself is the most pressing issue. A recent post at principia dialectica argues:

'The eternal return of the capitalist system, a faith shared by all, not least the Left - who demand a revival of production under the guise of a so-called socially equitable one - is an idea that sneaks in via the most seemingly ostensible of critical discourse. In a recent Historical Materialism journal, Paul Mattick puts under the microscope David Harvey’s monumental classic The Limits to Capital (Verso, 2006) and finds it wanting. Perhaps some monuments are in need of renovation, or even demolishing.

The first problem Mattick identifies with Harvey’s analysis is his misunderstanding of abstract labour. For Harvey, abstract labour appears to be the simple transference of concrete labour to abstract - in other words, the taking of a ‘real’ discernable process (making a table, for example) and turning it into something less than real - making it ‘abstract’ through a process of ‘deskilling’ the original effort - by mechanising this concrete act instead. In other words, whereas previously a worker ‘made’ a table with her hands, the process of abstraction results in the mechanisation of this act - a dehumanising process. This is to completely misunderstand Marx’s analysis of abstract labour. Harvey says:

‘The reduction from skilled to simple labour is more than a mental construct; it is a real and observable process, which operates with devastating effects upon the labourers (…) consider for example, the transformation of the automobile industry from skilled craft production to mass assembly line technology and the reduction from skilled to simple labour which this implied (…)This is not to say that capital has everywhere been successful in forcing such reductions.’

Limits to Capital, p59 - 60.

Mattick does not refer to Moishe Postone’s Time Labor and Social Domination, but here we find the abstract labour process grasped as one which must embody Marx’s concept of fetishism.

Postone:

‘As long as one assumes that the category of value - hence the capitalist relations of production - are adequately understood in terms of the market and private property, the meaning of labor seems to be clear. These relations, so conceived, supposedly are the means by which labor and its products are socially organised and distributed; they are, in other words, extrinsic to labour itself (…) a different approach would reformulate value as a historically specific form of wealth, different from material wealth (…) such labour must be seen as possessing a socially determinate character specific to the capitalist social formation (…) to distinguish such labor from the traditional conception of ‘labor (…) This suggests that social domination in capitalism cannot be apprehended sufficiently as the domination and control of the many and their labour by the few.‘

Mattick argues that Harvey actually dispenses with the key edifice upon which Marx’s Capital is grounded - the capitalist system’s in built tendency for the rate of profit to fall (’the falling profit law’). Harvey claims that crises have ‘nothing directly to do with the supposed law of falling profits.’ (pxxiii)

Mattick:

‘What is the relationship between Marx’s abstract law and the actual disturbances of capital accumulation that we call crises? From Marx’s point of view, it is the decline in the profitability of capital itself, aside from any indirect effects it may have, that produces the phenomena of crises, such as financial panics, mass unemployment, and general gluts of goods on the market (…) The decline in profit rates will eventually lead to a decline in accumulation, and this will produce the phenomena of crises.’

Instead, in failing to fully comprehend the Marxian concept of ‘the fetish’, Harvey argues that the capitalist crisis is caused by ‘the errant behaviours of individual capitalists that are a primary source of disequilibrium in production.’

It is a short journey from this perspective to one where we can plot out routes to reform the system. Is Harvey’s analysis in The Limits of Capital the artillery that gives covering fire to those who seek ‘an eternal return’ to full employment and no cuts in social welfare? Tragically, in mistaking value as a form of material wealth, many critics of the system are failing to comprehend the true extent and depth of the crisis we are facing. '

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Jun 13 2009 08:24

Sean, Mattick does not have to quote Postone. Such perspectives on abstract labor and value were put forward by marxists - like I. I. Rubin - before Postone was even born, and were thoroughly discussed (but also criticized) i.e. in Western Germany well before he earned his PhD. The same applies to the importance of the fetish-like character of commodities. The fact that the paleo-Marxist Harvey completely omits this is sad, but I'd say that generally in the libertarian communist milieu, these things are quite well known.

Sean68
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Jun 13 2009 09:24

Nice one Jura. If you get it, that means anyone can.
The film version of Time, Labor and Social Domination is just about to go into production. I'll save you a ticket.
Postone. One Small Book. One Big Idea (Cert. 18. - contains some scenes of an adult nature that might frighten swamp dwelling orthodox marxists)

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cantdocartwheels
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Jun 13 2009 15:17
Quote:
the hoped for reappearance of the proletariat

and as if by magic.... roll eyes

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jura
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Jun 13 2009 17:03

Sean, I'm not into remakes, really.

Boris Badenov
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Jun 13 2009 17:24
eccarius, quoting Marx wrote:
"From the start, the worker is superior to the capitalist in that the capitalist is rooted in his 'process of alienation' and is completely content therein, whereas the worker who is its victim finds himself from the beginning in a state of rebellion against it and experiences the process as one of enslavement".

that is a great quote.

RedHughs
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Jun 14 2009 02:48

Eccarius is right and Postone and Sean68 are wrong.

The idea that the proletariat has abolish itself in order to realize itself is tricky. It is easy to see how modern academic, self-agrandizing thinkers would prefer a more simplistic theory to spout. But who knows, maybe all "published" Marxists fit into this category.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 16 2009 08:40
RedHughs wrote:
The idea that the proletariat has abolish itself in order to realize itself is tricky. It is easy to see how modern academic, self-agrandizing thinkers would prefer a more simplistic theory to spout.

One of the most endearing things about Libcom is how people who use the word "academic" as a curse-word are also the very same people who will indulge in mystical, nonsensical Hegelian blather about something "abolishing itself in order to realize itself".

And in the very same post!

RedHughs, you're priceless, babe.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 16 2009 08:45
jura wrote:
Such perspectives on abstract labor and value were put forward by marxists - like I. I. Rubin - before Postone was even born, and were thoroughly discussed (but also criticized) i.e. in Western Germany well before he earned his PhD.

You're wasting your breath. Much as I appreciate PD's interventions against the troglodyte left, the sad fact is that they simply won't take off their blinders and explore any thinkers from the milieu that Postone comes out of. For Sean, "Western Germany" = Krisis and Exit.

To acknowledge the existence of Hans-Georg Backhaus and Helmut Reichelt would be to concede that those evil class-struggle Marxists Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway were aware of these arguments long before PD discovered Postone.

Sean68
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Jun 16 2009 13:38

I like it Angelus!
An update of the Surrealist map of the World - Exit and Krisis in the space where Germany is.
Note that the only town worth mentioning in Britain is Blackpool
Plus ca change

eccarius
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Jun 17 2009 14:10

L*n*n referred to the following of the 'kernel of dialectic' (though not in relation to the self abolition of the proletariat):

"It is the simple point of negative self-relation, the internal source of all activity, vital and spiritual self-movement the dialectic soul which all truth has in it, and through which it alone is truth; for the transcendence of the opposition between the Notion and Reality, and that unity which is the truth, rest upon this subjectivity alone. The second negative, the negative of the negative, which we have reached, is this transcendence of the contradiction, but is no more than the activity of an external reflection than the contradiction is."

Hegel, Science of Logic 2 477

fidel gastro
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Jun 17 2009 15:41

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Boris Badenov
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Jun 17 2009 16:08

the execrable politics spouted here by PDers as well as their failed attempts at humour (jaysus, sean) make this thread a truly painful read.
btw, Mattick was one of those "class struggle types" by post-Marxist standards (read his critique of Marcuse).

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Red Marriott
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Jun 17 2009 16:23

I presume Sean68 is referring to a recent article by Paul Mattick jr, his son - as Mattick snr is long dead.

Angelus Novus
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Jun 17 2009 20:07
Vlad336 wrote:
the execrable politics spouted here by PDers as well as their failed attempts at humour (jaysus, sean) make this thread a truly painful read.

I hope you're not counting me among the "PDers". In terms of Capital exegesis, I am influenced by the same people that influenced Postone, but so are Bonefeld and Holloway, and I'm much closer to the latter politically.

I just defend PD because I like the anti-troglodyte stands they take on their blogs, and don't want to see them smeared by the likes of RedHugs.

eccarius
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Jun 18 2009 13:15
red and black riot wrote:
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Wake up and smell the proletariat?

Spikymike
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Jan 12 2020 12:15

OK just found this old slightly amusing discussion and realised that as time has passed and I've read a bit (but not a lot) more, that I can actually just about grasp the gist of this argument., and thought I would link this other individuals sympathetic view of Moishe Postone's reading of Marx with an unusual cross examination/review of the novelist Urula Le Guin's contribution to visioning a post-capitalist future. Here:
https://communemag.com/the-shield-of-utopia.
by Jasper Bernes.