Social Form, Critique and Human Dignity

Social Form, Critique and Human Dignity

Werner Bonefeld

I Kant's definition of the Enlightenment as humanity's exodus from self-imposed immaturity still possesses subversive cunning. Not only does he speak about self-imposed immaturity, that is Man made immaturity, he also espouses the human being as a subject that possesses the ability to leave behind the perverted world it itself has created.(1)

The notion 'leaving behind self-imposed immaturity' presupposes opposition to the existing relations of power and Kant's determination of the role of the scholar acknowledged this. He argued that only that science is true which helps the common Man to his dignity (Kant, 1868, p. 625) and he demanded that scholarly work has to reveal the true character of the constitution of the state and that failure to do so amounts to deceitful publicity (Kant, 1979).

Marx echoed Kant's critical enlightenment when he argued that all hitherto history is pre-history and that human history begins when Man has created social relations in which humanity is no longer an exploitable resource but a purpose. Marx went further than Kant by arguing that the 'unveiling' of the true character of constituted power is not sufficient. His critique does not merely wish to expose but seeks to show that these constituted forms are forms of human social practice. This is the material basis for his revolutionary demand that all relations which render Man a forsaken being have to be abolished in favour of the society of the free and equal, a society of human dignity where all is returned to Man who, no longer ruled by self-imposed abstraction, controls his own social affairs and is in possession of himself.

Marx's critique, as Adorno (1993, p. 141) argues, is a science of human relations only insofar as it is also a science of the inhumanity of her existence. This insight is focused in Marx's critique of fetishism which essentially amounts to a critique of unreflected presuppositions and that is, the presupposition of capitalist forms as self-constituted active things. This critique, following Backhaus (1997), amounts to a theory of social constitution that is intransigent toward any reification, including the espousal of the bourgeois notion of the human being as an already existing subject. In short, at the same time as Marx argued that theoretical mysteries find their rational explanation in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice (cf. Marx, 1975, p. 5), his critique charges that this practice exists against itself as a mere personification of economic objectivity in the form of capital. This, then, is the core 'problematic' of Marx's critique: how it is possible to understand the circumstance that human social practice is constitutive at the same time as which human beings appear to be ruled by already existing abstractions (cf. Reichelt, 2000).

Marx's critical understanding of the human subject as a subject that exists in the mode of being denied in the form of capital, characterises, following Adorno (1975, p. 51), the critique political economy as a negative ontology: although the social world subsists through and rests on human social practice, the human being obtains as a mere character-mask of social objectivity. The critique of political economy, then, amounts not only to a critique of capitalist forms on the basis of the constitutive essence of society, that is the human being. It also contains the material basis for the demand that all relations have to be overthrows where Man exists as a degraded, exploited, debased, forsaken and enslaved being. Such a society is not worthy of Man. It is a society without human dignity. Paraphrasing Marcuse (1998), the human being is a thinking being and if thought is the site of truth, then the human being has to possess the freedom, to be led by thought in order to realise what is recognised as truth, namely that the human being itself is the constitutive basis of a world which enslaves it. The essay explores these insights.

II The elevation of independent and that is critical thought as the principle of scientific thinking lacks respectability in a world governed by the doctrine: 'research, research, and research but do not think'. The more research becomes a thoughtless exercise of the analytical interpretation and statistical evaluation of facts, the less society appears as a society of human beings. Instead, human beings become a fact themselves: the so-called human factor of production. Bloch (1961, p. 65) argued that 'that what is, can not be true'. He thereby contradicted the seeming identity between 'facts', or objective existence, and essence, and thereby indicated the violence of a social existence where, under the banner of abstract identity, essence is made redundant through the sacrifice of "human machines" on the pyramids of accumulation. In contrast to forms of thought that presuppose facts as data invested with objective truth, he elevated independent and that is critical thinking as the principle of scholarly work. 'Thinking means venturing beyond' (Bloch, 1973, p. 2). Such thinking, however, lacks affirmative and that is, constructive force - it rejects the hypothesisation of social structures as the presuppositions of thought and thereby refuses to dignify them as subjective things that render those to whom dignity belongs - Man - mere agents of structural properties. The hypothesisation of the social structures as forces that impose themselves objectively on the human being, leads, with necessity, to the derivation of human existence from objective conditions which are presupposed as a given and accepted as if they were a person apart. In this perspective, the human being is affirmed as a mere structure-reproducing agent. This humanisation of structures as active things - better: the endorsement of capital as the subject, and conversely, the structural endorsement of Man as a structure-reproducing agency, is deceitful. It rationalises the forms of capital as objective things and infers from this that their power is self-constituted - the so-called objective logic of capital. Marx criticised such rationalisation as the theoretical expression of the fetishism of the commodity form.(2) This form focuses the social reality of human existence where the products of social labour appear to have mastery over, instead of being controlled by Man (cf. Marx, 1983, p. 85). The circumstance that the product of social labour imposes itself objectively behind the backs of the original producers makes it appear as if society were a person apart from its substance, the human being. The acceptance of the constituted power of things as the presupposition of thought is uncritical. It merely affirms that thought has not escaped from the constituted myth that human existence is a fate governed by extra-human and that is, systemic forces of economic objectivity. Marx's critique of fetishism does not deny that fetishism is real. Yet, since fetishism is real, what is its social constitution? Is the world of things constituted by nature or is it the result of divine intervention, created as it were by the invisible hand of history?

According to Adorno, society's laws of motion abstract 'from its individual subjects, degrading them to mere executors, mere partners in social wealth and social struggle. The debasement is as real as the fact that on the other hand there would be nothing without individuals and their spontaneities' (Adorno, 1990, p. 304).(3) Reification, then, 'finds its limitation in reified Man' (Adorno, 1975, p. 25) and that is, the reality in which the social individual moves day in and day out has no invariant character that is, something which exists independently from Man. Horkheimer's (1992) characterisation of Marx's critique of political economy as a 'judgement on existence' expresses the same fundamental idea. From this perspective, the so-called autonomisation (Verselbst"žndigung) of capital stands for the autonomisation of the relations of production which although rendering the human being invisible, exists in and through and rests on human social practice (cf. Adorno, 1993, p. 173). However much capital appears to have autonomised itself, it presupposes human social relations as its substance. The critique of fetishism amounts, then, to a critique of unreflected presuppositions and that is, it seeks to bring to the fore the substance of the things themselves: human social relations. In short, the critique of political economy amounts to the conceptualisation of the totality of social praxis (begriffene Praxis) (Schmidt, 1974, p. 207) which constitutes, suffuses and contradicts the apparently objective and that is, extra-human forms of capital.(4)

Marx's critique, if it is to realise its intention to be more than just an alternative economic science, has to show the human content, however perverted and debased, of the constituted forms of capital. There is no form without content. As Marcuse (1988, p. 151) put it, 'the constitution of the world occurs behind the backs of the individuals; yet it is their work'. The circumstance, then, that the constituted fetish of capital renders human social practice invisible and makes it appear as a mere agency attendant upon objective laws, calls for demystification: Neither 'nations' nor 'history' nor capital have made war. 'History does nothing, does not "possess vast wealth", does not "fight battles"! It is Man, rather, the real, living Man who does all that, who does possess and fight, it is not "history" that uses Man as a means to pursue its ends, as if it were a person apart. History is nothing but the activity of Man pursuing its ends' (Marx and Engels, 1980, p. 98). In relation to Marx's critique of political economy, this insight entails a programme of research which deciphers the value form as a mode of existence of human social relations. Regardless, then, of the circumstance that the forms of social reproduction abstract from the social individual, they remain forms of alienated human social practice which subsists in and through, and against these abstract forms (cf. Adorno, 1993, p. 108). In this view, the transformation of labour power into a commodity entails the positing of human social practice in the form of a personification of exchange relations, rendering human beings commensurable as mere monads, as character-masks of exchange relations where 'the person objectifies himself in production; the thing subjectifies itself in the person' (Marx, 1973, p. 89). At the same time as their social reproduction subsists through the world of 'things', the reproduction of the relations between things depends on human social practice and transformative power. Horkheimer (1992, p. 229) put this succinctly when he argued that 'human beings produce through their own labour a reality which increasingly enslaves them'.

Marx was once asked about his favourite motto. He replied 'de omnibus dutitandem', to doubt everything. Doubt is the basis of all scientific thought. If essence and appearance were to coincide, doubt, and with it all science, would be superfluous. Science is constituted by the difference between essence and appearance (cf. Marx 1966, p. 817). Essence has to appear since, if it were not, it could not be the essence. It is thus a matter of deciphering the appearance [Schein] of independence that the world of structures and their so-called objective laws posit. The attempt to uncover the constitutive essence of the world of things can not go forward through a theoretical project that takes for granted and is based on the appearance of the things themselves. As Marx comments, 'it is, in reality, much easier to discover by analysis the earthly core of the misty creations of religion, than, conversely, it is, to develop from the actual relations of life the corresponding celestialised forms of these relations. The latter method is the only materialist, and therefore, the only scientific one. The weak points of the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism which excludes history and its process, are at once evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality' (Marx, 1983, p. 352, fn. 8). In other words, the critique of political economy inverts the surrogate community that the appearance of the independence of things presents in order to bring to the fore the human social relations which, although rendered invisible in the subjectification of things in the person, are constitutive of these forms themselves. All production is appropriation of nature in and through a specific form of society - and production for the sake of an accumulation of abstract wealth is a social form of appropriation however autonomised (verselbst"žndigt) the destructive power capital in its 'command over labour' (cf. Marx, 1973, p. 508) might be. As Reichelt (2000, p. 122) put it, 'if labour's constitutive significance for the proper understanding of the dynamic of capital is overlooked, then "economics" is posed as a theory with naturalistically given elements'. In other words, the social character of capital's autonomised system of value production remains unintelligible unless it is conceptualised as a form of human social practice. This conceptualisation is the springboard of Marx's critique of political economy.

Marx's critique of political economy, then, is fundamentally a critique of fetishism (Backhaus, 1997). His endeavour to reveal the social constitution of the relations between things rejects as unscientific the derivation of human social relations from the constituted relation between the things, the so-called anatomy of bourgeois society. Instead, his critique demystifies the capitalist forms as forms of human social relations. Capital, he argues, is neither a thing nor a self-constituted 'subject'. It is, rather, a definite social relationship - it is 'the form assumed by the conditions of labour' (Marx, 1972, p. 492) and that is, the mode of existence of labour as 'object-less free labour' (Marx, 1973, p. 507), of labour divorced from its conditions. That this is so is shown in the contradictory view that the proponents of the derivation of human existence from presupposed objective laws, pose. On the one hand, human beings are presumed as mere personifications of things and, then, it is argued that the well being and functioning of the world of things depends on active humanity - the efficient, effective and economic consumption of labour power in the production process is affirmed as the resource that renders the world of things profitable and capable of reproduction. Although conceived as a mere personification of things, the well-being of the things themselves is seen nevertheless to depend on the effective application of human productive force. The espousal, then, of 'society' as a society ruled by objective laws, endorses the consumption of labour through the roboterised assembly line as the best of all worlds (cf. Adorno, 1975, p. 106).

III Marx's work focuses on forms, at first on forms of consciousness (i.e., religion and law), then later on the forms of political economy. 'For Marx, the focus on forms was identical with the critique of the inverted forms of social existence, an existence constituted by the life-practice of human beings' (Reichelt, 2000, p. 105).(5) His critique shows that all these forms obtain as perverted forms of 'community', a community established by things. He charges that the individuals must emancipate themselves from this abstract community in order ever to be able to interact with one another 'as individuals' (Marx and Engels, 1962, p. 70f). This central idea is most strongly argued in The German Ideology: 'The reality [das Bestehende], that communism creates, is precisely the real [wirkliche] basis for rendering it impossible that any reality should exist independently of individuals, in so far as this reality is only a product of the preceding intercourse of the individuals themselves' (ibid., p. 70). The understanding of human social practice can thus not go forward on the basis of presupposed capitalist forms and their so-called objective laws of development. The derivation of human relations from the hypothesised anatomy of capitalist society accepts this anatomy as the objective framework of human existence and because of this affirms the reified world as the real subject. The idolisation of constituted things that the derivation of social relations from hypothized structures entails, leads to the transformation of thought into the 'ideology of reification - the actual mask of death' (Adorno, 1975, p. 60). It accepts, and through it projects, object-less free labour and therewith the indignity of human existence as a mere structure-reproducing agency, as an eternal historical condition. In short, it sees merely relations of exchange between atomised individuals whose relations to each other are structured behind their backs. Hence Marx's critique of political economy: it simply brings outward appearances into an external relationship with one another and its lack of comprehension lies precisely in that organically coherent factors are brought into a haphazard relation with one another, i.e. into a purely speculative connection that is seen to be governed by either the invisible hand or Say's law.

Instead of deriving human social relations from presupposed economic forms, Marx's critique political economy engages in a 'reductio ad hominem' (Adorno, 1993, p. 143).(6) As Marx put it, critique has to demonstrate 'ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But for Man the root is Man himself' (Marx, 1975b, p. 182) and 'Man is the highest being for Man' (ibid.). Marx's critique focuses on human dignity as dignity denied, and this entails the critique of the forms of capital as perverted (verrckte) forms of human social relations. His critique then has to show that the denial of human dignity in capitalist society is a necessary denial and that is, a mode of existence of human purposeful practice alienated from its conditions in the form of capital.(7) The standard of critique is the human being whose dignity which obtains in the mode of being denied, has to be realised through the overthrow of all relations 'in which man is a debased, enslaved, forsaken, despicable being' (ibid.). Critique, then, has to return (zurckfhren) the world of things to its human basis to show its social constitution. This 'return' of social forms - their conceptualisation as forms of human social practice - does not entail the human being as an 'abstract individual' but as a member of a definite form of society (Marx, 1975, p. 5).

These quotations from Marx's earlier work are at times seen to carry little weight because Marx is said to have matured as a result of his serious study of political economy. This view accepts, rightly, that Marx was a highly intelligent scholar and it is for this reason that his later work has indeed to be taken most seriously: critique, as he argues in his mature work, has to return the relations amongst the things themselves, the constituted forms of the economic categories, to 'relations between humans' (Marx, 1972, p. 147) and the critique of the fetishism of the commodity form entails its deciphering on a 'human basis' (cf. Marx, 1983, p. 94). Further, he is adamant that his critique of political economy entails a 'general critique of the entire system of economic categories' (Marx, 1976, p. 250).(8) For Marx, then, his programme of critique consists in the deciphering of the real system of economic mystification. Without such demystification, the bourgeois world would only be conceivable in the form of the object (see Reichelt, 1971), leading to the affirmation of the world of things and therewith the derivation of the human social relation from presupposed objective structures. Marx's programme of critique, in contrast, stands opposed to such affirmation which merely comprehends the constituted totality of capitalist social relations and confers on this totality an objectivity in abstraction from its real movement and constitution, and that is, for Marx, the social practice of the real human being - however perverted this practice might be.

The idea that Marx's critique provides less a critique of economic categories than a critical understanding of economic categories, is emphasised in the economic interpretation of Marx's critique, so-called Marxist economics. Within the field of Marxist economics, critique is usually understood in terms of Marxism as an alternative economic theory that is superior to classical political economy which either failed to provide a coherent economic account or offered contradictory and inconsistent explanations of economic categories and their inter-relations. According to Mohun (1994, pp. 214-15), Marxist economics has to answer three questions: 1) 'Why is value labour-time, and what sort of labour-time is it', 2) 'What is money, and why is it the form of value?'; 3) 'How do amounts of labour-time become represented as sums of money, and what is the meaning of this representation?'(9) The critical question of Marxist economics is whether Marx's work successfully integrates the neo-classical concern with the form of value in exchange (price) with the Ricardian emphasis on the objective content of labour in production (embodied labour as value). Marx's question, 'why does this content assume that form' (cf. Marx, 1962, p. 95), is thus reduced to 'why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour-time by the magnitude of that value' (Marx, 1983, p. 85).(10) The economic interpretation of Marx's critique of political economy, in its affirmation of economic categories, casts aside the first question and emphasises the second, transforming the critique of political economy into a mere economic science thereby frustrating Marx's reduction of economic categories to human relations in favour of a reduction of human relations to economic categories.

How does Marxist economics deal with the critique of fetishism? Mohun (1979) accepts that the root of the problem of appearance rests in the fetishism of the commodity form and he concludes from this that an account of commodity fetishism is crucial to an account of ideology.(11) Therefore, according to Mohun, a Marxist theory of ideology is necessary to establish the differences between knowledge and ideology, and the relations between the two. This task, he argues, comprises the classical task of epistemology. Leaving aside Marx's answer to the classical question of epistemology - 'the separation between in-itself and for-itself, the substance of the subject, is abstract mysticism' (Marx, 1981, p. 265) - what significance does Marxist economics accord to Marx's labour theory of value? For Mohun, this question is easily answered: The 'labour theory of value is a macro-economic one' (Mohun, 1994, p. 228). Might this not imply that Marxist economics reconciles the critique of political economy with those same economic categories which Marx's critique of fetishism exposes as deceitful and perverted? Marx's understanding that each 'form', even the most simple form like, for example, the commodity, 'is already an inversion and causes relations between people to appear as attributes of things' (Marx, 1972, p. 508) or, more emphatically, that each form is a 'perverted form' (Marx, 1962, p. 90),(12) is thus turned up-side down in favour of a Marxist science of economics (marxistische Wirtschaftslehre, cf. Backhaus, 1997). While Marx argued that the most developed perversion, the constituted fetish of capital is the relationship of capital to itself, of a thing to itself (see Marx, 1972, p. 515), the endorsement of Marx's critique as a macro-economic theory amounts to the acceptance of what Marx criticised as the most developed perversion of the capitalist form of social reproduction and that is, that capital is indeed capital and vice versa. As shown by Gunn (1991), such theoretical refinement amounts to an infinitive regress of meta-theories. The eternal quest of economic theory to discover the practical meaning of invisible principles ends up as an irrational exercise because that what it sets out to understand is presupposed as something beyond reason. Economic theory is uncritical - it presupposes capital as a self-relation and presumes that its social constitution can be discovered in the invisible. It deals with unreflected presuppositions.

In sum, economic theory - whether couched in Marxist terminology or not - is consumed by the perverted forms of capital (Reichelt, 1971). Marx had nothing positive to say about these perverted forms and he revealed them as forms of essential relations. There can be nothing more essential in society than humans. If essence is conceived as something other than humans, then society transforms into a humanless world (entmenschte Welt). The view that the essence of society is not the human being, has been championed by, for example, Jessop (1991) who argues that capital is the subject. As such a subject is has to be the essence - an inessential subject would be a contradiction in terms.(13) Bidet (1985) has argued that capital embodies the logic of an abstract market structure whose empirical reality is mediated by class struggle. Hirsch (1978) has argued in similar terms: 'within the framework of its general laws, capitalist development is determined ... by the actions of the acting subjects and classes, the resulting concrete conditions of crisis and their political consequences' (1978, pp. 74-5; emphasis added). Their acceptance of capital as the subject, historically active force, or constituted framework for action, merely posits in theoretical terms as incomprehensible the forms of appearance of an inhuman world, a world ruled by abstractions and thus a world of self-imposed immaturity.

The emphasis on human social practice disavows not only the bourgeois concept of humanity and rationality. It also reveals that the objective character of the forms of capital subsists through the denial of its essence. Yet, however denied, the world of things is a world made by humans and dependent upon human transformative power. The denial of human dignity and the possibility of human dignity - better: the category of possibility (M"glichkeitskategorie; cf. Bloch, 1973) that the notion of essence in the mode of being denied, or Adorno's characterisation of Marx's critique as a negative ontology, summons - is intrinsic to Marx's work.(14) The critique of fetishism reveals that the constituted forms of capital are, in fact, forms in and through which human practice 'exists': 'in-itself' as relations between things whose constituted form is the separation of social practice from its conditions and 'for-itself' because human social relations subsist in and through the relations between things - better: these relations acquire a livelihood as perverted forms of existence of capitalistically constituted human social relations - a world of things that is reproduced by 'active humanity' in and through her class-divided social practice. It follows that human social practice subsists also 'against-itself' as, on the one hand, a perverted social category and, on the other, as a power that makes history and is thus capable of leaving behind its own perverted existence. There would be no reified world without human social practice and transformative power - it would be a meaningless (begriffslose) world. Human practice, then, exists in-itself, for-itself and against-itself in the form of capital.(15) This understanding is not thrown into relief by the circumstance that human purposeful social practice has so far only managed to make history look like a grotesque and bloody grimace. Rather, it is focused.

Marx's critique, in sum, does not entail some sort of abstract negation of capital. It entails, rather, a determinate abstraction, an abstraction which determines the forms of capital as perverted forms human social relations. His critique is intransigent towards any reification and fetishism, to any notion that the relations between the things embody extra-human properties. In short, 'labour becomes productive only by producing its opposite', i.e. capital (Marx, 1973, p. 305) and the inequality in property between capital and labour is the foundation of the property right of capital to exploit labour and exploit it must in order to posit itself in the form of its constituted fetish, that is as a self-valorising value (Marx, 1983, p. 555). The reality of this constituted fetish subsists through the category of abstract labour which 'achieves practical truth as an abstraction' (Marx, 1973, p. 105) in the capitalist form or social reproduction. The other side of the universal reduction of all specific social practice to the one, some abstract form of labour, is the independence of individuals from their own labour. Although created by society, the independence of individuals from one another entails their dependence on the seemingly impersonal relations that the world of things presents. Thus, their independence is an 'illusion, and so more accurately called indifference' (ibid., p. 162). Their independence is that of atomised individuals that are 'free to collide with one another and to engage in exchange within this freedom' (ibid., pp. 163-4). Their connection as social individuals appears to be constituted by impersonal relations, by the things themselves. Yet, although these relations act 'with the force of an elemental natural process', capital, as self-valorising value, comprises not only a definite form social reproduction. It is the 'autonomisation in action' of abstract labour (cf. Marx, 1978, p. 185).(16)

IV Critique is charged with providing enlightenment as to the social constitution of the world of things. Marx's critique of political economy is fundamentally a critique of fetishism and, through it, a critique of unreflected presuppositions. This critique supplies an understanding of 'value' in terms of its social constitution, that is, as a perverted form through which social relations subsist contradictorily as relations between things. The critique of economic categories shows that economic relations are, in fact, perversions of human relations. In other words, in capitalism, the social character of human social practice is realised in and through the categories of political economy. These categories are adequate insofar as they posit the constituted existence (Dasein) of perverted social relations. However, the hypothesisation of the constituted forms of capital as practically active things abstracts from their social constitution and, instead, affirms the fetishism of capital as a self-constituted subject. This, then, amounts, as Backhaus has argued in relation to the form of money, to the theoretical embrace of the '"most nonsensical, most unintelligible form" that posits pure madness" (reine Verrcktheit)' (Backhaus, 1992, p. 62, quoting Marx, 1974, p. 928).

The significance of Marx's critique of political economy is that it shows the conditions which render necessary the existence of capitalist forms. The critique of the predominant form of labour, that is abstract labour, entails, as Marcuse (1979, p. 260) argued, the prerequisite for its abolition. According to Marcuse, Marx's critique is both negative and positive: it shows the negative human condition in the light of its positive suspension [Aufhebung]. In other words, Marx's critique deciphers the appearance [Schein] of independence that the capitalist forms posit, leaving the respectful forms of bourgeois purposeful activity naked by showing what it really is: a pumping machine of surplus value. Yet, as such a pumping machine, it remains a form of human relations (cf. Marx, 1966, ch. 48). For humans to enter into relationships with one another, not as personifications ruled by their self-imposed abstractions which they reproduce through their own labour, but as social individuals, as human dignities who are in control of their social conditions, the economic 'mastery of capital over man' has to be abolished so that Man's social reproduction is 'controlled by him' (cf. Marx, 1983, p. 85). Full-employment, in sum, makes sense in a society where labour is no longer the measure of all things. In other words, full employment makes sense in a society where humanity exists not as an exploitable resource but as a purpose (cf. Adorno, 1975, p. 44). The truth, then, of Marx's critique of political economy does not rest in its macro-economic interpretation and application; rather it is realised in its negation (Marcuse, 1979, p. 242).

This negation, however, is not circular - it does not entail the negation of the negation and therewith the reconciliation with existing relations of human indignity. Marx's critique, in short, does not offer solutions to problems of economic regulation or to political problems of justice and fairness. The notion 'solution' rests on the fiction that consensus between antagonist interests can be reached and that the destructive force of the capitalist form of social reproduction is a mere chance - and thus correctable - development (Miástand) and not one of necessity (notwendiger Zustand). What is a fair wage, how many hours of work are justified during the working week and how might justice be effected in a world based on the norms of abstract equality where all and everybody regardless of the inequality in property, are formally equal before the law? The commensurability of social labour in the form of value denies human dignity. Auschwitz, as Adorno (1990) reminds us, not only confirmed the violence of the bourgeois relations of abstract equality and abstract identity. It also confirmed the bourgeois exchange relations of pure identity as death.

In the misery of our time, the core 'problematic' of Marx's critique - how is it possible to understand the circumstance that human social practice is constitutive at the same time as human beings appear to be ruled by already existing abstractions - remains to be resolved. It is of course the case that the critique of political economy can be made manifest in practice only when it has seized the masses; when, in other words, the masses are seized by the understanding that it is their own labour, their social practice, that produces a world that oppresses them (cf. Marx, 1975b, p. 182). In sum, critique is charged with providing enlightenment as to the true constitution of the world of things. Enlightenment is a thoroughly subversive business. It doubts that things are as what they appear to be and it thinks the world up-side down in order to reveal its essence: the human being that exists against itself as the producer of its own forsaken conditions and for-itself as the not-yet existing subject that relates to herself in dignity and that is, exists for-itself as a purpose and not as a resource. 'All emancipation is the restoration of the human world and of human relationships to Man himself' (Marx).

(1)Man, with a capital 'M', is used here and throughout the essay in the sense of Mensch.
(2) On this see especially Sohn-Rhetel (1978).
(3) On the relation between critical theory and Marx's critique of political economy, see Backhaus (1992, 1996, 2000).
(4)For a detailed account see, Bonefeld (1995)
(5)This part draws on Reichelt (2000).
(6)The part draws on Bonefeld (2000).
(7)As Marx argues in Kapital, the divorce of labour from her conditions 'forms [bildet] the conception [Begriff] of capital' (Marx, 1966, p. 246).
(8) See also his Preface of 1859 in MEW 13, p. 10 and his letter to Lasalle in MEW 29, p. 550. The quotation from Marx (1983, p. 94) speaks of 'puzzling forms' that are 'assumed by social relations between man and man'. The more decisive German original can be found in Marx (1962, p. 106). On Marx's critique as a critique of economic categories sanse phrase see especially Backhaus (1997).
(9)The only reference to Marxist economics is to Mohun's contribution because of the clarity of his account.
(10) The English edition of Kapital omits the first part of the quotation.
(11) For a critique of economic interpretations of Marx, see the work of Backhaus. This part draws on Rooke (1998).
(12) In the English translation, the German verrckte Form is translated as 'absurd form' (Marx, 1983, p. 80). The translation is 'absurd'. In German, 'verrckt' has two meanings: verrckt (mad) and ver-rckt (displaced). Thus, the notion of 'perverted forms' means that these forms are both mad and displaced. In other words, they are the modes of existence of social practice, in which 'subject and object do not statically oppose each other, but rather are caught up in an "ongoing process" of the "inversion of subjectivity into objectivity, and vice versa"' (Backhaus, 1992, p. 60, quoting Kofler). The essay uses 'perversion' or 'perverted' in this double sense.
(13) Marx's conception of capital as the subject posits, as Backhaus (1997) has argued, no more than the theoretical hypothesis of political economy. Trcke (1986) has shown that the endeavour to conceive capital as the subject amounts to an attempt to posit the invisible and that is to conceptualise God. Intransigence toward the existence of humanity as a resource is replaced by a 'critical' rationalisation of, and reconciliation with, capital as a self-constituted subject. Traditionally, the upshot is the demand for the rational planning of economic resources, including the resource labour.
(14) On this see Psychopedis (2000).
(15) The notion 'in-itself' refers to capitalist social relations as constituted relations and that is, as relations where human practice subsists as if it were a mere personfication of the things themselves. Thus, 'in-itself' refers to the established existence of capital, its constituted Dasein. Marx's critique of fetishism amounts, then, to a critique of this 'in-itself'. His critique shows that human practice exists for itself as a perverted practice in the form of capitalist social relations. Orthodox accounts employ the notions 'in-itself' and 'for-itself' to indicate the 'objective' position of the working class and its potential as a revolutionary class ('class for-itself'). This dualism between objectivity and subjectivity does not make sense when looked at through the lenses of Marx's critique. The dualist conception of objectivity (in-itself) and subjectivity (for-itself) belongs firmly to a tradition of thought that resists an understanding of our social world as a world made by Man and a world dependent upon Man's transformative power. The treatment of class as existing 'in-itself' leads to an accommodation to 'objective conditions', that is, it leads to affirmative and apologetic accounts of a 'perverted' world (cf. Horkheimer, 1992, p. 246). In short, as Horkheimer (1985, p. 84) reports, the separation of 'genesis' from 'existence' constitutes the blind spot of dogmatic thought. See also footnote 13.
(16) On this see, Vincent (1991).

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Jul 31 2005 00:36


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