About Aufheben

A brief introduction to the Aufheben group and magazine.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on September 25, 2006

Aufheben: (past tense: hob auf; past participle: aufgehoben; noun: Aufhebung)

There is no adequate English equivalent to the German word Aufheben. In German it can mean "to pick up", "to raise", "to keep", "to preserve", but also "to end", "to abolish", "to annul". Hegel exploited this duality of meaning to describe the dialectical process whereby a higher form of thought or being supersedes a lower form, while at the same time "preserving" its "moments of truth". The proletariat's revolutionary negation of capitalism, communism, is an instance of this dialectical movement of supersession, as is the theoretical expression of this movement in the method of critique developed by Marx.

The journal Aufheben was first produced in the UK in Autumn 1992. Those involved had participated in a number of struggles together - the anti-poll tax movement, the campaign against the Gulf War - and wanted to develop theory in order to participate more effectively: to understand capital and ourselves as part of the proletariat so we could attack capital more effectively. We began this task with a reading group dedicated to Marx's Capital and Grundrisse. Our influences included the Italian autonomia movement of 1969-77, the situationists, and others who took Marx's work as a basic starting point and used it to develop the communist project beyond the anti-proletarian dogmatisms of Leninism (in all its varieties) and to reflect the current state of the class struggle. We also recognized the moment of truth in versions of class struggle anarchism, the German and Italian lefts and other tendencies. In developing proletarian theory we needed to go beyond all these past movements at the same time as we developed them - just as they had done with previous revolutionary movements.

Aufheben comes out once a year (see subscription details), and to date (September 2006) there have been fourteen issues. This site contains all of the articles from these fourteen issues and also some pamphlets. Since Aufheben is a developing project, some of our own ideas have already been superseded. We do not produce these ideas in the abstract, but, as we hope comes across in these articles, are involved in many of the struggles we write about, and develop our perspective through this experience.

This page contains the editorial from the first issue (Autumn 1992), which expands on some of these points.

"Theoretical criticism and practical overthrow are ... inseparable activities, not in any abstract sense but as a concrete and real alteration of the concrete and real world of bourgeois society." (Karl Korsch.)

We are living in troubled and confusing times. The Bourgeois triumphalism that followed the collapse of Eastern Bloc has given way to fear and incomprehension at the return of war, nationalism and fascism to Europe. The tumultuous events of the last four years have shattered the certainties of the Cold War period. Yet for all the momentous changes that have followed on from the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, it would seem that, after more than thirteen years of Thatcherism and designer socialism, that the prospect of revolutionary change is more remote than ever. Indeed in the Cold War period the very petrified state of geo-politics actually allowed the projection of total social revolution - a real leap beyond capitalism in its Eastern and Western varieties - as the only possibility beyond the status quo. Now, however, we see the real dangers of fundamental changes and ruptures within the parameters of continuing capitalist development. Within these dangers there does lie the real possibility of the further development of the social revolutionary project. But to recognise and seize the opportunities the changing situation offers we need to arm ourselves theoretically and practically. The theoretical side of this requires a preservation and superseding of the revolutionary theory that has preceded us.

Capitalism creates its own negation in the proletariat, but the success of the proletariat in abolishing itself and capital requires theory. At the time of the first world war the theory and praxis of the classical workers' movement came close to smashing the capital relation. But it was defeated by capital using both Stalinism and social democracy. The domination of the workers movement by Stalinism and social democracy that followed was an expression of this defeat of both the theory and practice of the proletariat.

The first stirrings from the long slumber began in the fifties following the death of Stalin and with the revolts against Stalinism by East German and Hungarian workers. This rediscovery of autonomous practice by the proletariat was accompanied by a rediscovery of the high points of the theory of the classical workers movement. In particular the German and Italian left communist critiques of the Soviet Marxism, the seminal work of Lukacs and Korsch in the critique of the objectivism of Second International Marxism which Leninism has failed to go beyond.

The New Left that emerged from this process was in a sense the reemergence of a whole series of theoretical currents - council communism, class struggle and liberal versions of anarchism, Trotskyism - that had largely been submerged by Stalinism. But while a number of groups that sprung up to a large extent just regurgitated as ideology the theories they were discovering, there were some real attempts to go beyond these positions, to actually develop theory adequate to the modern conditions. The period is marked by an explosion of new ideas and possibilities. The situationists and the autonomists represent high points in this process of reflecting and expressing the needs of the movement.

The rediscovery of the proletariat's theory happened in a symbiotic relation with the rediscovery of proletarian revolutionary practice. The wildcat strikes and general refusal of work, the near revolution in France in '68, the 'counter cultural' creation of new needs by the proletariat, in total a successful attack on the Keynesian settlement that had maintained social peace since the war. But with capital's successful use of crisis to undermine the gains of the proletarian offensive began a crisis in the ideas of the movement. The crisis was a result of the attacks on practice. We can see a number of directions in the collapse of the New Left.

One was a reformist turn: Under the mistaken notion that they were taking the struggles further - marching through the institutions - many comrades entered the Western social democratic parties. This move did not act to unify and organise the mass movements and grassroots struggles but rather encouraged and covered up the decline of these social movements. Those who avoided the mistake of being incorporated into the system fell into twin errors. On the one hand many embroiled themselves in frantic party-building. They were persuaded that the problem with the movement so far was the lack of an organisation to attack capital and the state. While they built their party the movementwas breaking up. They were blind to the history of Trotskyism as the 'loyal opposition' to Stalinism.

On the other hand many of those who recognised the bankruptcy of Leninism fell into a libertarian swamp of lifestylism and total absorption in 'identity politics' etc. Meanwhile from Academia came a sophisticated attack on radical theory in the guise of radical theory. The libertarian critique of Leninism - that it is an attempt to replace one set of rulers with another set - was transformed into an attack on the very project of social revolution. While appearing in their discourse to be exceptionally radical, the political implications of the postmodernists and poststructuralists amount to at best a wet liberalism, while at worst a justification for nationalism and wars.

The collapse of the new left parallelled the retreat of the proletariat as a whole before the onslaught of capitalist restructuring. In Britain we had the debilitating affect of the 'social contract' under Labour and the exceptionally important defeat of the miners strike. Elsewhere the crushing of the Italian movement and so on.

This brings us to the present situation. The connection between the movement and ideas has been undermined. Theory and practice are split. Those who think do not act, and those who act do not think. In the universities where student struggles forced the opening of space for radical thought that space is under attack. The few decent academic Marxists are besieged in their ivory tower by the poststructuralist shock troops of neo-liberalism. Although decent work has been done in areas such as the state derivation debate there has been no real attempt apply any insights in the real world. Meanwhile out in the woods of practical politics, though we have had some notable victories recently, ideas are lacking. Many comrades, especially in Britain, are afflicted with a virulent anti-intellectualism that creates the ludicrous impression that the Trots are the ones with a grasp of theory. Others pass off conspiracy theories as a substitute for serious analysis.

We publish this journal as a contribution to the reuniting of theory and practice. Aufheben is a space for critical investigation which has the practical purpose of overthrowing capitalist society.

Aufheben editorial group would like to receive articles from contributors for our 'Intake' pages. Whilst we would not publish something with which we substantively disagreed, we would try to find a way to include material with which we did not agree fully should it raise issues which we consider important to debate. We would also appreciate letters. A letters page can serve as a valuable forum for debate, and would go some way towards breaking down the division between writers and readers. Artwork would also be gratefully received.

Aufheben can be obtained by subscription. It would be of great help to us if as many readers as possible subscribed. This would not only provide valuable financial resources in advance of printing, but would also reduce the amount lost as profit to the bookshops.


10 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

"There is no adequate English equivalent to the German word Aufheben. In German it can mean "to pick up", "to raise", "to keep", "to preserve", but also "to end", "to abolish", "to annul".

Now my Deutsch is very basic but wouldn't this duel meaning make the word liberation an effective substitution? To truly Liberate means to raise up the downtrodden and preserve their existence, and it does this by abolishing the forces that suppress the newly picked up.

Just a thought.

Jason Cortez

10 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Actually there is reasonable equivalent sublate/sublation.