Marxism and the Concept of Mediation - Werner Bonefeld

Common Sense no. 2

Werner Bonefeld writes on the concepts of mediation and de-mediation highlighting the importance of struggle. Published in 1987 for Common Sense no. 2, pages 67-72.

Richard Gunn also wrote an expanded piece on Marxism and Mediation for the same issue. That can be found here.

The full archive of Common Sense can be found at:

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on November 15, 2023

Mediation is one of Marx's concepts which is very much neglected within the 'marxist' discourse. Nevertheless, I think it is one of the most important concepts within marxism. The concept 'mediation' challenges academic marxism and it provides a conceptual framework for the politics of marxism (see Bonefeld 1987).

Before I go into further detail on 'mediation', I want to concentrate briefly on the 'nature' of marxist concepts.

The marxist categories are abstractions of the concrete and complex reality of capitalism. These abstractions decode the "innermost secret, the hidden basis of the relations of sovereignty and dependence" (Marx 1966, p. 791-2). 'The concrete is concrete because it unites diverse phenomena. The concrete is the unity of variety' (see Marx 1973, p.101). Marx's concept of abstract and concrete is thus the methodological metaphor for the continuity of the discontinuous development of the concrete within the abstract and vice versa (see Bonefeld 1987), The analytical abstraction from the concrete leads ''towards the reproduction of the concrete by way of thought" (Marx 1973, p.101). This "is the only way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in mind" (Marx 1973, p. 101). Thus, the idea of the world “is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought” (Marx 1983, p.29). Only after the development of the substantial abstraction of the innermost secret of the reality can the real movement of the material world be presented appropriately. These abstractions conceptualise the determining relation of capitalism in order to understand its 'perverted and enchanted world' (Marx 1966 p.830). The abstract categories are abstractions from the concrete in order to comprehend the concrete. The only existence of the abstract is within the concrete.

The marxist concepts contain the unifying dynamic of the process of antagonism, which in no case eliminates the antagonism of capitalism (see Negri 1984). This antagonism is the antatonism of labour and capital. The marxist categories contain the reciprocal recognition of labour and capital as an intrinsic relation of struggle. This applies for all the marxist categories. The rnarxist concepts have to be open to the changes in the composition of the social relations which occur during the process of transformation. This is ever more obvious, since it is marxism that analyses the permanent decomposition and recomposition of bourgeois society as a structurally given mediation of its social antagonism and thus as a means of its existence (see Bonefeld 1987). In this sense, the analysis of the hidden laws of capitalism leads inherently to the analysis of the mediation of class antagonism: the modus vivendi of the crisis-ridden development of the capital-labour relation.

The marxist concepts thus contain the analytical perception of the 'hidden laws' and the inherent possibilities of change, both within capitalism (re- and decomposition of form of social relations)' and against capitalist mode of production. Thus, they contain the possibility of 'barbarism and socialism' (see Luxemburg). Marxist conceptions thus contain the notion of the 'possibility' and 'unpredictability' of the development of the capital relation. Marxist categories conceptualise the variety of phenomena as implicit forms of the presence of labour within capital, and thus struggle. The concepts entail the capital labour relation as a relation of subject and object of historical development (see Lukács 19711 ). The categories therefor contain their own negation: they are forms of thought which seek to comprehend the development of the antagonistic social relation and thus to understand history as object and result of struggle.


The concept of mediation has to be seen within the above outline. The 'determinate abstraction' (see Negri 1984) promotes an analysis of what is mediated. Whereby the mediation itself is inherently contradictory due to its generation as a structurally necessary mode of existence of the organisational presence of labour within capital.

The term mediation inherently contains its own negation which I shall refer to as de-mediation. This term seeks to comprehend the constitution of class through struggle. The term de-mediation will be discussed later.

Concentrating on the term mediation, it contains the analytical penetration of the reality of capitalism as a complex diversity of phenomena. The term mediation is open to the structurally given crisis-ridden transformation of the mode of existence, although the basic pattern remains: the capital relation of necessary and surplus labour.

The recognition of class struggle as the motor of history is basic for the understanding of 'mediation', all-the more because the social antagonism of the capital-labour relation is the relation which is mediated. Economic, social and political phenomena have thus to be seen as object and result of struggle. The historical materialisation of former struggle confines and conditions class struggle (see Marx 1943).

According to Marx, antagonistic relations express themselves always in forms (value-form, state form) (see Marx 1983, p. 106). 'Form' is the 'modus vivendi' (Marx 1983, p. 106) of antagonistic relations. The mediation of antagonistic relations in certain 'forms' does not 'sweep away' (Marx) the inconsistencies of antagonistic relations. Form, and thus mediation, “is generally the way in which real contradictions are reconciled” (Marx 1983, p. 106). Thus, the term mediation refers to the form of existence which allows the antagonistic relations to “exist side by side” (Marx 1983, p. 106).

Thus, it is within 'form' that antagonistic relations can articulate themselves. For this reason I would follow Marx in speaking of the 'perverted and enchanted world' (Marx 1966, p. 830) as a form of existence. Form mediates the existence of antagonisms as a condition of their own existence. As such, the existence of antagonism is a mediated existence, or, with reference to Marx, a fetishized reality. This reality is the material world of capitalism which is based upon class antagonism, which is reproduced by class struggle, which is shattered by crisis (itself also a form of capitalism) and which is dynamically and constantly transformed due to the presence of labour within capital. The mode of mediation is the sole existence of class antagonism.

The totality of phenomena is the material world of antagonism, that is its mode of existence. The relations of production as well as political power relations have thus to be seen as forms of existence of antagonistic relations. The historically changing mode of existence (or appearance, form) has to be grasped as the maerial world of the capital relation which bathes all social, normative and political phenomena in a certain colour (see Marx 1973, p. 107).

Thus, the fetishized world of capitalism is no closed system precisely because it is the form of the capital-labour relation and because it has to be reproduced by class struggle. It is only through struggle that the form of mediation is reproduced and the fethishization of society perpetuated. Contrary to deterministic approaches, this fetishized reality is the reality of captialism as a necessary form of mediation of antagonism. Thus, the enchanted world of capitalism cannot be dismissed as a cover of the veiled reality of truthful laws of capitalism. The only existence of abstract general laws is the cover itself. As such, capitalism exists as a 'totality' of social phenomena within which the antagonism is mediated, with which the antagonism is reproduced and without which capitalism wouldn't exist. The 'determinate abstraction' (Negri 1984) of the enchanted and perverted world of capitalism does not create a hidden reality of capitalism, which is separated from its cover, and from which the false reality of freedom and equality can be deduced as a 'appearance' which is (necessarily) 'wrong' as opposed to 'true' (the hidden laws). The determinate abstraction, conversely to structuralist approaches, depicts the so-called 'cover' as the material existence of class-antagonism.

The concepts of 'Das Kapital' and of the 'Grundrisse' compose the enchanted world in the process of thinking. These concepts thus categorise the mode of existence within which the class antagonism is inscribed and operating, and which is the material world of capitalism. The concept of surplus value, for example, does not exist as an abstract concept of Capital Volume I with which an understanding of the 'concealed' reality should be achieved. It is rather the existence of surplus value production which composes the reality of capitalist exploitation within and through the material world of capitalism, this latter being the mediated mode of existence of antagonism.

The continuity of capitalism resolves itself in the crisis-ridden development of the capital-labour relation. This dynamic development is mediated through the discontinuity of captial's mode of existence, that is, its form of control and its form of pervertion. This permanence of change is mediated by crisis. The transformation of the mode of existence of surplus value production is the historical mediation of the capital-labour class antagonism. The crisis-ridden de- and re-composition of the mode of existence is thus the historical mediation of the achieved form of the material world of capitalism. History is a process of class struggle whose dialectical contradiction is inscribed in the relation of subject and object. Thus, history has to be conceptualised as a totality within which 'kernal and skin constitute the unity' (Labriola 1974, p. 151).

Summing up the argument, the 'enchanted and perverted world' is the only existence of capitalism. The mode of existence is neither cover nor surface. The mode of existence is the mediation of class antagonism. It is the capital-labour relation which illuminates the colour of the social phenomena whose totality constitutes the "concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse" (Marx 1973, p. 101).


Due to the organisational existence of labour within capital, the mediation of the capital-labour relation is permanently driven into crisis-contradiction-de-mediation and further transcendence.

The mediation of antagonism is thus in a constant process of reproduction-contradiction-crisis and transformation. Fetishized reality does not exist as a closed system. The mediation of class antagonism does not sweep away antagonism and inconsistencies, precisely because it is the mode of existence of antagonisms. The existence of antagonsim in a concealed form (see Marx 1966, p. 817) has to be reproduced by the intercourse of capital and labour: that is struggle.

The fetishized reality has constantly to be reproduced by struggle. As such, it comes constantly into conflict with experience. Thus, it is not only the academical mind which understands the determinating cause of the mode of existence. However, the existence of the abstract in the concrete unifies class conflict and promotes the perception of class antagonism and the understanding of the 'interrelated relation' 'to the popular mind' (see Marx 1966, p. 817). As such, the fetishized reality of capitalism is far from being a closed system whose existence can only be grasped by an intellectually inspired vanguard party acting from 'outside' and administering the 'misled' masses.

The presence of labour within capital constantly de-mediates the mediation of capitalism. Struggle constitutes the de-fetishization of the enchanted and perverted world of capitalism. 'The dialectical relation between subject and object in the development of history' (see Lukács 1971, p. 61) is explicitly elaborated within the marxist method of determinate abstraction and tendency (see Negri 1984, p. 13). It is this dialectical relation between subject and object which provides the understanding of de-mediation as a form of demystification, denuciation and critique of capitalism. All of these forms of de-mediation are intrinsically bound to the practice of destabilisation, decomposition and destruction. Thus, the unity of theory and practice which is explicit for the politics of marxism dwells on the antagonistic class relation of capitalism.

De-mediation thus refers to the constitution of class through struggle. Struggle inherently contains both the reproduction of mediation and the destruction of mediation. Struggle possibly demystifies equality as a mediation of capitalist exploitation, it possibly denounces freedom as a mediation of domination and it possibly criticises 'rights' as a moment of exploitation and destruction (see Gunn 1987).

The activity of labour against its existence as proletarian labour entails the de-mediation of its own experience as wage-labour or, in other words, the recognition of itself as variable capital. Thus, the unifying dynamic of the process of surplus value production continually drives its mediation into contradiction and into de-mediation.


"On the one hand, we have the mass, on the other, its historic goal, located outside the existing society. On the one hand, we have day-to-day struggle; on the other, the social revolution. Such are the terms of the dialectical contradiction through which the socialist movement makes its way" (Luxemburg 1970, p. 128-129).

Mediation and de-mediation are consistent and permanent features of the course of class struggle. The constitution of class through struggle promotes tendencies of de-mediation which are explicitly part of the 'dialectical contradiction' articulated by Luxemburg: day-to-day struggle and socialist revolution. In this context the interwoven process of mediation and de-mediation refers to the possibility of emancipation and the possibility of defeat, that is, the possibilities of socialism and of the transformation of struggle into a new mode of mediation. Luxemburg seems to take this on board when she speaks about the inherent possibilities of socialism and barbarism (see Luxemburg 1970 p. 268, 327). The de-mediation of capitalism is a force inscribed in the dialectic relation of class antagonism. De-mediation thus includes its negation: mediation. The dialectic relation of struggle thus inherently involves the effort to reverse de-mediation by transforming the mode of existence of antagonism. Marx discusses this reciprocal action inherent in the dialectical relation of class antagonism on various occasions. This reciprocal action of antagonism is conditioned by the results of former struggle. Within marxist discourse the relation of mediation and de-mediation is discussed as the reciprocal action of subject and object within the development of history (see Lukács) or as determinate abstraction and tendency (see Negri 1984). The two following examples should clarify this argument: The constitution of class through struggle is seen as productive for the development of the state in the same way as strikes are for the implementation of new machinery (see Marx 1969). Against the 'revolts of the working-class' within production the implementation of new machinery is used as a 'weapon' (Marx 1983, p. 411) to establish control over labour. Struggle thus reproduces capitalism and transforms its mode of existence. Thus, the constitution of class and the transformation of the mode of existence of the capital-labour relation are closely interwoven.

Mediation and de-mediation are concepts which seek to understand the course of struggle. They are dialectically interwoven concepts within which the development of class struggle is inscribed. Thus, they conceptualise the dialectical process of subject and object during history: de-mystification and de-composition, destabilisation and new order of control, practice and counterpractice. In this way, mediation and de-mediation refer to the reproduction of the enchanted world through struggle, which inherently involves the transformation of the capitalist mode of existence and the permanence of primitive accumulation (see Bonefeld 1987).

The permanent and dynamic effort of capital to restructure its control over labour is the precondition of the stability of the capitalist system and vice versa. As for labour, it is the action of destabilisation which immediately leads to the action of destruction (see Negri 1979). The historical form within which the transformation is promoted is crisis, so that the process of mediation is consistently the object and the result of struggle.

The capitalist modes of existence are constantly de-mediated and mediated by the hidden law of their determination: class antagonism and class struggle. Hence, the alternative of socialism and barbarism.

Bonefeld 1987 Open Marxism, in Common Sense no. 1

Gunn 1987 Rights, in Edinburgh Review No. 77

Labriola 1974 Über den historischen Materialismus, Frankfurt

Lukács 1971 Geschichte und KlassenbewuBtsein, Luchterhand

Luxemburg 1970 Speaks, New York

Marx 1943 The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, London

Marx 1966 Capital Vol III, London

Marx 1969 Theories of Surplus Value Vol I

Marx 1973 Grundrisse, Manuscripts of the Critique of Political Economy

Marx 1983 Capital Vol I, London

Negri 1979 Sabotage, Munchen

Negri 1984 Marx Beyond Marx, Notes on the Grundrisse

  • 1I do not, however, share Lukács's messianic belief: in the proletariat as the historical executor of history's essence.