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The Value Form, Reification, and the Consciousness of the Collective Worker (Milchman, 2010)

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Alan Milchman (Mac Intosh) 1940-2021


Internationalist Perspective
Issue 57: Fall/Winter 2010 [PDF]


Marx’s critical theory exposed a mode of production, a civilization, based on value, which he described as a “deranged” or “perverted form” [verrückte Form], in which social relations between persons are inverted and appear as relations between things. It is the abstract labor of the working class that produces and reproduces this deranged form. As Max Horkheimer, in 1937, put it in “Traditional and Critical Theory”: “[H]uman beings reproduce [erneuern], through their own labor, a reality which increasingly enslaves them.”1 It was Georg Lukács, in his essay “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” in the collection History and Class Consciousness (1923), who had first elaborated a theory of reification through which the effects of the value form, that perverted form, and the commodity fetishism that was integral to it, seized hold of society. Lukács’ accomplishment, even before many of Marx’s own vast “economic” manuscripts had been published, was a theoretical breakthrough upon which Marxism as a negative critique of capitalism is still based.

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Correspondence on the German Student Movement: Adorno-Marcuse, 1969

[Image 1. Anti war protests at the University of California, San Diego, 1970. Credits: Fred Lonidier]

FIELD republishes today this 1969 letter exchange between Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse on the German student protest movement. First appearing in the New Left Review in January-February 1999, these letters are too relevant to the present moment to be consigned to the place of memorabilia. In them, we sense the foundational common code of friendship that tied these thinkers together, despite profound theoretical disparities which their words suggest are irreconcilable. Today’s urgency to engage politically with pressing matters such as the cost of human lives for the maintenance of the status quo, the resurgence of neo-fascist rhetoric in the public sphere, and the United States’ military involvement in foreign affairs, make these authors’ exchange as relevant as it was almost four decades ago. Like “Teddy” and Herbert, today’s academics need to reconsider how to reconcile theory with the violence of police brutality, imperialist intervention in remote geographies, and the need for new forms of political contestation. Writing at times of vigorous student protest movements in Germany and California, Adorno and Marcuse exemplified different takes on the political responsibility of scholars, poles that appear still unaltered in today’s multifaceted attack on the autonomy and sustainability of public higher education around the globe. Their conversation is testimony to the propensity of academic labor to forget its inscription in the world and its indebtedness to it. The original New Left Review publication (I: 233, January-February 1999) can be found here: https://newleftreview.org/I/233/theodor-adorno-herbert-marcuse-correspondence-on-the-german-student-movement.

San Diego, November 2016.

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The State

ISSUE 4: THE STATE

 

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INTRODUCTION

Mate­ri­als for a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary The­ory of the State | Asad Haider and Salar Mohandesi

“I believe that the sta­tus of the state in cur­rent think­ing on the Left isvery prob­lem­atic,” Stu­art Hall wrote in 1984, in the midst of Mar­garet Thatcher’s war on the “enemy within.” He reflected on the legacy of the post­war period, which saw the exten­sion of pub­lic ser­vices within the con­text of a vast expan­sion of the state’s inter­ven­tion in social life.

STRATEGIC LEGACIES

Seven The­ses on Work­ers’ Con­trol (1958) | Raniero Panzieri

In the work­ers’ move­ment there has been for a long time, and in suc­ces­sive peri­ods, a dis­cus­sion of the ques­tion of the modes and tem­po­ral­i­ties of the tran­si­tion to social­ism. One ten­dency, which occurred in var­i­ous forms, believed it was pos­si­ble to schema­tize the tem­po­ral­ity of this process, as if social­ist con­struc­tion had to be pre­ceded, always and in every case, by the “phase” of con­struc­tion of bour­geois democracy.

The­ses on the Trans­for­ma­tion of Democ­racy and the Extra­parlia­men­tary Oppo­si­tion (1968) | Johannes Agnoli

These the­ses serve as a sup­ple­ment to my book Trans­for­ma­tion of Democ­racy and a cor­rec­tion to some mis­quo­ta­tions made at the remark­able del­e­gates con­fer­ence of the SDS. I am gen­er­ally of the opin­ion that rather than inter­pret texts, rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies should change rela­tions. As mea­sured by the state’s actual power rela­tions and by the actual rela­tions of dom­i­na­tion in soci­ety, the famil­iar expres­sion for the mod­ern bour­geois state – “par­lia­men­tary democ­racy” – rep­re­sents a paradox.

Cri­sis and Strat­egy: On Daniel Bensaïd’s “The Notion of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cri­sis in Lenin” | Patrick King

The Eng­lish trans­la­tion of Daniel Bensaïd’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Une lente impa­tience, is a wel­come event in the Anglo­phone Marx­ist world. Not only does it con­tain a rich his­tory of some of the most deci­sive moments for the French Left from the ’60s to the present, it also deep­ens our under­stand­ing of the het­ero­dox sources that coex­isted within Bensaïd’s unique form of Marxism.

The Notion of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cri­sis in Lenin (1968) | Daniel Bensaïd

In sev­eral places through­out his work, Lenin tries to define the notion of a “revolution­ary cri­sis,” espe­cially in Left-Wing Com­mu­nism: An Infan­tile Dis­or­der and The Col­lapse of the Sec­ond Inter­na­tional. How­ever, he out­lines a notion more than he estab­lishes a con­cept, as the descrip­tive cri­te­ria that he enu­mer­ates remain sub­jec­tive assessments.

Hans-Jürgen Krahl: From Crit­i­cal to Rev­o­lu­tion­ary The­ory | Michael Shane Boyle and Daniel Spaulding

Hans-Jürgen Krahl died in a car crash in 1970, at the age of twenty-seven. By that time he had weath­ered the rise and decline of the Social­ist Ger­man Stu­dent Union (Sozial­is­tis­cher Deutscher Stu­den­ten­bund, or SDS), among whose ranks he was, arguably, both the most sophis­ti­cated the­o­rist and, after Rudi Dutschke, the most incen­di­ary ora­tor. The SDS had been founded shortly after World War II as the youth wing of the Social Demo­c­ra­tic Party (SDP) of Ger­many. As the lat­ter moved towards the cen­ter, how­ever, the SDS rad­i­cal­ized, even­tu­ally lead­ing to expul­sion from its par­ent orga­ni­za­tion in 1961. It would soon become the most impor­tant stu­dent group in Ger­many, even as its offi­cial pol­icy shifted fur­ther towards rev­o­lu­tion­ary Marxism.

The Phi­los­o­phy of His­tory and the Author­i­tar­ian State (1971) | Hans-Jürgen Krahl

His­tor­i­cal materialism’s crit­i­cal eco­nomic prog­noses on the nat­ural course of the cap­i­tal­ist world order have been con­firmed. The con­di­tions for the eco­nomic break­down and cri­sis of cap­i­tal have been ful­filled; the his­tor­i­cal ten­dency of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion has long since reached the degree of con­cen­tra­tion and cen­tral­iza­tion that Marx and Engels des­ig­nated as its nat­u­rally pro­duced his­tor­i­cal ter­mi­nus. The exis­tence of the author­i­tar­ian state is just as much an expres­sion of the “final cri­sis” as it is of the tem­po­rary, polit­i­cally medi­ated suc­cess of the attempt to man­age it in the inter­ests of monop­oly capital.

The New Deal and the New Order of Cap­i­tal­ist Insti­tu­tions (1972) | Luciano Fer­rari Bravo

To speak of the New Deal as a huge qual­i­ta­tive leap in the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ist insti­tu­tions – a leap that, pre­cisely because it func­tions at a cru­cial point in the plot of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety at a global level, has itself a spe­cial his­tor­i­cal impor­tance – seems to be a state­ment by now gen­er­ally taken to be wholly cor­rect. The mat­ter was already set­tled in the mind of its great­est pro­tag­o­nist and in the ide­ol­ogy cre­ated around him that enthu­si­as­ti­cally founded the “myth” of the New Deal’s “rev­o­lu­tion”; and, if every myth must have a real jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, this one lay in the effec­tive dis­man­tling of the sys­tem in the rapid course of a decade. No less sig­nif­i­cant, at this level, is the bit­ter oppo­si­tion from var­i­ous posi­tions that the New Deal came to pro­voke; these were atti­tudes that then, and not acci­den­tally, flowed back against it in a wide under­ly­ing consensus.

Notes on the Polit­i­cal Over the Longue Durée | Mat­teo Mandarini

Writ­ten towards the end of what we might call the “sec­ond period” of Tronti’s reflec­tions, that of the so-called “auton­omy of the Polit­i­cal,” sand­wiched between the more famous phase of Operaismo and the – almost com­pletely unknown to the Anglo­phone world – “third period” polit­i­cal the­o­log­i­cal phase, that of the twi­light of the polit­i­cal, the short text trans­lated here will come to many Anglo­phone read­ers of Tronti as a surprise.

The Polit­i­cal (1979) | Mario Tronti

The polit­i­cal has a his­tory. It is the mod­ern his­tory of rela­tions of power. To recon­struct, reread, to accu­mu­late mate­ri­als, to lay out the prob­lems by fol­low­ing the unhur­ried course of time, to set out from the clas­sics is not an escape into the past, it is an exper­i­ment, a test, the attempt to ver­ify a hypoth­e­sis. Let us leave for­mu­lae to the arith­metic of pol­i­tics. Let us leave the auton­omy of pol­i­tics to the news­pa­pers. The dif­fi­cul­ties encoun­tered by the Marx­ist the­ory and prac­tice of the work­ers’ move­ment in tak­ing upon itself the fact of power all stem from this absence of knowl­edge, from this lack of reflec­tion on the his­tor­i­cal hori­zon of bour­geois politics.

 

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