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Adorno, Non-Identity, Sexuality (Stoetzler, 2009)

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by Marcel Stoetzler, published in Negativity and Revolution: Adorno and Political Activism (ed. Holloway, Matamoros, Tischler, 2009)

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This chapter explores some of Adorno’s scattered remarks on love, on the gender relation between men and women, as well as on homosexuality, and how these relate to modern individuality, subjectivity and the capitalist mode of production. Its focus is on the modernity of the idea that there are exactly two sexes, understood as two distinct species or essences, and some of the implications and reverberations of this idea. It proceeds by way of arranging (juxtaposing perhaps) a number of related arguments taken from a body of Marxist writing mostly from the 1970s and 1980s that seems, if not influenced by, then at least compatible with, Adorno’s theorising. The guiding idea is that strict sexual dimorphism is an aspect, or expression, of the increasingly genital organisation of sexuality on the one hand, and on the other, the sublimation of Eros in the service of capitalist real subsumption. Both have been, and still are, part of the same historical process.

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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‘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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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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Reflections: antisemitism, anti-imperialism and liberal communitarianism

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by Marcel Stoetzler

The politically explosive modern form of antisemitism is the one that is central to the modern, conservative-revolutionary reaction to modernity. Two of the key problems in the analysis of (and struggle against) antisemitism are, to what extent does the modern right-wing critique of capitalist modernity overlap with its left-wing counterpart, and why does the latter sometimes fail to distinguish itself unambiguously from this mortal enemy? In varying contexts, from the Weimar KPD, via Foucault on Iran, to contemporary Labour politicians, some on the left grant too much to their enemy’s enemies, and are perhaps too fuzzy in their thinking to distinguish their own longing for the community of an emancipated future from their enemies’ longing for the racially or spiritually purified, re-born community of whichever reactionary fantasy.

The principal strength and attraction of antisemitism lies in its being beyond ordinary politics: antisemitism is meta-political. Both on the right and the left its value is that it connects to the opposite side. The ambiguous meaning of the word ‘socialism’ in its name was one of National Socialism’s strengths, although Hitler made clear enough that his was a socialism ‘the German way’, namely without the corrosive Jewish-Marxist bits about class struggle. Although its specifics put Nazism in many respects into a category all of its own, it also belongs into the wider category of nationalist socialisms that affirm the capitalist mode of production but are ‘anticapitalistic’ in their rejection of this or that detail of capitalist circulation and reproduction – greedy bankers who behave like locust swarms, that kind of thing – and seek a solution to ‘the social question’ at the level of the nation. There are many of those, and they are not about to go away. They are by nature receptive to antisemitism if and when it seems opportune for whichever contextual – cultural, historical – reasons.

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On the possibility that the revolution that will end capitalism might fail to usher in communism

hirstnailMarcel Stoetzler (2012)

Journal of Classical Sociology 12:2, pp. 191-204

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The optimism of the left repeats the insidious bourgeois superstition that one should not talk of the devil but look on the bright side.

(Adorno, 1978: 114)1

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In this paper I will try to get to grips with my partial reservations about John Holloway’s conception of revolution in Change the World without Taking Power and Crack Capitalism, which concern two problems. First, the interstitial revolution will not necessarily end capitalism, as capitalism will not simply die from the fact that communism peacefully, cunningly, like a cancer, grows and grows and grows in capitalism’s interstices: I suggest that capitalism will die because of the decay of capitalism, not the growth of communism, and that these two processes are neither the same nor related in any linear manner. Second, there are anti-capitalist screams and cracks that are not at all, and cannot even potentially become, communist: there are reactionary, anti-emancipatory forms of anti-capitalism, and as these were decisive factors in the catastrophic history of the twentieth century, their theoretical reflection needs to be more than a critical afterthought; it needs to be central. One way of putting this would be that, like many other variants of autonomist and left-wing Marxism, Holloway’s theory suffers from a lack of a theory of fascism. In spite of these reservations, though, his conception is of great importance, and my way of trying to deal with my own reservations will probably make clear enough why I think it is.2

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Capital is the name we give to the totalizing structure of contemporary human society. On the one hand, this structure is out there, facing us, opposed, sitting there, ob-jective, bad, dangerous, but, on the other hand, it is also nothing more than our subjectivity, our acting or agency, the agency of all humans who are part of the capitalist civilization-world, the specific societal relation constituted by and emerging out of the interactions of all human agents at any one time, the world that humanity creates every single moment following the example set by God according to the theology of Eriugena as referenced by Holloway (2010: 169).3

Crisis is likewise objective, an objective aspect of the real–abstract dynamic of that structure called capital, and, likewise, it is also true that we are the crisis, just as we are capital. Our subjectivity and agency are constitutive of the objective existence of capital as much as of the crisis and of the negation of capital.4

Negation is an unruly category, and its unruliness is the focus of this paper. In particular, the issue here is that revolution-as-the-negation-of-capital is not in itself, not necessarily, the same as communism-as-the-negation-of-capital (that is, revolution as communism): the revolutionary bringing down of capital opens up but the possibility of communism, and this possibility’s chance of success depends in important ways on how the bringing-down occurs. How is decisive.

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Revolution-as-the-negation-of-capital is mostly done by us-as-capital: that is, by capital in a process of self-negation of capital, a self-negation in which capital, which is in this sense the subject or agent of its own negation, makes use of us-as-the-constitutive-basis-of-capital.5 Communism-as-the-negation-of-capital, by contrast, is exclusively done by us-as-not-capital, which is, to use Adorno’s phrase, our non-identity, our identity against all identifications, in particular against all identifications imposed by the totalizing societal structure called capital (Adorno, 1975: 164) – a force otherwise known as communism-as-the-real-or-actual-movement, the ‘wirkliche Bewegung’ (Marx, 1969: 35): the movement of subjects that refuse being identified, classified, subjected.6

These two negations and these two ‘we’s – or, perhaps better, these two dimensions of ‘we’: the-(self-)negation-of-capital-as-revolution and the-negation-of-capital-as-communism; and we-as-capital and we-as-not-capital – are different though related. (We are all capital/labour as well as not capital/labour, although some are perhaps more the one, some more the other.) This conceptual distinction (although to be understood as merely a dialectical distinction, a contradiction within a unity) allows us to make a further distinction, namely that we-as-those-who-drive-capital-into-crisis (and, at some point, will bring it down, that is, we as the in this respect ultimately revolutionary agents; we-the-wreckers) are not thereby necessarily communists (in the sense of we as determinately not capital); we simply play our part as labour, which is the complementary opposite as much as the constitutive basis of capital, and we do our best to play a tough game with-and-against capital because we need to survive. No less, no more: by way of constituting capital, we also constitute its intrinsic, in-built, inevitable self-negation, but not, in and of itself, communism. Not communism, but only the possibility of communism follows from the inherent contradictions of the capital relation. Although capital’s self-negating dynamic produces the elements and conditions of communism, communism is more than just the self-negation of capital. Communism emerges from capitalism only as a potentiality; it is born out of freedom, if it is born at all, not out of necessity. Freedom is what communism essentially is. In other words, the abolition of capitalism will create a chance which humanity has the freedom to spoil or to use. Only because we can spoil it we can also make communism: if it were a guaranteed outcome, it would be freedom arrived at by ways of unfreedom; guaranteed, necessary freedom, though, is implausible.7

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The conceptual construction proposed here makes possible two things (and was formulated precisely in order to deal with two problems perceived while reading Holloway’s two recent books). First, the distinction allows us to appreciate as revolutionary the kind of social practices that Holloway chose to refer to as ‘screams’, or practices that produce or reinforce ‘cracks’ in the social totality of capitalist society: they are revolutionary in the sense of helping to create or anticipate communism, although they are not revolutionary in the sense of being likely to help bring down capitalism. To use examples given by Holloway, such practices include dying one’s hair green, guerrilla gardening, being a girl reading a book in a park; more generally, all things queer and beautiful. Second, the proposed distinction makes it possible to articulate the critique and rejection of reactionary opposition to (aspects of) capitalism on two levels, namely responding, first, to the question, ‘Is this particular practice bad for capitalism?’, and responding, second, to the question, ‘Is this particular practice good for communism?’ On a pragmatic note, it could be added that a particular practice could be examined with respect to the question whether, if it is bad for capitalism (which is good), it is at least not bad for communism, too.8

This allows us to argue that:

• we should be most enthusiastic about actions and practices that are bad for capitalism, but good for communism;

• we should be reasonably enthusiastic about actions and practices that are neutral in terms of destroying capitalism but good for communism, or neutral in terms of communism but destructive of capitalism;

• we should somewhat more discretely and guiltily enjoy those that are as good for capitalism as for communism (I think here of nice food, well-designed clothes, and so on – things that will proliferate endlessly in communism, but require some rehearsing in advance);

• we should very much oppose, though, actions and practices that are bad for communism regardless of whether they are bad for capitalism, too: in other words, it is imperative explicitly to resist the temptation to join or support people who fight against capitalism in ways that are bad for communism.

It follows from this consideration that the question ‘What is good for communism?’ is much more important than the question ‘What is bad for capitalism?’ If a good-enough approximate definition can be agreed upon, such as communism is ‘the state of things where one can be different without fear’ (Adorno, 1978: 103),9 presupposing societal arrangements in which nobody’s access to the means of subsistence is conditional on what, if anything, that person chooses to contribute to society, then a set of criteria for what actions and practices will further such a state of things can be inferred. (The definition of communism – actually socialism, which in Marx are synonymous – that is quoted from Marx, for example, in an article by Paresh Chattopadhyay is the ‘society of free and associated producers’, which is an important formal characterization but too formal as a definition [Chattopadhyay, 2006: 46]. Chattopadhyay goes half-way towards making in this context the distinction I am proposing; he writes: ‘Marx shows how capital creates the subjective and objective conditions of its own negation and, simultaneously, the elements of the new society destined to supersede it – socialism’ [2006: 46]. Chattopadhyay formulates very carefully: capital does not automatically produce its own negation but merely the conditions for it, and ‘simultaneously’ not ‘the new society’ but the elements of the new society. This formulation does imply that still somebody has to do the negating, and somebody has to come up with some good idea of how to put these ‘elements’ together, or else they will go to waste or serve some other purpose. The concept of ‘negation’, however, might imply either simply disintegration or implosion, or else the ‘determined negation’ of capitalism by socialism/communism. The openness and indeed realism of his statement are in turn negated by Chattopadhyay’s adding that destiny has already decided that socialism/communism will follow capitalism. How does he know?)

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The answer to the question ‘What is bad for capitalism?’ is – somewhat counterintuitively – even less straightforward than the answer to the question ‘What is good for communism?’, as even the capitalists don’t seem to agree easily on what they think is good for them, and those who define themselves negatively as ‘anti-capitalists’ seem to mirror their counterparts in this respect. Trade unionism, for example, is only very indirectly bad for capitalism, namely by way of being good for capitalism, by way of being good for workers as workers: insofar as we are workers, and that’s what we mostly are, we need to get as good a deal as we can get, like the air to breath. In fact only things that are good for capitalism are bad for capitalism, as only the capitalist dynamic digs capitalism’s grave. In terms of the question of consciousness – and the determined negation of capitalism by communism can only be a conscious one – there lies the rub: to the same extent that we succeed in getting better deals, being good workers and trade unionists, contributing thus (as labour/capital) to capitalism’s eating away at itself, we think less about communism and fail to get ready for task two (the big one). Conversely, an empty stomach is of course even less likely to become a communist – it’s a double bind.

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