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Tag: critical theory

Autonomous Antifa: From the Autonomen to Post-Antifa in Germany

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AA/BO: Bloc of the “Antifaschistische Aktion – Bundesweite Organisation“. Northeim, June 4, 1994. (The organization AA/BO was founded in 1992 and disbanded in 2001.)

An Interview with Bender, a German Comrade 
by Paul O’Banion

Bender has been involved in the autonomous movement in Germany since the 1980s, and talks here about his experiences and observations from thirty years of organizing. He addresses the beginnings of the autonomen – the autonomous movement – how Antifa developed out of that in the late 80s and 90s, and has developed since.  He discusses where things are now, in a post-autonomous, post-antifa, German radical Left environment. He is familiar with the situation in the US, and offers lessons for organizing against fascism and all forms of domination. This interview was conducted via email, and Bender’s answers have been edited for clarity.

-Paul O’Banion

Talk about the autonomen: who you are, what political traditions and perspectives are you building on, and what has been your practical and theoretical activity.

Bender: When we talk about “the autonomen,” we speak of the 80s in Germany where the autonomen first appeared and had the character of a movement. It is one outcome of the dynamics of the so-called New Social Movements or, as you call it in the US, the New Left.

As in many other countries, the beginnings of the New Social Movements, from which the autonomous movement of the 80s was one result, was “the long year of ’68,” which in Germany is perhaps best characterised as an “anti-authoritarian revolt.” We have to remember, that the year ‘68 politically lasted much longer than one year.  The movement after ‘68 reached a kind of exhaustion, in which people asked themselves how to go on, which means: how to organize a movement in decline.

After ‘68 was the “moment of the movement,” then the 70s developed along the more Party-orientated trajectory. The 70s were the decade of the so-called “K-groups.” The K-Groups were various communist groups with, in some cases, a lot of members, and in all cases – no matter how big they actually were – the aim to become a mass party. It was like the last episode of the history of Communist Parties. But whereas the first episode ended in the tragedy of the Soviet Party-State, this time it ended as the farce of communist groups run by students with nearly no impact on the working-class. But what they did have was much influence on new forms of politics and new political issues, not only those based around labor and the working-class.

But just as the student movement in the end of the 60s went into crisis and transformed itself in the decade of the communist groups, these K-groups in the end of the 70s also went into crisis. This situation split into two different ways of organizing (even if at the beginning both methods walked a short time together): the Green Party on the one hand, the autonomous movement on the other.

We see with the Green Party and the autonomous movement again the two poles, Party on one side; self-organizing, networking and an explicit politics against all kinds of state-apparatus and state-institutions on the other.

The autonomous movement of the 80s in Germany, like the radical and anarchist Left in the US, was organized around squatted houses, autonomous and self-organized youth-centers and an independent, non-commercial infrastructure with info-shops, leftist books-stores, sub-cultural spaces and so on. The model of politics was more the general assembly plenum and consensus decision-making, than decision by voting and by majority rule. Politics functioned more by events and campaigns than by following a program or a theory. The movement was more interested in practical action than in theoretical debates, and it was in general more a kind of life-style than an organized and well-reflected intervention in the political discourse like happens nowadays.

The autonomous style of politics was not only on the level of organisation the pioneer of what is today popular non-hierarchical, non-dogmatic and project-based networking (maybe we must call these kind of organisation post-Fordist or even neo-liberal?), but also the themes and issues of struggle were somewhat decentralized and widespread: anti-war, anti-nuclear, squatting, and the struggle for autonomous free-spaces, punk-music and independent labels, anti-imperialism and solidarity work for the political prisoners and so on. During the 80s, there was still something like a Left hegemony amongst youth (since the autonomous movement was mostly a youth-movement and had a lot to do with subculture and an alternative lifestyle).

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The Failure of the Recognition Paradigm in Critical Theory

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by Michael J. Thompson (PDF)

Critical theory has been decidedly transformed over the past thirty years by the influence of ideas that, in many basic ways, run counter to the initial set of ideas and propositions that defined and shaped the first generation of critical theorists. Now, critical theorists deal with questions of human rights, dignity, justification, and theories of democracy. They have broken with a more robust, more insightful, and more radical project of understanding the mechanisms of social domination, the deformation of character and the deformations of cognitive and epistemic powers that explain the increasing acceptance of the prevailing social order and the increasing integration and legitimacy of pathological forms of social life. The break was effected with a move toward pragmatist themes on the one hand and toward a concern with neo-Idealist ideas rooted in Kant and Hegel. This reworking of critical theory has been centered on the elimination of ideas rooted in Marxism and into a kind of system building that champions the supposed self-transforming powers of intersubjective social action. Indeed, whereas Habermas has been highly successful at promoting a Kantian-pragmatist paradigm based in discourse, Axel Honneth’s work has been premised on a neo-Idealist return to Hegelian themes fused to pragmatist ideas about social action and self- and social transformation. I believe that this move has been lethal for the actual political relevance of critical theory, that it has drained it of its potency even as it has allowed for more professionalized success within mainstream intellectual and academic circles. The price paid for winning this acceptance, however, has been dear and it has compromised the very methodological and philosophical commitments of critical theory . . . [continue]

 A Note on Dialectics (Marcuse, 1960)

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[In 1941, Herbert Marcuse published Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. In 1960, he added this new preface, which briefly explains the underlying basis of Hegel’s philosophy, and why Marcuse considers dialectics such a powerful approach to theory and politics. All genuine progress, he insists, requires the recognition of the negative as a social force and reality.]

By Herbert Marcuse

This book [Reason and Revolution] was written in the hope that it would make a small contribution to the revival, not of Hegel, but of a mental faculty which is in danger of being obliterated: the power of negative thinking. As Hegel defines it: “Thinking is, indeed, essentially the negation of that which is immediately before us.” What does he mean by “negation,” the central category of the dialectic?

Even Hegel’s most abstract and metaphysical concepts are saturated with experience—experience of a world in which the unreasonable becomes reasonable and, as such, determines the facts; in which unfreedom is the condition of freedom, and war the guarantor of peace. This world contradicts itself. Common sense and science purge themselves from this contradiction; but philosophical thought begins with the recognition that the facts do not correspond to the concepts imposed by common sense and scientific reason—in short, with the refusal to accept them. To the extent that these concepts disregard the fatal contradictions which make up reality, they abstract from the very process of reality. The negation which the dialectic applies to them is not only a critique of conformist logic, which denies the reality of contradictions; it is also a critique of the given state of affairs on its own ground—of the established system of life, which denies its of promises and potentialities.

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21 Theses on the Politics of Forms of Life

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by Daniel Loick (PDF)

In this position paper, I take up Herbert Marcuse’s notion of the ‘great refusal’ to describe several phenomena that can be subsumed under the concept of a ‘politics of forms of life’, especially in the context of the revolts of 1968: projects like communes, anti-authoritarian childcare centers, solidary sub-economies and many more. After naming some shared characteristics of politics of forms of life, I defend a politicization of forms of life against a liberal critique as well as hint at specific challenges. Finally, I suggest which insights of past politics of forms of life I find to be most relevant for a revitalization of critical theory today.


Preface: Attempting Liberation

In “Paralysis of Criticism,” the preface to his One-Dimensional Man  (1964), Herbert Marcuse offered an assessment of the world-political state of affairs that was rather skeptical of the possibility of societal liberation. The advanced industrialized society we live in, he argued, was the culmination of a historical dynamic in which the oppression of mankind increased concurrently with the technological progress that potentially would allow them more freedom. The final and emblematic expression of this dialectic of enlightenment is the atomic bomb, for the first time in the history of humanity threatening the sheer existence of the species. This condition, which is irrational “as a whole”, owes its stability to the intensification of the ideological control over human subjectivity that goes hand-in-hand with an integration and recuperation of critique. “Technical progress,” he writes, “extended to a whole system of domination and coordination, creates forms of life (and of power) which appear to reconcile the forces opposing the system and to defeat or refute all protest in the name of the historical prospects of freedom from toil and domination.” Unlike Marx and Engels, Marcuse can no longer identify an actual moment transcending the existing society; while the Communist Manifesto could still assume that capitalism produces its own grave diggers with the proletariat, Marcuse diagnoses a complete absence of any real desire for change, rendering every criticism to a powerless ought. However, Marcuse does not conclude that we should return to merely moral critique that would apply an abstract standard to society from the outside and thus ignore people’s real subjectivity. For him, the emancipatory task lies rather in constructively producing a transgressive moment within society itself. According to Marcuse, people can acknowledge their true interests “only if they live in need of changing their way of life, of denying the positive, of refusing.” For the construction of this material need for change, Marcuse, on the last pages of the One-Dimensional Mancoins the term great refusal. . . [continue]

‘It only needs all’: re-reading Dialectic of Enlightenment at 70

by Marcel Stoetzler (opendemocracy)

Seventy years ago, Querido Verlag published a densely written book that has become a key title of modern social philosophy. Underneath its pessimistic granite surface a strangely sanguine message awaits us.

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Horkheimer left, Adorno right, Habermas background right, running hand through hair. Max Weber-Soziologentag, Heidelberg,April,1964. Wikicommons/Jeremy J.Shapiro. Some rights reserved.

How do you make an argument against social domination when the very terms, concepts and languages at your disposal are shaped by, and in turn serve that same social domination? Probably in the way you would light a fire in a wooden stove. How would you write a book about the impossibility of writing just that book? Like a poem about the pointlessness of poems. What if your enemies’ enemies are your own worst enemies? Can you defend liberal society from its fascist enemies when you know it is the wrong state of things? You must, but dialectics may well ‘make cowards of us all’ and spoil our ‘native hue of resolution’.

Dialectic of Enlightenment¹ is a very strange book, and although it was published, in 1947, by the leading publishing house for exiled, German-language anti-fascist literature, the Querido Verlag in Amsterdam, alongside many of the biggest literary names of the time, no-one will have expected that it gradually became one of the classics of modern social philosophy.

It is a book that commits all the sins editors tend to warn against: its chapters are about wildly differing subject matters; the writing is repetitive, circular and fragmented; no argument ever seems exhausted or final and there are no explicitly stated conclusions, and certainly no trace of a policy impact trajectory. Arguments start somewhere, suddenly come to a halt and then move on to something else. If this sounds like the script for a Soviet film from the revolutionary period, then that is not totally coincidental: it is an avant-garde montage film, transcribed into philosophy.

Unsurprisingly, given that it was written during WW2 in American exile and published at the beginning of the Cold War, it does not carry its Marxism on its sleeves, but it gives clear enough hints: in the preface, Horkheimer and Adorno state that the aim of the book is ‘to explain why humanity, instead of entering a truly human state, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism’. This addresses the dialectic referenced in the title of the book. The important bit here is the ‘instead of’: the reality of barbarism was undeniable and clearly visible, but the originality of the formulation lies in its implication that humanity could have been expected to enter ‘a truly human state’ sometime earlier in the twentieth century, leaving behind its not so human state.

The promise of progress towards humanity, held by socialists (and some liberals), blew up in their faces. It would have been easy and straightforward then to write a book arguing against the holding of such hope, but this would not have been a dialectical book; Dialectic of Enlightenment undertakes to rescue this hope by looking at why progress tipped over into its opposite.
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A General Logic of Crisis

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Adam Tooze on:

How Will Capitalism End? by Wolfgang Streeck
Verso, 262 pp, £16.99, November 2016, ISBN 978 1 78478 401 0

‘Whatever it takes.’ These words, spoken by the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, to a crowd of investors in the City of London on 26 July 2012, have come to represent the symbolic end to the acute phase of the global financial crisis. In the political sphere, by contrast, where words are supposed to be everything, we have not yet been able to draw the line. More than four years on, we know that in 2012 the political fallout was only just beginning. It was in December 2011 that David Cameron reopened the European question by opting out of the new ‘fiscal compact’ drawn up by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy with the aim of enforcing budget discipline across the EU. In the US in spring 2012, Mitt Romney emerged as the candidate from the Republican primaries, but the freakshow anticipated the Trump campaign to come. In Italy the ousting of Berlusconi in a backroom coup in November 2011 and the installation of the ‘unpolitical’ economist Mario Monti as prime minister set the stage for the emergence of Beppe Grillo and Five Star in the local elections of May 2012. In France as the fiscal compact began to bite, François Hollande’s presidency was dead almost before it had started.

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Trump and America’s Populist Turn

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Logos Journal 2017: Vol. 16, nos. 1-2

Thus rather than conceiving of authoritarianism as a social pathology arising as a reaction to the irrational disequilibrium between the system and the lifeworld that can be remedied by advocating and instituting a democratic equilibrium on normative grounds, such an understanding of the critical theory of society held that authoritarianism was inherent to the irrational objective and subjective dynamics of capitalist society as such. Consequently, this notion of Critical Theory not only tried to cultivate autonomy as a bulwark against the rise of authoritarianism, but also endeavored to understand, demystify and negate the antagonistic, dominating and regressive society that brought forth authoritarianism. – Chris O’Kane

Judith Stein: Wall Street versus Main Street

Dan Krier: Behemoth Revisited

James Block: Beyond the Collapse

Harriet Fraad: Women, Class, Gender and the Trump Agenda

Chip Berlet: The Alt-Right: A Primer on the Online Brownshirts

Jefferson Decker: The Ends of Reform

Mark Worrell: The Twilight of Liberal American Imperialism

Stephen Eric Bronner: Trump’s Counter-Revolution
 

The Frankfurt School and the New Right

Chris O’Kane: “A Hostile World”: Critical Theory in the Time of Trump

Werner Bonefeld: Authoritarian Liberalism, Class and Rackets

John Abromeit: Right Wing Populism and the Limits of Normative Critical Theory

Samir Gandesha: The Neoliberal Personality 

Darren Barany: Explaining “Cult 45”


Review Essays


Kim Scipes: Black Subjugation in America: Review of Theodore W. Allen, Edward E. Baptist, and Sven Beckert

George Lundskow: White Like Them: Review of Arlie Russell Hochschild, Nancy Isenberg, and J. D. Vance

Book Reviews

Andy Blunden, The Origins of Collective Decision Making
Reviewed by Geoffrey Kurtz

Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School
    Reviewed by Aidan Beatty

Martin Jay, Reason after its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory
Reviewed by Brian Caterino

Henry Giroux, America at War with Itself
    Reviewed by Matthew H. Bowker

Vince Czyz, Adrift in a Vanishing City
    Reviewed by Nate Liederbach

What is Orthodox Critical Theory?

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by Fabian Freyenhagen / [pdf]

In 1919, Lukács posed the question, “What is orthodox Marxism?” Even for Lukács, there was an undertone of irony: if by orthodoxy we mean devoutness, then “the most appropriate answer [is] a pitying smile.” But Lukács also points out that the question can be understood and asked in such a way that it invites or even requires a different kind of answer. If we understand it as a question about quintessence, Lukács’ answer is as follows: The quintessence of Marxism does not reside in the results of Marx’s research or a “‘belief’ in one or another proposition,” nor in the “exegesis of a ‘holy book.’” Rather, “orthodoxy in matters of Marxism refers exclusively to method.”1

In this essay I want to reapply Lukács’ question to Critical Theory: What is orthodox Critical Theory? And I’d like to advocate an approach that could be called orthodox in three respects.

First, if we understand orthodoxy to mean quintessence, then my question—as Nancy Fraser puts it in the title of her well-known paper—is: “What’s critical about Critical Theory?” For criticism is the quintessence of Critical Theory, as its very name tells us. According to the prevailing response to the question about quintessence, Critical Theory can be critical only if it includes a program of justification [Begründungsprogramm].2 For Critical Theorists are entitled to operate only with criteria that can be justified as acceptable to all (or, at least, all affected). My position is diametrically opposed: Critical Theory needs no program of justification in order to be critical. In fact, only without such a program of philosophical justification can Critical Theory be adequately and appropriately critical.

I speak of orthodoxy also because I think we need to revive the views of the first generation of the Frankfurt School—the trend is currently either to neglect these views entirely or to overlook their broader significance. Thus, in arguing for a reorientation of Critical Theory as I will do below, I will frequently rely on Horkheimer’s writings of the 1930s.

Thirdly, it will turn out that orthodox Critical Theory actually does have something to do with devoutness in the end—irony (and secularism) notwithstanding.

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Critical social theory and the challenge of neoliberalism

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by Roger Foster Capital & Class November 2016

 

My article offers a sustained critique of the idea of critical social theory presented by Axel Honneth in Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life. My article articulates three specific criticisms: (1) the focus on normative relations of recognition obscures the class-based forms of power that pervade contemporary advanced democracies, (2) the method of normative reconstruction cannot make sense of the open-ended nature of class struggle that drives social change in capitalist societies, and (3) Honneth’s political and social prescriptions ignore the consequences of the failure of traditional progressive politics. My article makes an important and original contribution to the literature on Honneth’s recent work in two major respects. First, I argue that Honneth’s descriptions of the fate of the family and the market today betray a failure to understand the configuration of class power in contemporary neoliberal societies. Second, I make the case that the basis for a more successful theory of class power, identity formation, and social change can be found in the ‘first-generation’ critical social theory of Erich Fromm.

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Marx’s Influence on the Early Frankfurt School

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by Chad Kautzer

The early Frankfurt School’s theoretical tendency is best described as Western Marxism, while its institutional origin was the Institute of Social Research (Institut fur Sozialforschung), founded in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1923. Marx’s influence on the early Frankfurt School was profound, uneven, and largely filtered through a revived Hegelian Marxism that broke with the economistic and mechanistic doctrines of the Second International (1889-1916). From the beginning, the members and financiers of the Institute explicitly understood its research program as Marxist, although there was no general agreement about what it meant to be Marxist. A few years before the Institute’s founding, Georg Lukács wrote: “Great disunity has prevailed even in the ‘socialist’ camp as to what constitutes the essence of Marxism,” and who has “the right to the title of , Marxist'” (Lukács 1971: 1). The competing Marxist tendencies in the early twentieth century informed both the internal development of the Institute of Social Research and the contours of Western Marxism more generally. . . [continue reading]

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy and (political) economy

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History of the Human Sciences: Vol 29, Issue 2, April 2016

The Frankfurt School: Philosophy and (political) economy

A thematic introduction by the editors

Matthias Rothe, Bastian Ronge

The following introduction has two parts: the first part provides a sketch of the Frankfurt School’s history, highlighting the circumstances under which the authors discussed in this issue engaged philosophically with matters of economy. We thereby follow the prevailing periodization, starting with the school’s foundation in 1924 and ending with Theodor W. Adorno’s death in 1969 and the school’s preliminary dissolution. The second part of the introduction explores the legacy of the Frankfurt School’s philosophical critique of economy. Max Horkheimer’s writings thereby serve as a model case for such a critique and become the point of departure for the discussion of contemporary critical theories of the economic.


The controversy over Friedrich Pollock’s state capitalism

Manfred Gangl

The critique of capitalism is the bedrock on which rests the reputation of Frankfurt School critical theory. Though critical theory has often been heralded – or criticized and rejected – as a reformulation of Marxian theory for our times, its relation with the critique of political economy, and in particular the economic treatises, has barely been studied. Friedrich Pollock, who was Max Horkheimer’s lifelong friend and close associate at the Institute for Social Research, was responsible for all administrative and financial questions, but he wrote few theoretical essays and Wiggershaus calls him ‘the last unknown member of the Frankfurt School’. Nevertheless this article asks whether not only has his influence on early critical theory been sorely underestimated, but also his impact on the late philosophies of Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse.


Henryk Grossman and Critical Theory

Rick Kuhn

In 1943, Henryk Grossman sent a draft of the study, eventually published in two parts as ‘The Evolutionist Revolt against Classical Economics’, to Max Horkheimer for comment. His very hostile response, Grossman’s drafts and the published study cast light not only on the changing relationship between Grossman and Horkheimer but also on the distance between Grossman’s classical Marxism and nascent mature Critical Theory. Grossman’s study identified the emergence of the idea of successive economic systems in the work of Condorcet, Henri Saint-Simon and Simonde de Sismondi in France, James Steuart and Richard Jones in England, culminating in Marx’s formulations which entailed the role of class struggle and capitalism’s tendency to break down. Hegel was not an influence on Marx’s conception of modes of production. In addition to a series of spurious and minor criticisms, Horkheimer objected that Grossman’s approach was positivist, that it misconceived Hegel’s philosophy, and that it amounted to a conventional history of ideas. In response, Grossman made some changes in his study, but these were designed to strengthen his main arguments and successfully reaffirmed his Marxist approach in the face of Horkheimer’s criticisms.


Negative dialectics and the critique of economic objectivity

Werner Bonefeld

This article explores Adorno’s negative dialectics as a critical social theory of economic objectivity. It rejects the conventional view that Adorno does not offer a critique of the economic forms of capitalist society. The article holds that negative dialectics is a dialectics of the social world in the form of the economic object, one that is governed by the movement of economic quantities, that is, real economic abstractions. Negative dialectics refuses to accept the constituted economic categories as categories of economic nature. Instead, the article argues, it amounts to a conceptualized social praxis [begriffene Praxis] of the capitalistically constituted social relations, which manifest themselves in the form of seemingly independent economic categories. Economic nature is a socially constituted nature, which entails the class antagonism in its concept. The article concludes that for negative dialectics the explanation of real economic abstractions lies in the understanding of the class-divided nature of human practice.


Subjectivity and its crisis

Commodity mediation and the economic constitution of objectivity and subjectivity

Frank Engster

Neither Critical Theory nor western Marxism ever understood crises as being solely concerned with the economy. Both saw them rather as necessarily involving consciousness and subjectivity as well. How does Critical Theory conceptualize economy and subjectivity as inseparable? This is the crucial question. Critical Theory claims, indeed, that it shows the inner connection between the economy and subjectivity. In its first generation, at any rate (Jay, 1996), Critical Theory meant to show that the economy is a constitutive part of subjectivity, while also being its blind spot; or even that the economy is its blind spot because it is essentially constructive of subjectivity. The article will specify the connection between the economy and subjectivity and then will indicate the blind spot. While Critical Theory does not fully pinpoint the blind spot in this connection, by tracing the discussion that followed its first generation we may better find out what this blind spot might be.


Historical-sociology vs. ontology

The role of economy in Otto Kirchheimer and Carl Schmitt’s essays ‘Legality and Legitimacy’

Karsten Olson

The pre-1932 writings of Otto Kirchheimer are often described by researchers as the work of a young ‘left-Schmittian’, a radical Marxist who gave the anti-liberal critique and theoretical apparatus of his Doktorvater Carl Schmitt a new purpose for different ‘political ends’. The danger of this approach is that fundamental divisions between the societal conceptualizations of both theoreticians are ignored in lieu of apparent terminological similarity. Through the lens of economy, it is therefore the intent of this article to continue in the tradition of Alfons Söllner and Frank Schale, pushing against this assumed affinity and highlighting Otto Kirchheimer’s unique defense of liberal democracy.


Materialist Epistemontology

Sohn-Rethel with Marx and Spinoza

A. Kiarina Kordela

Sohn-Rethel’s theory undermines the line of thought that, from Kant to deconstruction, severs being or the thing from representation, by showing that the Kantian a priori categories of thought (representation) are a posteriori effects of the relations of things (being), to the point that it is ‘only through the language of commodities that their owners become rational beings’. This is the thesis of Marx’s theory of ‘commodity fetishism’, and Sohn-Rethel’s work develops the methodology that follows from it. ‘Realabstraktion’ means that the commodification of things amounts to their transformation into the language that provides the a priori categories of human thought. As a result, far from being inaccessible to representation, being is precisely that which reveals itself whenever the transcendental categories of representation are laid out. Therefore, Sohn-Rethel’s theory entails that not only can one not separate economy from thought but also economy and thought from being, so that there are no three distinct fields – economy, ontology and epistemology – but one: an economic epistemontology. Just as Marx’s ‘commodity fetishism’ introduced the unconscious in both subjectivity and economy – ‘they do this without knowing it’ – Sohn-Rethel analysed all economic, intellectual and practical spheres in terms of the fundamental distinction between consciousness and the unconscious. The article also points to certain corrections that Marx’s own theory indicates need to be made in Sohn-Rethel’s account, particularly regarding the source of abstraction, the role of coined money, and the difference between capitalist and pre-capitalist modes of production and exchange.

Capitalist Realism

Mark Fisher, 1968-2017

It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism

In one of the key scenes in Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men, Clive Owen’s character, Theo, visits a friend at Battersea Power Station, which is now some combination of government building and private collection. Cultural treasures – Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s Guernica, Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig – are preserved in a building that is itself a refurbished heritage artifact. This is our only glimpse into the lives of the elite, holed up against the effects of a catastrophe which has caused mass sterility: no children have been born for a generation.

Theo asks the question, ‘how all this can matter if there will be no-one to see it?’ The alibi can no longer be future generations, since there will be none. The response is nihilistic hedonism:

‘I try not to think about it’.

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Cured Quail

With What Must a Journal That Will Not Be Read Begin?

A fundraising appeal

Cured Quail is a journal of critical theory that takes seriously the aesthetic, social and conceptual problems of literacy. By literacy we don’t mean simply the ability to read and write. Rather, Cured Quail poses the question of illiteracy as a historically specific hindrance to fully experiencing the words on a page, the patience of an idea, or the particulars of a work of art. Cured Quail is concerned with discussions on culture, philosophy, political economy and modern and contemporary art, featuring critical essays, reviews, polemics, interviews, and other formats.

However, as our commencing editorial describes, the redundancy of already existing publications devoted to the nomenclature society-art-culture presents us with a challenge; foremost derived from the experiential chasm nourished by the refreshing content of curated feeds that in its rapid-fire shots of interest prepares any but the most recondite reader for a diet of distraction.

We thereby ask ourselves: what does it take to be convincingly exceptional? While shouting toward a mural depicting a cave we’d like to assure the potential reader we haven’t expected an echo. This suits the editorial board of Cured Quail and the crux from which we will write and our writers will write, and from which we now entreat your support for the necessary funding to print our inaugural volume.

For the thought and readership of Cured Quail—like everything else today—money stands as the transcendental condition for the possibility of experience. Your support will help finance a first run of Cured Quail Volume 1.   Contribute here through KICKSTARTER

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Needless Necessity: Sameness and Dynamic in Capitalist Society

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Marcel Stoetzler, Bangor University, UK (via Fast Capitalism)

In capitalist modernity, all that is fluid is frozen fast, and vice versa. Everything is at the same time solid and not. We need to do something. One must always produce.[1] But then, one must always produce the same. Production is always reproduction, no more, no less, albeit on an extended scale. Capitalist society is a treadmill:[2] “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that,” as the Red Queen asserted.[3] Society (re-)produces itself, using humans as its principal agents, as ever new and ever the same. Humans (re-)produce society as ever the same by making a fresh start every morning when the alarm bell tolls: a new morning promises gold – the matter of eternity – every single day anew. My consciousness is split on this matter: it tells me, on the one hand, that I have places to go (hooray!), I have some inner growing to do, but at the same time, I am proudly identical to myself (disregarding some metabolism-related corporeal change that one tries to keep separate from one’s sense of selfhood). I who took out the student loan yesterday will have to pay up tomorrow, although the intervening time – not least ‘the student experience’, as they say – will have made me a whole new person (with places to go, hooray!). Growing up, experience – going-beyond-and-through: ex-per-ire – or not, contracts are to be fulfilled. This is a rule society will enforce.

This article explores the dialectic of a twofold compulsion characteristic of modern bourgeois society: on the one hand the dynamism grounded in the compulsion to expand production, to never stand still, relax and enjoy, always to increase the labors of self-preservation, on the other hand the static, sameness and identity that are produced by the ‘real-abstracting’ processes equally central to the capitalist mode of production, the locking down of humans in their identities, including those of sex and race. The article examines these matters through the prism of Adorno’s late essay on the concepts of ‘static and dynamic’ that is taken as a vantage point for a reading of ‘The concept of enlightenment’ in Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. The last part of the essay argues that capitalist society’s needless necessities impose themselves on society through abstracting practices in everyday life but also produce an equally contradictory set of social movements that have now opened up a fragile prospect for the revolutionary overcoming of capitalist society. The key point of the argument is that Horkheimer and Adorno’s unique emphasis on the critique of ‘the economic’ beyond that of ‘the economy’ is crucial to this radical perspective.

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From the Frankfurt School to Value-Form Analysis (Reichelt)

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The preoccupation with problems of capital-analysis began relatively early. We wanted to know in the first place what ‘reification’ (Verdinglichung) really is. At that time in the mid-sixties we systematically plagued Horkheimer with these things. We wanted to know how they are interpreted in the framework of the Frankfurt Theory since the Frankfurt Theory built explicitly on them – and discovered after all, that after three sentences long silences set in, and that basically there was very little to learn from these theoreticians. Finally, we decided to think these questions through ourselves and – this can now be said in the present company – had to conclude that the omission of these moments itself had to be conceived as to a certain extent symptomatic with regard to the critique of this ‘Critical Theory’. This becomes evident when one pursues it further, if one may extrapolate, with Habermas. One could perhaps put forward the thesis that the Habermasian theory, which after all arose in a close connection with the Frankfurt theory, is to be designated as dialectical theory which can only develop dialectical theory formally, since it falls back to the standpoint of the bourgeois subject.

Precisely that, however, is already implicitly criticised, I would suggest, in Marx’s form-analysis, i.e. in the value-form analysis, money-form analysis and in the dialectical presentation of the categories of political economy. This implies that something like ‘dialectical theory’ as method extracted from these contents cannot be explicated. This, however, has always been the thesis of the Frankfurt theory. When one for example reads the writings of Alfred Schmidt, it is striking that he says that the dialectical method cannot be explicated in isolation from the contents. When one ties him down, however: Tell us, why don’t you, what is so special about these contents, show us the dialectical method with these contents themselves, e.g. with certain dialectical transitions in Capital: normally he gives it a miss, or at least to date that has been the case. He was not in the position to develop the dialectical method in Capital himself. To date, no one (1) in Frankfurt has tried this, as far as I can see. To Habermas, these matters are totally alien, today more than ever, one would have to say. (2)

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“Where No X-Man Has Gone Before!”

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Mutant Superheroes and the Cultural Politics of Popular Fantasy in Postwar America

by Ramzi Fawaz

The single best-selling superhero comic book of the late twentieth century, the X-Men tells the story of an international cadre of superpowered beings known as “mutants,” genetically evolved humans outcast by a bigoted and fearful humanity. Circulating in the mid-1970s at the zenith of post–Civil Rights left social movements including liberal and radical feminisms, environmentalism, black nationalism, and gay liberation, the comic book’s transnational cast and visual and narrative articulation of “mutation” to social and cultural difference more broadly underscored the tie between expressions of popular fantasy and the ideals of radical politics in the postwar period.

With the proliferation of identity movements that emerged out of the internal conflicts of the New Left, the comic-book industry, long committed to the antiracist and antifascist ideals of democratic politics, used visual culture as a space for modeling new modes of radical critique that offered alternatives to direct-action politics and the discourse of civil liberties. Creators used the biologically unstable body of the superhero to explore, and potentially bring into being, the states of bodily and psychic liberation espoused by a variety of countercultural movements in this period. Whether in the “getting loose” philosophy of the hippie generation or the consciousness-raising projects of liberal feminism, the ecstatic physical states of disco culture or the spiritual communion with nature celebrated by popular ecology, the call for a countercultural politics grounded in felt experience was visually manifested in superhuman figures whose powers literally materialized these ways of being as physical extensions of the self. Like the figure of the superhero, these forms of elevated consciousness circulated through a variety of cultural genres including science fiction, fantasy, and myth; understanding the productive link between the seemingly disparate worlds of superhero comic books and left political world-making projects requires a reassessment of the political uses of fantasy outside of these discrete categories.

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Capitalism, Temporality, and the Crisis of Labor (Postone)

The current crisis has laid bare the contradictory and shaky character of contemporary capitalism. Yet the essentially inchoate responses to the crisis have dramatically revealed the absence of a robust conceptualization of post-capitalist society and, by implication, of a robust critique of capital. One result has been the continued hegemony of neoliberal discourses and policies. Moishe Postone seeks to fundamentally rethink the core categories of Marx’s critique of political economy in the fall 2015 Ellen Maria Gorrissen lecture. He argues that Marx’s mature critique of political economy, as elaborated in the Grundrisse and Kapital, provides the basis for a different critical theory of modernity with contemporary significance.

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A Communist Life

by Felix Baum

Along with the return of economic crisis and social struggles around the world, the term “communism”—supposedly discredited once and for all by the experience of Russia and its satellite states in the 20th century—seems to be enjoying a certain comeback in recent years. Conferences on “the idea of communism” attract significant crowds, books by professed communists like Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek find readers and grab media attention. However, more often than not this (surely limited) comeback does not seem to be driven by a genuine desire to retrieve the emancipatory content the term carried in the writings of Karl Marx and like-minded critics, as well as in practical movements from the 19th century onwards. Rather, maîtres-penseurs like Badiou and Žižek prefer to pose as enfants terribles, defending Maoism and flirting with Bolshevik terror, hence reaffirming precisely the unholy traditions with which a “communism” for the 21st century would have to break.

Paul mattick

In his new biography of Paul Mattick, a German-born worker who immigrated to the United States in 1926 and later emerged as one of the most important radical critics of his time, Gary Roth tells the story of a largely forgotten current in the 20th century that early on made a rupture with the statist caricatures of communism to which today’s media-savvy leftist intellectuals are still holding fast.1 Noting that this story is about “bygone eras in which a radicalized working class still constituted a hope for the future,” Roth steers clear of melancholy and nostalgia, instead seeking a justification for his work in the more recent reconfiguration “of the world’s population into a vast working class that extends into the middle classes in the industrialized countries and the pools of underemployed agricultural workers everywhere else.” In fact, though far from constituting a sustained, consistent assault on existing conditions, some recent struggles of parts of this class, most notably the “square movements” that spread from North Africa via Europe to Istanbul, exhibit certain traits—horizontal self-organization (or “leaderlessness), direct mass action against state forces, a focus on occupations—that point much less to the Bolshevik-Leninist tradition than to the one Roth describes, commonly referred to as council communism, though the resemblances should certainly not be exaggerated.

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A Conversation with Theodor W. Adorno (Spiegel, 1969)

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Translated, edited, and with an introduction by Gerhard Richter 

“Philosophy, which once seemed passe,” Theodor W. Adorno’s Negative Dia­lectic begins, “remains alive because the moment of its realization was missed” (“Philosophie, die einmal überholt schien, erhält sich am Leben, weil der Augenblick ihrer Verwirklichung versäumt ward“). (1) This perspective encrypts the double movement of a simultaneous resignation or lament and a productive, enabling force. It is only because the philosophy of which Adorno speaks— negative dialectics—was not realized that its actualization is yet to come. That it once existed without becoming an actuality means that it still remains to be thought, as both a failure and a promise. The erratic traces of this double movement not only name but also enact Adorno’s notion of a negative dialec­tic. The movement of the negative dialectic of failure and promise has strongly marked the reception of the English translations of his writings. After all, Adorno’s German, and the thought that it enacts, is rigorously and infamously resistant to translation. His writing is both strange and foreign—fremd—even in its “original” German.

To acknowledge this strangeness is also to acknowledge that what Adorno says cannot be separated from how he says it. As Samuel Weber, one of Adorno’s earliest translators so apodictieally and incontrovertibly puts it in his 1967 “Translating the Untranslatable,” the “specificity of Adorno’s thought is inseparable from its articulation,” so that “conceptual concreteness may be measured by the density with which thought and articulation perme­ate each other.” (2) For this reason, any translator who, in spite of these difficul­ties, attempts to translate Adorno’s sentences runs the risk of constructing an Adorno who. in the words of one of his most astute American translators, Rob­ert Hullot-Kentor, appears “dubbed rather than translated.” (3) Thus, as Hullot- Kentor points out, while many admirable English translations of Adorno’s texts exist, others deserve to be retranslated. (4) The process is now well under way, with, for instance, Hullot-Kentor’s responsible retranslation of Aesthetic Theory which replaces the problematic British version of 1984. (5)

The following interview with Adorno has not received the attention that it deserves. It originally appeared on 5 May 1969, three months before the phi­losopher’s death, under the title “Keine Angst vor dem Elfenbeinturm” in the widely circulating German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel (6) Shortly after it appeared in Germany, an English translation, which has been virtually ig­nored in the American context, was published in a British journal. (7) In a very real sense, then, the “moment of its realization was missed.” To present this important document today in an entirely new translation, in agreement with Der Spiegel, means to take seriously—with a bit of Blochian non-syncronic- ity—the critical potential that it still may hold for readers interested in the relation between aesthetics and politics. But the re-presentation of the docu­ment today also requires an explanation of historical contexts and political ref­erences, glosses that culturally aware readers in 1969 may not have required and that were provided neither in the British translation nor by Adorno’s Ger­man editors, who later included the text in his collected writings (Gesammelte Schriften). (8) I have therefore provided explanatory footnotes to clarify histori­cal references for today’s readers.

To appropriate the conceptual content of the discussion with Adorno for our time also requires some contextualization in the tensions of its own time. The immediate occasion for the highly visible interview was Adorno’s can­cellation of his University of Frankfurt lecture course “Introduction to Dialec­tical Thinking” during the summer semester of 1969, following confrontations with student activists who disrupted his lectures with heckling. During the pre­vious semester, Adorno’s decision to involve the police in clearing student oc­cupiers from the Institute for Social Research (the Frankfurt School’s depart­mental unit at the University of Frankfurt) had caused controversy. While some regarded Adorno’s reliance on the authorities as a betrayal—a siding with the enemy against the common cause of social progress—others tended to agree with Adorno’s assessment of the radical activism of some students as misguided or even, in the words of his former research assistant, Jurgen Habermas, as a form of “left-wing fascism.” (9) On the day that the Spiegel in­terview appeared, Adorno writes to his friend and Frankfurt School colleague Herbert Marcuse: “One should refrain from |… | demonizing the police whole­sale. 1 can only repeal that they treated the students much more gingerly than the students treated me. That was beyond description.” He continues: “The other day I was told by Mr. Cohn-Bendit during a departmental town meeting that I only had the right to call in the police if people actually wanted to beat me up with metal rods. I answered that then it would be too late.” (10)

The irony of the tensions between Adorno and some student activists are legible enough. On the one hand, his theories had contributed to the es­tablishment of the first general wave of political activism in Germany after Word War II and to a general critical engagement with the legacies of Ger­man fascism, a subject that had largely remained taboo after 1945. Examples of Adorno’s theoretical interventions that were especially significant in this regard included his and Horkheimer’s analysis of the culture industry, his dis­section ol’the authoritarian personality, his subversive reflections on what it means to be German, his meditations on education “after Auschwitz,” and his anti-fascist reflections, among many others. But on the other hand, more con­crete signs of solidarity were expected of Adorno after December 1966, es­pecially on the part of the “APO.” “APO” stands for “Außerparlamentarische Opposition” (“Extraparliamentary opposition”), the collective name of the German student and New Left movements, along with a variety of smaller op­positional groups that were not presented in the German parliament. The APO came into existence in 1967, in response to the “Grand Coalition” formed between Kurt Georg Kiesinger’s conservative CDU/CSU and Willy Brandt’s social-democratic SPD on 1 December 1966. that is. when almost no opposi­tion remained within the German parliament itself. Many in the APO now- looked to Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt .School for practical po­litical leadership, often in vein.

In a patricidal reversal that pitted parts of the Student Protest Movement and the New Left against one of their theoretical fathers, Adorno was sub­jected to a series of institutional and personal attacks at least since 1967. and leaflets proclaiming that “Adorno as an institution is dead” (“Adorno als In­stitution ist tot“) were circulated during his lectures. For instance, when he was invited by Peter Szondi and Wilhelm Emrich on behalf of the Depart­ments of German and Comparative Literature at the Free University of Berlin to deliver a lecture in July 1967 on “The Classicism of Goethe’sIphigenie,” a meditation that was later included as an essay in his Notes to Literature, Adorno was greeted with heckles on the part of some. Adorno had earlier re­fused to write a letter of support exculpating the activist Fritz Teufel, whose controversial hand-outs and leaflets had been read by his accusers not as a sat­ire but as a concrete incitement to arson and violence. Because Adorno refused to conduct a political discussion instead of delivering his lecture as planned, his detractors regarded his decision to speak on Goethe as a retreat from po­litical intervention into classicist aesthetics.

But the most notorious incident was yet to come. During an April 1969 assault, an instance of “planned tenderness” which has come to be known as the “breast action” (Busenaktion), three female sociology students wearing long leather jackets invaded the lecturer’s podium, sprinkled rose and tulip petals over Adorno’s head, attempted to plant lipstick kisses on his cheeks, ex­posed their naked breasts to him, and provoked him with erotic pantomimes. Adorno, attempting to protect himself with his briefcase, proceeded to exit “Hörsaal V” (“Lecture Hall V”). This attempt to embarrass Adorno publicly was a sign of the larger structure of misunderstanding between Adorno and those student activists who had grown increasingly impatient with their theoretically-minded teacher’s reluctance to engage in street interventions and other forms of political activism.

The tension and misunderstanding between Adorno and some of the student activists was by no means universal. Indeed, many found the public provocations of Adorno by a minority of students misplaced and embarassing. Those critical of the activities to which Adorno was subjected must have re­called not only their indebtness to the theoretical apparatus for a critical analy­sis of society and culture that he had supplied, but also Adorno’s general in­terest in being a public intellectual open to discussion and to a sustained engagement in concrete political causes. For instance, after the so-called German-American friendship week had been marred by severe street violence and clashes between protesters and the police in May 1967, Adorno, along with his colleague Max Horkheimer and others, on 12 June 1967 engaged in a pub­lic discussion with students and activists regarding the relationship between Critical Theory and political praxis. Similarly. Adorno spoke out publicly against the German Notstandsgesetze (Emergency Laws). Hessischer Rundfunk (Hessian Broad­cast Service). (11) And as Adorno reveals in a November 1968 letter to the writer Günter Grass, he maintained friendly relations with the Social Democratic politician Gustav Heinemann—then West Germany’s Minister of Justice and later, from 1969 through 1974, President of the Federal Republic—whom he closely advised regarding West Germany’s progressive criminal law reform. Similarly, Adorno was instrumental in helping to work out a compromise agreement between the “IG Metall.” West Germany’s Metal Workers’ Union, and their companies. But while he supported these and other political causes, such as then Foreign Minister and Vice Chancelor Willy Brandt’s concrete at­tempts to loosen the iron collar of Cold War ideologies through a new politi­cal relationship with countries to West Germany’s East, he remained suspicious of certain “aporias of the politics of reconciliation” (“Aporien der Versöh­nungspolitik’’).

These included the politics that he feared would disguise the ways in which the Soviet Union’s gestures of political reconciliation with its satellite states could also be read as attempts at even greater domination of these slates. Here, he feared, the questionable and deeply problematic politi­cal interests represented by both Washington and Moscow found a possible way of supplementing one another in their expansivist quests for world domi­nation. Rejecting what he often denounced as “erpreßte Versöhnung” (“forced reconciliation”), Adorno confesses to Grass his “mounting aversion to any kind of praxis in which my natural disposition and the objective hopelessness of praxis in this historical moment may meet each other.” (12) Between the writ­ing of these lines and his death some ten months later, this aversion may have grown ever more pronounced in light of the heightening intensity with which the personal attacks against him were carried out.

These Emergency Laws were to enable the German government to suspend certain basic demo­cratic citiziens’ rights when protests and concrete opposition threatened to destabilize the basic order of the state. The proposed bill that would make Emergency Laws legal in Germany was passed on 30 May 1968. Two days earlier, Adorno had made a last-minute effort to derail the passing of these laws, formulating a firm rejection of these curtailments of civil liberties in an address entitled “Gegen die Notstandsgesetze” (“Against the Emergency Laws”) in the “Große Sendesaal” of the

In the interview reproduced below, Adorno explains, in more lucid and conversational terms than is characteristic of his formal writings, his concep­tualization of the political relevance that his theoretical work may have. For Adorno, the political impact of his work is not to be measured by the extent to which it enables unmediated social praxis but rather by the extent to which it effects a broad change in consciousness. Here, the oppositional pair of thought and action itself is suspended. The text belongs in the general orbit of similar meditations that Adorno devoted to this subject in the late 1960s, such as his texts “Resignation” and “Marginalia on Theory and Praxis,” and his conversation regarding Critical Theory and the Protest Movement with the Südeutsche Zeitung. (13) Indeed, there is no sentence in Adorno’s mature work that is not touched by the political implications of the thoughts that he expresses in the Spiegel interview.

In my English translation, I have attempted to capture some of the in­formal conversational tone of Adorno’s sentences, a tone that may strike some readers as belonging to a surprisingly different register than that found in the formal and rigorous precision of his written works, where his German prose, in its persistent self-reflexivity and performativity, often appears, quite strate­gically, to resemble no living language. The sinewy lucidity of Adorno’s spo­ken and improvised language in this interview cannot be explained fully by Der Spiegel’s editorial practices, as listeners to the recently published collec­tion of five compact disks containing a variety of his speeches and interviews can attest. (14) Adorno’s fluid style as a live interlocutor and public speaker—es­pecially as he developed it for his various radio, television, and mass print ap­pearances soon following his return to Germany from American exile in 1949 —should be placed into a dynamic constellation with his written language to assess the shifting contours of his imagined relationship to the audience.

I wish to thank Der Spiegel for kindly granting me permission to trans­late and reprint this interview.

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