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Category: Truth

The Political Contradictions in Adorno’s Theory (Krahl, 1971)

Originally published in Hans-Jürgen Krahl, Konstitution und Klassenkampf (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Neue Kritik, 1971), pp. 285-288. English translation by Pat Murray and Ruth Heydebrand: Telos Fall 1974 no. 21, pp. 164-167. See also: Hans-Jürgen Krahl (1943-1970) / Für Krahl (Reinicke, 1973) / Krahl oder Adorno.


Adorno’s intellectual biography, even in its most aesthetic abstractions, is marked by the experience of Fascism. The mode in which this experience is reflected—by deciphering from the works of art the insoluble relation between critique and suffering—constitutes the uncompromising claim to negation, while simultaneously setting limits to it. “Damaged life,” through reflection on fascist domination as generated by the natural economic catastrophes of the capitalist mode of production, is aware of its entanglement in the ideological contradictions of bourgeois individualism, whose irrevocable decay it has understood; at the same time, it cannot disengage from it. Fascist terror produces not only the understanding of the hermetic compulsiveness of highly industrialized societies, it also violates the subjectivity of the theoretician and reinforces the class barriers against his cognitive ability. Adorno expresses this awareness of the process in his “Introduction” to Minima Moralia:

The powers that had driven me away also kept me from fully understanding them. I did not yet admit to myself my part in the conspiracy, which enmeshes everybody who even talks about individual matters while confronted by the unspeakable that is happening on a collective level.

It seems as if Adorno’s cutting critique on the ideological existence of the bourgeois individual irresistibly trapped him in its ruin. But this would mean that Adorno had never really left the isolation that emigration imposed on him. The monadic fate of the individual isolated by the laws of production of abstract labor is mirrored in his intellectual subjectivism. This is why Adorno was not able to translate his private compassion for the wretched of the earth into an integral partisanship of his theory towards the liberation of the oppressed.

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The Historicity of Abstractions (Gray, 2012)


by Nick Gray (originally written for SIC Journal in 2012, but never published) PDF

The Historicity of Abstractions: Are the categories ‘use-value’, ‘concrete labour’ and ‘labour as such’ transhistorically operative? [1]

Only totalising theory can interrogate the status of abstractions sufficiently vigorously”[2]

– Richard Gunn


At stake in this enquiry are: our conception of labour[3], of revolution, and social mediation in communism.

In this essay the Marxian categories of concrete labour, use-value, and indeed the category of “labour as such” are interrogated with respect to their historicity. I first briefly state what I take to be the traditional interpretation, and then consider the question from the angle of value-form theory, which establishes the historicity of abstract labour and the form-determination of the capitalist production process. Subsequently I consider the ramifications for the status of the categories of use-value and concrete labour of a critical analysis of the process of (real) hypostatisation within capitalist relations of commodity production and exchange. This is followed by an exegesis of Marx’s 1857 Introduction with regard to the historicity of the two types of abstraction in operation there: general and determinate abstractions. I then close by counterposing two radically opposed conceptions of the post-capitalist status of labour exemplified by Chris Arthur (circa 1978) and Moishe Postone, and argue that the dissolution of capitalist social relations implies that of the categories “concrete labour”, “use-value” and “labour as such”.

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A Capitalism Pure and Simple / Counter-Revolution Against a Counter-Revolution (Tamás, 2004/2007)


by Gáspár Miklós Tamás (interview / words from budapest / truth about class)

A Capitalism Pure and Simple  (2004) PDF

The symbolic and historic importance of Eastern Europe for the left is beyond dispute. It was, after all, in Eastern Europe where the socialist experiment has been allegedly attempted. The fall of the East Bloc régimes in 1989 has meant for most people that there is nothing over the horizon of global capitalism. Although it is by no means certain that what failed was socialism, institutions, organizations, currents of the Western left collapsed, as if what they represented would have been identical with the dismal heap of ruins which was the empire of Stalin’s diadochoi. However inglorious, drab, scary and tedious that empire was,  today’s  inmates believe that  it was  far superior in all respects to the new dispensation. Socialists appear to be disavowed by the general belief that capitalism is all there is, and democrats seem to be told that, compared to this new liberal democracy, dictatorship was a picnic.

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Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Curtis, 2021)


Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World is a six-part series that explores how modern society has arrived to the strange place it is today. The series traverses themes of love, power, money, corruption, the ghosts of empire, the history of China, opium and opioids, the strange roots of modern conspiracy theories, and the history of Artificial Intelligence and surveillance. The series deals with the rise of individualism and populism throughout history, and the failures of a wide range of resistance movements throughout time and various countries, pointing to how revolution has been subsumed in various ways by spectacle and culture, because of the way power has been forgotten or given away. Adam Curtis, 2021

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The Notion of Expenditure (Bataille, 1933)


by George Bataille, 1933


Every time the meaning of a discussion depends on the fundamental value of the word useful – in other words, every time the essential question touching on the life of human societies is raised, no matter who intervenes and what opinions are expressed – it is possible to affirm that the debate is necessarily warped and that the fundamental question is eluded. In fact, given the more or less divergent collection of present ideas, there is nothing that permits one to define what is useful to man. This lacuna is made fairly prominent by the fact that it is constantly necessary to return, in the most unjustifiable way, to principles that one would like to situate beyond utility and pleasure: honour and duty are hypocritically employed in schemes of pecuniary interest and, without speaking of God, Spirit serves to mask the intellectual disarray of the few people who refuse to accept a closed system.

‘La notion de depense’ appeared first in La Critique sociale, 7 (1933). See OG, I, pp. 302-20. Originally published in English in 1984, in Visions of Excess: selected writings, 1927-1939, ed. Allan Stoekl, tr. Allan Stoekl with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie, Jr (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1985), pp. 116-29. Here from The Bataille Reader.

See also

Climates of Capital (Fraser, 2021)

California Wildfires

by Nancy Fraser, NLR 127 Jan-Feb 2021


Climate politics has moved to centre stage. Even as pockets of denialism persist, political actors of multiple hues are turning green. A new generation of activist youth is insisting that we cease to evade the mortal threat posed by global warming. Chastising elders for stealing their future, these militants claim the right and responsibility to take all necessary steps to save the planet. At the same time, movements for degrowth are gaining strength. Convinced that consumerist lifestyles are driving us into the abyss, they seek a transformation of ways of living. Likewise, indigenous communities, North and South, have been winning wider support for struggles only lately recognized as ecological. Long engaged in defending their habitats and livelihoods from colonial invasion and corporate extractivism, they find new allies today among those seeking non-instrumental ways of relating to nature. Feminists, too, are infusing new urgency into long held ecological concerns. Positing psycho-historical links between gynophobia and contempt for the Earth, they mobilize for forms of life that sustain reproduction—both social and natural. Meanwhile, a new wave of anti-racist activism includes environmental injustice among its targets. Adopting an expansive view of what it means to ‘defund the police’, the Movement for Black Lives demands a massive redirection of resources to communities of colour, in part to clean up toxic deposits that ravage health.

Left Radicalism and the Milky Way: Connecting the Scientific and Socialist Virtues of Anton Pannekoek (Tai, 2017)


by Chaokang Tai, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 47, Number 2, 200–254, 2017


Anton Pannekoek (1873–60) was both an influential Marxist and an innovative astronomer. This paper will analyze the various innovative methods that he developed to represent the visual aspect of the Milky Way and the statistical distribution of stars in the galaxy through a framework of epistemic virtues. Doing so will not only emphasize the unique aspects of his astronomical research, but also reveal its connections to his left radical brand of Marxism. A crucial feature of Pannekoek’s astronomical method was the active role ascribed to astronomers. They were expected to use their intuitive ability to organize data according to the appearance of the Milky Way, even as they had to avoid the influence of personal experience and theoretical presuppositions about the shape of the system. With this method, Pannekoek produced results that went against the Kapteyn Universe and instead made him the first astronomer in the Netherlands to find supporting evidence for Harlow Shapley’s extended galaxy. After exploring Pannekoek’s Marxist philosophy, it is argued that both his astronomical method and his interpretation of historical materialism can be seen as strategies developed to make optical use of his particular conception of the human mind.

It’s a Class Struggle, Godamnit! (Hampton, 1969)


Speech delivered at Northern Illinois University, November, 1969, via

What we’re going to try to do, is we’re going to try to rap and educate. We’re glad to try to throw out some more information. And it’s going to be hard to do. The Sister made a beautiful speech as far as I’m concerned. Chaka, the Deputy Minister of Information, that’s his job—informing. But I’m going to try to inform you also.

One thing Chaka forgot to mention that Brothers and Sisters don’t do exactly the same. We don’t ask for any Brother to get pregnant or anything. We don’t ask no brothers to have no babies. So that’s a little different also.

After we get through speaking, for those people of you who don’t think you understood all of the ideology exposed here so far, and the ideologies that I will espouse, we will have a question and answer period. For those people who have their feelings hurt by niggers talking about guns, we’ll have a cry-in after the question and answer period. And for those white people that are here to show some type of overwhelming manifestation of guilt syndromes, and want people to cry out that they love them, after the cry-in, if we have time, we’ll allow you all to have a love-in.

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The Money Theory of the State (Merchant, 2021)


Reflections on Modern Monetary Theory

by Jamie Merchant, Feb 2021, Brooklyn Rail: Field Notes

“No domination is so easily borne, even so gratefully felt, as the domination of high-minded and highly educated officials.”

— Georg Friedrich Knapp1

Kafka’s unfinished final novel, The Castle, can be read as a parable about the misrecognition of power. In the course of trying to discover if he has, or has not, been appointed as a land surveyor by the local authorities, the protagonist K. becomes obsessed with the authorities themselves, the officials of the great castle whose shadow looms over the village below. Its bureaucrats cut nearly superhuman figures, working tirelessly day and night on countless cases while keeping track of innumerable files with an otherworldly zeal that overawes K. and the villagers, who respect and even revere them. Over the course of the narrative, though, it becomes evident that all this strenuous paper-pushing might be completely pointless, directed to tasks they may never complete, involving problems and questions that cannot be resolved or perhaps never existed in the first place—including, probably, K.’s appointment. The officials might very well have no idea what they are doing, or they might be useless drones, working themselves to death toiling away in busy work that never goes anywhere. But for K. this is unthinkable. For their prestige flows from the impersonal rule of the mechanism, the calcified, methodical, formal procedures that, as in a cage, enfold and dominate the officials and the villagers alike. K. deploys his own formidable powers of reasoning to penetrate their mysteries in his quest to gain permission to enter the castle. But the more he learns, the more he calmly reasons and deduces the state of affairs with impeccable logic, the more transfixed he is by the officials’ cabbalistic aura, the more entangled he becomes in their byzantine networks of influence, and the more he effectively dominates himself.

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Der negative Anthropologe: Ulrich Sonnemann


by Roger Behrens, Jungle World, 2012

[see also: Negative Anthropology and Critical Theory, Johanßen, 2013]

Ulrich Sonnemann ist nicht nur der Kritischen Theorie zuzurechnen, sondern hat sie entscheidend mitgeprägt: Einerseits durch sein philosophisches Hauptwerk »Negative Anthropologie«, andererseits aber auch durch seine publizistische Einmischung in die Skandale und Debatten der bundesdeutschen Öffentlichkeit. Dass Sonnemann und seine Schriften, die seit einigen Jahren in sorgfältiger, bibliophiler Edition beim zu Klampen-Verlag erscheinen, heute kaum mehr wahrgenommen werden, spricht fast schon für seine Bedeutung für die Kritische Theorie: In der Ignoranz, die ihm im universitären Betrieb schon zu Lebzeiten widerfuhr, spiegelt sich das herrschende Desinteresse an der Kritik überhaupt.

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The Age of Disorder


Deutsche Bank, Long-Term Asset Return Study, Sept 2020


Economic cycles come and go, but sitting above them are the wider structural super-cycles that shape everything from economies to asset prices, politics, and our general way of life. In this note we have identified five such cycles over the last 160 years, and we think the world is on the cusp of a new era – one that will be characterised initially by disorder.

Not all disorder is ‘bad’. Indeed, if the themes of the world economy swing like a pendulum, then it may be that some have swung too far from a ‘sensible centre’ and are due to revert. This can have a cleansing effect. What is worrying, though, is that several themes appear poised to revert at a similar time. This is the point – that simultaneous changes to structural themes will create a level of disorder that will define a new era.

Before we review the key themes of the upcoming “Age of Disorder”, we must note that while some historical super-cycles have begun and ended abruptly, others were slower to evolve and end. The most recent era – the second era of globalisation, during 1980-2020 – is much more like the latter. It started slowly and has been gradually fraying at the edges over the last half-decade. The end of this era has been hastened by Covid-19 and – when, in years to come, we look at the rear- view mirror – we may see 2020 as the start of a new era.

Epidemics may have social scarring effects, increasing the likelihood of social unrest. They may also have mitigating effect, suppressing unrest by dissuading social activities. Using a new monthly panel on social unrest in 130 countries, we find a positive cross-sectional relationship between social unrest and epidemics. But the relationship reverses in the short run, implying that the mitigating effect dominates in the short run. Recent trends in social unrest immediately before and after the COVID-19 outbreak are consistent with this historic evidence. It is reasonable to expect that, as the pandemic fades, unrest may reemerge in locations where it previously existed.

“No Individual Can Resist”: Minima Moralia as Critique of Forms of Life (Jaeggi, 2005)


by Rahel Jaeggi (Constellations, 2005)


Can forms of life be criticized? Can we say whether particular forms of life are good, successful, or even rational? Since Kant it has been broadly accepted that happiness or the good life, in contrast to the morally right, cannot be determined philosophically. And since Rawls the ethical content of forms of life has been regarded, in view of the irreducible ethical pluralism of modern societies, as not up for debate. Philosophy has thus withdrawn from the Socratic question of how one should live and restricted itself to the problem of how, given the multiplicity of mutually incommensurable “comprehensive doctrines,” a just common life can be secured as the “coexistence” of different forms of life. The question of how we lead our lives has been consigned to the domain of unquestioned preferences or irreducible and unchallengeable identities. As with taste, there is no quarreling with forms of life.

This restraint is alien to Adorno’s critical theory.

See also by Jaeggi:

Minima Moralia by Adorno

The State of the Pandemic (Toscano, 2020)


by Alberto Toscano, Historical Materialism 28.4 (2020) 3–23


The Covid-19 pandemic has further intensified a crisis in the functions and the perception of the state. It has also revealed underlying contradictions in both mainstream and radical ideologies of the state. A desire for the state as guarantor of public welfare vies with fear of the state’s hypertrophic capacities for surveillance and control. Following a brief exploration of the intimate modern connection between plagues and the state, the article tries to map some of the ways in which the state has been at stake in political and theoretical commentaries on the pandemic. Is an epidemiological politics from below, beyond the plague state, possible? Can recent emergency measures be seen as incomplete or inverted anticipations of a communist use of the state of exception? Or is the primacy of the political we are currently experiencing a mere fetish, indissociable from the rule of capital?

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Some Stories About Communization


by Jasper Bernes, Nov 2020-Jan 2021, via Substack

(see also Planning and Anarchy (2020), and Belly of the Revolution (2018))

Part 1, Nov 26, 2020

I want to do a series of posts on the theory of “communization” as it has developed since 1968, because it seems to me there is a great deal more interest in the term and desire than there is comprehension. There are many reasons for the abuse the word has suffered, but foremost is that, in France, from whence it derives, “communization” never at first served to name a tendency or a coherent theory. It was simply a term of art that a loosely connected network of communist projects used to explain their vision of communist revolution.

Even as the term courant communisateur – communizing tendency, or communizer current–began to be applied to these groups retrospectively, many questioned and resisted the term, drawing attention to the way that it conflated advocates of communization, who can exist in the world here and now, with those who practice communization, that is with people who do not yet exist.

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Marx on Social Reproduction


by Paul Cammack (Historical Materialism, 2020)

Marx is generally reckoned to have had too little to say about what has come to be defined as ‘social reproduction’, largely as a consequence of too narrow a focus on industrial production, and a relative disregard for issues of gender. This paper argues in contrast that the approach he developed with Engels and in Capital, Volume 1, provides a powerful framework for its analysis. After an introductory discussion of recent literature on social reproduction the second section sets out Marx’s approach to the ‘production of life, both of one’s own in labour and of fresh life in procreation’. The third addresses his account of reproduction in Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 23. The fourth and fifth compare the relationship of the family to industry and exchange as depicted in Capital and in the present day respectively. The conclusion suggests some implications for theories of social reproduction.

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Beyond Reification: Reclaiming Marx’s Concept of the Fetish Character of the Commodity (Pepperell 2018)


by Nicole Pepperell, Contradictions Vol. 2 number 2 (2018)


György Lukács’s influential interpretation of commodity fetishism as “reification” shapes many contemporary critiques of the apparently objective and impersonal form taken by capitalist social relations. Such critiques seek to debunk the false veil of objectivity that results from fetishism, revealing the real character of the social relations underneath. This line of criticism, however, often attributes totalising power to capitalism, which undermines its own critical standpoint. I argue that the solution to this dilemma lies in understanding the fetish not as an ideological veil that needs to be debunked, but instead as a novel form of social interdependence that is genuinely – not illusorily – impersonal. This impersonal form is generated by a diverse array of disparate social practices whose interaction yields this unanticipated and unintended result. Within this framework, the diversity of the underlying social practices offers a practical potential basis for constituting new forms of social interdependence that lack not only the semblance, but also the reality of capitalism’s oppressive objectivity. READ PDF

See also by Pepperell:

A Short History of the European Working Class (Abendroth, 1972)


by Wolfgand Abendroth


Table of Contents:
1. The Beginnings up to the Defeat of 1848
2. The First International
3. Working-Class Parties and Trade Unions
4. The Second International up to the First World War
5. The Working-Class Movement between the Russian Revolution and the Victory of Fascism
6. The Working-Class Movement in the Period of Fascism
7. The Working-Class Movement after the Second World War
Postscript, 1971

Marxism and Mediation (Gunn, 1987)


Richard Gunn, Common Sense No. 2 (July 1987)


In both Hegelian and Marxist thought, the concept of mediation figures as a central dialectical category. That the category does theoretical, and revolutionary, work is clear. What is less clear, to myself at any rate, is what might be termed the conceptual geography of the category itself. It is this conceptual geography which, as a preliminary to further discussion, the present paper attempts to clarify. A more pretentious title for what follows might be ‘Prolegomena to a Reading of Marx’.

To mediate is to bring about a relation by means of a relating (an “intermediate”) term. A mediation is the relating term itself. To count as a mediation, a relating term must be more than a mere catalyst or external condition (however necessary) of the relation: rather, it must itself be the relation. It must constitute it, in the way that for example – and the example is offered merely heuristically – a rope linking two climbers is constitutive of the relation in which they stand.

If a mediation is, thus, the relation which it establishes, it does not follow that just any relation counts as a mediating term. A mediated relation is distinct from a relation for which, to render it intelligible or accurately describe it, no reference to a relating term need be made – for example, a relation of juxtaposition. A relation of this kind is an immediate relation (which, for its part, may be catalysed or necessitated in this or that way).

In partial praise of a positivist (O’Neill, 1995)


The work of Otto Neurath

by John O’Neill (Radical Philosophy, 1995)


From the Frankfurt School the story has emerged that positivism is a conservative doctrine necessarily committed to existing social institutions and to a technocratic conception of politics. Even the most scientistic orthodox Marxist is unlikely to announce that she is a positivist. Such is the disrepute into which positivism has fallen that to accept the title of positivist would amount to an admission that one’s position was untenable. The picture of positivism that informs its use as a term of academic abuse is a caricature. Positivist philosophy was much more heterogeneous than recent thumbnail versions allow, and many of the doctrines ascribed to it were explicitly rejected by many of its proponents.  Neurath himself was unhappy with the term for the very reason that it suggested a systematic set of doctrines incompatible with the methodological pluralism he defended, although ‘not being a pedant’ he was willing to ‘bear it’.

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Rosa Luxemburg’s Global Class Analysis (van der Linden, 2016)


by Marcel van der Linden, Historical Materialism 24.1 (2016) 135–159


How did Rosa Luxemburg, in her The Accumulation of Capital and other writings, analyse the development of the working class and other subordinate classes under capitalism, and how did she view the relationship between these classes and those living in ‘natural economic societies’? Following primary sources closely, the present essay reconstructs and evaluates Luxemburg’s class analysis of global society. It is shown that Luxemburg pioneered a truly global concept of solidarity from below, including the most oppressed – women and colonised peoples.

See also: