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Adorno’s politics: Theory and praxis in Germany’s 1960s (Freyenhagen, 2014)

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by Fabian Freyenhagen, Philosophy and Social Criticism 2014, Vol. 40(9) 867–893

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Theodor W. Adorno inspired much of Germany’s 1960s student movement, but he came increasingly into conflict with this movement about the practical implications of his critical theory. Others – including his friend and colleague Herbert Marcuse – also accused Adorno of a quietism that is politically objectionable and in contradiction with his own theory. In this article, I reconstruct, and partially defend, Adorno’s views on theory and (political) praxis in Germany’s 1960s in 11 theses. His often attacked and maligned stance during the 1960s is based on his analysis of these historical circumstances. Put provocatively, his stance consists in the view that people in the 1960s have tried to change the world, in various ways; the point – at that time – was to interpret it.

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Dawn and Decline (Horkheimer, 1934/74)

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by Max Horkheimer (1934/74) [PDF]

Dusk: The less stable necessary ideologies are, the more cruel the methods by which they are protected. The degree of zeal and terror with which tottering idols are defended shows how far dusk has already advanced. With the development of large-scale industry, the intelligence of the European masses has grown so greatly that the most sacred possessions must be protected from it. To do this well means to be embarked on a career. Woe to the man who tells the truth in simple terms. There is not only the general, systematicaly engineered brainwashing but the threat of economic ruin, social ostracism, the penitentiary and death to deter reason from attacking the key conceptual techniques of domination. The imperialism of the great European states need not envy the Middle Ages for its stakes. Its symbols are protected by more sophisticated instruments and more fear-inspiring guards than the saints of the medieval church. The enemies of the Inquisition turned that dusk into the dawning of a new day. Nor does the dusk of capitalism have to usher in the night of mankind although today it certainly seems to be threatening it.

Der negative Anthropologe: Ulrich Sonnemann

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

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by Rahel Jaeggi (Constellations, 2005)

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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

Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966): Collected Works

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“The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch’s judgments about itself. Since these judgments are expressions of the tendencies of a particular era, they do not offer conclusive testimony about its overall constitution. The surface-level expressions, however, by virtue of their unconscious nature, provide unmediated access to the fundamental substance of the state of things. Conversely, knowledge of this state of things depends on the interpretation of these surface-level expressions. The fundamental substance of an epoch and its unheeded impulses illuminate each other reciprocally.” – Kracauer, The Mass Ornament, 1927

By Siegfried Kracauer:

The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays (1922-1931)

The Salaried Masses: Duty and Distraction in Weimar Germany (1930)

From Caligari to Hitler A Psychological History of the German Film (1947)

Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960)

The Pasts Threshold: Essays on Photography (1927-1951)

Siegfried_Kracauer’s_American Writings: Essays on Film and Popular Culture (1941-1961)

History-The Last Things Before the Last (1969)

On Siegfried Kracauer:

Koch, Introduction to Siegfried Kracauer (2000)

Gilloch, Siegfried Kracauer: Our companion in misfortune (2015)

Hansen, Cinema and experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (2012)

Craver, Reluctant Skeptic: Siegfried Kracauer and the Crises of Weimar Culture (2017)

Reeh, Ornaments of the Metropolis_ Siegfried Kracauer and Modern Urban Culture (2005

New_German_Critique_54: _SPECIAL ISSUE ON SIEGFRIED KRACAUER 1991

Ockman, Between Ornament and Monument: Siegfried Kracauer and the Architectural Implications of the Mass Ornament

Forrest, The Politics of Imagination: Benjamin, Kracauer, Kluge, 2015

Critical theory and experience: Interview with Detlev Claussen (2019)

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Detlev Claussen and Jordi Maiso – RP 2.06 (Winter 2019)
Translated by Alex Alvarez Taylor

[See Claussen’s biography of Adorno: One Last Genius (2008)]

Detlev Claussen (b. 1948) is Professor Emeritus of Social Theory, Culture and Sociology at Leibniz Universität Hannover. In the mid-sixties he moved to Frankfurt to study with Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, where he was actively involved in the protest movements associated with the political upheavals of 1968. In the seventies, Claussen worked as Oskar Negt’s assistant, with whom he shared the common project of opening up new avenues for critical theory without renouncing the thought of their intellectual mentors. Since then, Claussen has argued that instead of offering an overarching theory that can be applied from ‘outside’ of existing social reality, critical theory offers a variety of strategies that allow us simultaneously to disentangle and invigorate present experience. Claussen has written on a wide range of themes, including social theory, psychoanalysis, the sociology of science and culture, as well as anti-Semitism, racism, nationalism and migration. His biography of the legendary Jewish coach and footballer Béla Guttmann, yet to be translated into English, offers a prime example of how his published work cannot be separated from the wider context of his intellectual biography. Both an essayist and Adorno’s biographer, Claussen is one of the leading lights of critical theory today.

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Cured Quail Vol. 2

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As industrial culture grinds to a halt, what better time to reflect, in this hour of unprecedented catastrophe, unwieldy political ferment and social distance, on the backlog of damages inflicted by this society? The economy continues to demand reverence from lives barely tottering along while offering cultural consolation hardly worth the name.

Preorders are now open for Cured Quail Vol. 2. The more preorders we receive, the faster the printer cylinders rotate.

Cured Quail Volume 2 | Fall 2020 | 304 pages

Cured Quail also now has its own Facebook and Twitter pages. Be sure to follow!

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State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations (Pollock, 1941)

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by Friedrich Pollock (1941)

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We start from the assumption that the hour of state capitalism approaches when the market economy becomes an utterly inadequate instrument for utilizing the available resources. The medium-sized private enterprise and free trade, the basis for the gigantic development of men’s productive forces in the 19th century, are being gradually destroyed by the offspring of liberalism, private monopolies and government interference. Concentration of economic activity in giant enterprises, with its consequences of rigid prices, self-financing and ever growing concentration, government control of the credit system and foreign trade, quasi-monopoly positions of trade unions with the ensuing rigidity of the labor market, large-scale unemployment of labor and capital and enormous government expenses to care for the unemployed, are as many symptoms for the decline of the market system. They became characteristic in various degrees for all industrialized countries after the first world war.

See also:

 

The Author as Producer (Walter Benjamin, 1934)

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Address at the Institute for the Study of Fascism, Paris, April 27, 1934

The task is to win over the intellectuals to the working class by making them aware of the identity of their spiritual enterprises and of their conditions as producers. –

Ramon Fernandez

You recall how Plato treats the poets in his projected State. In the interest of the community, he does not allow them to live there. He had a high idea of the power of poetry. But he considered it destructive, superfluous – in a perfect community, needless to say. Since then, the question of the poet’s right to exist has not often been stated with the same insistence; but it is today. Certainly it has rarely been posed in this form. But you are all more or less familiar with it as the question of the poet’s autonomy: his freedom to write whatever he may please. You are not inclined to accord him this autonomy. You believe that the current social situation forces the poet to choose whom his activity will serve. The bourgeois writer of popular stories does not acknowledge this alternative. So you show him that even without admitting it, he works in the interests of a particular class. An advanced type of writer acknowledges this alternative. His decision is determined on the basis of the class struggle when he places himself on the side of the proletariat. But then his autonomy is done for. He directs his energies toward what is useful for the proletariat in the class struggle. We say that he espouses a tendency. [1]

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society (Marcuse, 1979)

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society, a talk delivered shortly before Herbert Marcuse’s death in 1979, published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 3(3) 1992

Thank you for the warm welcome. I am glad to be able to address the wilderness class. Actually, I’m not sure what to say because I don’t see any more problems. As you know, President Carter has turned over some thirty-six million acres of wilderness land to commercial development. There isn’t much wilderness left to preserve. But we still will try, nonetheless.

What I propose to do is to discuss the destruction of nature in the context of the general destructiveness which characterizes our society. I will then trace the roots of this destructiveness in individuals themselves; that is, I will examine psychological destructiveness within individuals.

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Minima Moralia: Reflections on a damaged life (Adorno, 1951)

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by Theodor Adorno [PDF]

Dedication

The melancholy science, from which I make this offering to my friend, relates to a realm which has counted, since time immemorial, as the authentic one of philosophy, but which has, since its transformation into method, fallen prey to intellectual disrespect, sententious caprice and in the end forgetfulness: the teaching of the good life. What philosophy once called life, has turned into the sphere of the private and then merely of consumption, which is dragged along as an addendum of the material production-process, without autonomy and without its own substance. Whoever wishes to experience the truth of immediate life, must investigate its alienated form, the objective powers, which determine the individual existence into its innermost recesses. To speak immediately of what is immediate, is to behave no differently from that novelist, who adorns their marionettes with the imitations of the passions of yesteryear like cheap jewelry, and who sets persons in motion, who are nothing other than inventory-pieces of machinery, as if they could still act as subjects, and as if something really depended on their actions. The gaze at life has passed over into ideology, which conceals the fact, that it no longer exists.

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‘Anti-Semitism among American Labor’: a study by the refugee scholars of the Frankfurt School of Sociology at the end of World War II

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by Catherine Collomp

Labor History Vol. 52, No. 4, November 2011, 417–439

This article analyzes the unpublished 1400-page report ‘Anti-Semitism among American Labor’, produced in 1944–1945 by the German scholars of the Frankfurt School of Sociology during their exile in the United States. Overlooked so far by labor historians and by historians of Jewish and World War II history, this report is analyzed here with specific attention to its contents as well as to the historical circumstances of its production during World War II. The article explains the larger strategy of the Jewish Labor Committee which commissioned it. It also situates this study in the production of the German sociologists who realized it. Finally, the article argues that, in the context of the war production effort, the alleged anti-semitism of the American working class was a fluctuant and paradigmatic sign of tension and frustration which eventually gave way to other forms of literal or imaginary conflicts.  [READ PDF]

See also:

The Meaning of Working Through the Past (Adorno, 1959)

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by Theodor Adorno (1959, Critical Models)

The question “What does working through the past mean?” requires explication. It follows from a formulation, a modish slogan that has become highly suspect during the last years. In this usage “working through the past” does not mean seriously working upon the past, that is, through a lucid consciousness breaking its power to fascinate. On the contrary, its intention is to close the books on the past and, if possible, even remove it from memory. The attitude that everything should be forgotten and forgiven, which would be proper for those who suffered injustice, is practiced by those party supporters who committed the injustice. I wrote once in a scholarly dispute: in the house of the hangman one should not speak of the noose, otherwise one might seem to harbor resentment. However, the tendency toward the unconscious and not so unconscious defensiveness against guilt is so absurdly associated with the thought of working through the past that there is sufficient reason to reflect upon a domain from which even now there emanates such a horror that one hesitates to call it by name. 

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The Social Function of Philosophy (Horkheimer, 1939)

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WHEN the words physics, chemistry, medicine, or history are mentioned in a conversation, the participants usually have something very definite in mind. Should any difference of opinion arise, we could consult an encyclopedia or accepted textbook or turn to one or more outstanding specialists in the field in question. The definition of any one of these sciences derives immediately from its place in present-day society. Though these sciences may make the greatest advances in the future, though it is even conceivable that several of them, physics and chemistry for example, may someday be merged, no one is really interested in defining these concepts in any other way than by reference to the scientific activities now being carried on under such headings.

It is different with philosophy. Suppose we ask a professor of philosophy what philosophy is. If we are lucky and happen to a specialist who is not averse to definitions in general, he will give us one. If we then adopt this definition, we should probably soon discover that it is by no means the universally accepted meaning of the word. We might then appeal to other authorities, and pore over textbooks, modern and old. The confusion would only increase. Many thinkers, accepting Plato and Kant as their authorities, regard philosophy as an exact science in its own right, with its own field and subject matter. In our epoch this conception is chiefly represented by the late Edmund Husserl. Other thinkers, like Ernst Mach, conceive philosophy as the critical elaboration and synthesis of the special sciences to a unified whole. Bertrand Russell, too, holds that the task of philosophy is “that of logical analysis, followed by logical synthesis.” He thus fully agrees with L. T. Hobhouse, who declares that “Philosophy … has a synthesis of the sciences as its goal.” This conception goes back to Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, for whom philosophy constituted the total system of human knowledge. Philosophy, therefore, is an independent science for some, a subsidiary or auxiliary discipline for others.

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We Need a New State Debate (Part Two) — Chris O’Kane

The second part of Chris O’Kane’s critical reevaluation of Marxist state theories and debates.

via We Need a New State Debate (Part Two) — Chris O’Kane — Legal Form

The State Derivation Debate [1]

The so-called second generation of Frankfurt critical theorists, Jürgen Habermas and Claus Offe, had formulated social-democratic theories of the state. They had argued that capitalism’s crisis tendencies had been overcome and that the working class had been integrated into contemporary society. All struggles were thus political struggles over the state’s management of economic relations, and social democracy represented the road to human fulfilment.

Johannes Agnoli had critiqued Habermas and Offe’s theories. For Agnoli the state was the political form of capitalist reproduction, not something to be understood as separate from economic relations. Keynesianism, moreover, had not overcome class struggle, but rather “statified” it by incorporating the working class into a vast bureaucracy. All struggles should thus be outside of and against the state in order to abolish it outright, and with it the whole of capitalist society.

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Anxiety and Politics (Franz Neumann, 1957)

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Franz Neumann (1957)

Anxiety is, or ought to be, a central problem of the sciences. Anxiety impairs the freedom of decision, indeed it may make such freedom impossible—only a fearless man (or woman, ed.) can decide freely. The discussion of the problem of anxiety should be open to all the disciplines, not reserved to any one of them, for the great concern of science is the analysis and application of the concept of human freedom. My task today is to discuss the problem of anxiety in politics, a task which is confronted with many obstacles. In contrast to the traditional disciplines, the science of politics has no method of its own—it has, in the last analysis, only a focus, namely the dialectical relation between domination and freedom. In other words the science of politics revolves solely around a problem and uses all kinds of methods to attack this problem. However, with this approach the political scientist runs the danger of dilettantism, a danger which he can avoid only by being conscious of his limitations and by giving hearing to authorities from other disciplines. Thus this contribution will often consist merely in a synthesis of the results of research or perhaps in a felicitous hypothesis. [READ PDF]

Critical Theory and the Critique of Anti-Imperialism

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by Marcel Stoetzler (2018)

[in Best, Beverley; Werner Bonefeld; Chris O’Kane (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory, vol. 3, 1467-1486.]

The rejection of ‘anti-imperialism’ marks one of the most visible and significant differences between ‘Frankfurt School’ Critical Theory and most other tendencies of the Marxist left. The dispute on the meaning and relevance of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ is implicated in related discussions on the critique of nation and state, colonialism and post-coloniality, racism and race, and antisemitism. ‘Frankfurt School’ Critical Theory deliberately aims to formulate a critique of the capitalist mode of production that includes the phenomena typically addressed as ‘imperialism’ without recourse to the concept of ‘anti-imperialism’. It takes the perspective that ‘imperialism’ is an intrinsic aspect of the capitalist mode of production rather than an object in its own right that is to be distinguished from the latter and to be fought ‘as such’: the concept of ‘anti-imperialism’ presupposes the reification and fetishization of ‘imperialism’.

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Contradictions of the Welfare State

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by Claus Offe (1984)

Now, capitalist societies are defined by the fact that in them – on the basis of an unequal distribution of property resulting from precapitalist ‘primitive accumulation’ – the organizational principle of the exchange (of equivalents) is universal. This principle of exchange, which also includes the commodification of labour power, becomes dominant because it is freed from normative and political-coercive restraints. To be sure, a society organized by means of exchange relationships can never be organized solely through exchange relations but, rather, requires ‘flanking subsystems’: even in a purely competitive-capitalist social system, individuals must be socialized in normative structures, while the established rules of social intercourse must be sanctioned by sovereign power. A society based on market exchange cannot function without the family system and the legal system.

If the dominant organizational principle of the social processes of every capitalist society is that of exchange, a theory of the crises of capitalist society can identify those processes which challenge the dominance of this central principle. This, in turn, can be done in two ways.

  1. The theory of historical materialism attempts to show that processes organized and formed through exchange lead to results that cannot be dealt with by the exchange process itself. Economic crisis theories in a narrow sense, such as the theorem of the historical tendency of the rate of profit to fall, reconstruct the processes of self-negation of the exchange principle that potentially result in the revolutionary transformation of the entire ideological and political ‘superstructure’.
  2. As an alternative to this approach, a theory of the system crises of capitalist societies would examine crisis-prone developments not in the exchange sphere itself (i. e., in the form of an economic crisis theory); rather, it would concentrate on the relationship between the three fundamental organizational principles of society as a whole. Not the self-negation of the exchange principle but its restriction and questioning by the other two organizational principles would serve as the criterion of crisis processes.

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Authority and the Family (Horkheimer, 1936)

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by Max Horkheimer (1936) PDF

THE history of mankind has been divided into periods in very varying ways. The manner in which periodization has been carried out has not depended exclusively on the object, any more than other concept formations have; the current state of knowledge and the concerns of the knower have also played a part. Today the division into antiquity, Middle Ages, and modern times is still widely used. It originated in literary studies and was applied in the seventeenth century to history generally. It expresses the conviction, formed in the Renaissance and consolidated in the Enlightenment, that the time between the fall of the Roman Empire and the fifteenth century was a dark era for mankind, a sort of hibernation of culture, and was to be understood only as a period of transition. In contemporary scholarship this particular periodization is considered highly unsatisfactory. One reason is that the “Middle Ages” were in fact a time of important progress even from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, since they saw decisive advances in civilization and produced revolutionary technical inventions. A further reason is that the usual criteria for making the fifteenth century a dividing point are partly indefensible, partly applicable in a meaningful way only to limited areas of world history. . . PDF

source: Max Horkheimer, Critical Theory: Selected Essays, Continuum: New York, 1975

The Authoritarian State (Horkheimer, 1942)

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The historical predictions on the fate of bourgeois society have been confirmed. In the system of the free market economy, which pushed men to labor-saving discoveries and finally subsumed them in a global mathematical formula, its specific offspring, machines, have become means of destruction not merely in the literal sense: they have made not work but the workers superfluous. The bourgeoisie has been decimated, and the majority of members have lost their independence; where they have not been thrown into the ranks of the proletariat, or more commonly into the masses of unemployed, they have become dependents of the big concerns or the state. The El Dorado of bourgeois existence, the sphere of circulation, is being liquidated. Its work is being carried out in part by the trusts which, without the help of banks, finance themselves, eliminate the commercial intermediaries and take control of the stockholders organizations. Part of the business sphere is handled by the state. As the caput mortuum of the transformation process of the bourgeoisie there remain only the highest levels of the industrial and state bureaucracy. “One way or another, with or without the trusts, the official representative of capitalist society, the state, must finally take over the management of production… All social functions of the capitalists are now discharged by salaried civil servants… And the modern state is once again only the organization which bourgeois society creates for itself to maintain the general external conditions for the capitalist means of production against encroachments either by the workers or by individual capitalists… The more productive forces the state takes over as its own property, the more it becomes a collective capitalist, the more citizens of the state it exploits. The workers remain wage laborers, proletarians. The relationship to capital is not abolished but becomes far more acute.” In the transition from monopoly to state capitalism, the last stage offered by bourgeois society is “the appropriation of the large productive and commercial organisms, first by joint-stock companies, later by trusts and then by the state.” State capitalism is the authoritarian state of the present. . . [READ PDF / Deutsch]


see also: The Philosophy of History and the Authoritarian State (1971) by Hans-Jürgen Krahl