Kerr on Lefebvre

Greig Charnock’s recent important article , ‘Lost in Space?’, brings attention to Derek Kerr’s unjustly neglected article on Lefebvre in this issue of Common Sense.

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The Rhythm of Capital

Happy to find this, as part of my lecture tomorrow is on Lefebvre’s notion of Rhythmanalysis, its a website of video footage that provides a rhythmanalysis of Amsterdam. (link works now)

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On Adorno’s Relevance.

All to pertinent bit of an article i’ve been working on:

This Adornian analysis would thus start from the premises that contemporary capitalist society is a comprehensive negative totality reproduced according to the dynamic of Marx’s theory of value, accumulation and crisis. For exchange, and its dominating and antagonistic dynamic, is still key to society. Yet, in the light of the transformations Mattick points too such an analysis of late capitalism and post-industrial society could no longer hold that mass production, state management and international relations counteract this dynamic. Rather, since as I have shown, these modifications lead to a crisis, which in turn led to their own modification. It would then argue that as a result of the developments assayed in the previous section that the transformations in production technology, state administration and international global relations, no longer counteract the law of crisis by preventing the development of a contradiction between overinvestment and immiseration, but seem to encourage it, whilst still deriving from the law of value. For as Nick Dyer Witherford shows, investment in new technological development is now increasingly realized in the superfluity of sectors of the workforce due to technological advances such as mechanization, automation, roboticization etc. Moreover, the post-Keynesian state’s management of economic stability following the crisis has not consisted in full employment or welfare, but in bailouts and austerity leading to the further gutting of the welfare state and social provisions and the further accrual of state debt.. Finally, the continuing outsourcing of jobs to areas of the Global South previously unaffected by outsourcing continues to lower worker’s wages.

It would also point to how these developments have had the cumulative effect of undermining the material bases of integration that Adorno’s analysis pointed to. The western workforce is no longer assured full employment, let alone job stability, decent wages and a high standard of living. Instead, jobs are increasingly characterized by lower wages, the rise of service sector employment and contingency. Coupled with the diminishment of social provisions, the continued reliance on credit and the persistence of growing debt, and rising surplus populations leads to the conclusion that immiseration has reasserted itself. At the same time, despite automation and bailouts, the recovery has been anemic at best. Indeed, it seems like another crisis, or at least a significant downturn is in the offing.

This has led to contentions that Marx or maybe even socialism is back. Indeed the erosion of the material conditions of so many might suggest that class consciousness is, or soon might be, re-emergent. Yet this does not seem to be the case. Certainly there have been a number of populist anti-austerity movements in the west in the wake of the 2008 – such as occupy. There has also been a wave of left, or at least anti-neoliberal, electoral successes; including not only Syrizia and Podemos, but the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour in the UK and the surprising popularity of the Sanders campaign in the USA. Yet the rhetoric of these movements and electoral campaigns were predominantly characterized by calls for fair governance, and often a return to the very type of administrative governance of the mid-20th century Adorno describes above: not the abolition of capitalist society. Moreover, the case can be made that regressive anti-austerity and anti-government movements, such as the Five Star Movement, Trump and the Brexit campaign have been more successful than progressive ones.

This leads to a rather grim diagnosis. For it seems not only that capitalism’s crisis tendencies have reappeared, but also that the modifications to industrial society have failed to revive profits whilst exacerbating rather than counteracting misery. Finally, this very process continues effectively unopposed. Insofar as class consciousness is still integrated into society the only conceivable alternative may even be much worse.

Yet I contend that such a diagnosis points to the contemporary relevance of the aspect of Adorno’s thought this article has focused on. For as I have shown, in contrast to the popular conception that he abandoned the critique of political economy following Dialectic of Enlightenment, not only the law of value but the law of crisis can be seen to have been essential aspects of his critical theory of society and indeed his periodisation of late capitalism and industrial society. Moreover, as I have also argued, such an interpretation points to suitability of an Adornian analysis of contemporary society. For it seems very much the case that the process of reproduction in contemporary capitalist society still hangs over us a doom in a time now marked by pronounced misery and the reassertion of capitalism’s crisis-prone dynamic perpetuated by the very social institutions that had once counteracted it. If this is the case it would seem to behoove contemporary critical theory to follow Adorno aligning the critical theory of society and the critique of political economy in order to critique the reproduction of this crisis prone exchange dynamic.

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Surplus Population, History and Obstinacy

Negt: “You could put it like this: The labor power that capital can tie down by dint of Taylorism is markedly decreasing in both capitalist countries and Third World countries. More and more living labor power is slipping out of capital- ist production processes. This must have political consequences, which will also affect the formation of theories. Take, for instance, the industrial reserve army [of labor, produced by permanent unemployment]: In Marx’s thinking it had an economic function that was clearly defined, namely, to increase wage pressure, but it was not to last for all eternity. Today, by comparison, we have a structurally growing industrial reserve army that is tending toward including the whole of society and, increasingly, threatening to cut labor power off from reality. I can’t say what this specifically means in terms of changes to the formation of theories; History and Obstinacy is an attempt to  represent these changes in both their form and content and not merely to list them as economic principles.”



The fewer opportunities a subject has to appropriate these productive forces, the more often the latter turn into destructive forces. This is one of the core issues in our theory of labor power. It is not only that a growing number of work- ers—and also a growing number of labor characteristics—are unemployed in capitalist labor conditions; it is also that in the long term, these characteristics are being scrapped by being deobjectified.


Knödler-Bunte: Assuming you are right that norms of achievement and their corresponding instances of somatization disappear, what means do people (having fallen out of work or having withdrawn from it) now use to constitute their own subjectivity? Alternative projects are certainly not enough—particularly from the point of view of society as a whole. Does the identity of the ego not specifically need to be interrupted through objectification?

Negt: I think it is quite conceivable that the classic concept of alienation is no longer valid. If individuals today are plunged into a condition of alienation by a loss of objects yet are barely able to achieve the necessary distance from it in view of that experience of loss, then the question is within what context can the capacity for practical critique be honed? I don’t believe that this condition of alienation—when it takes on mass dimensions—will just be experienced on a private basis. By now alienation, as a condition, has already reached the ruling class and thus a qualitative leap has been made.”

— The History of Living Labor Power: A Discussion with Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge

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Backhaus on Fetishism

“The subject of my work is basically only one thing: the problem of fetishism. It presents itself in three ways: as the the objectivity of the economic object, then as the problem of its contradictory structure, ie as the problem of unity and difference, and finally as analysis on the basis of non-empirical theories.” H.G. Backhaus introduction to Dialektik der Wertform.

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Clarke on Fetishism

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Clarke on The Critique of Political Economy

“According to the dominant interpretations, Marx’s theories suppos- edly integrate the critical historicist perspectives of utopian socialism and of Hegelian idealism with the bourgeois materialism of Feuerbach’s philosophy, in the early works, and of political economy, in the works of his maturity. Marx’s critique of political economy is then seen as an ‘extrinsic’ philosophical critique, expressed from the standpoint of ‘human nature’ in the early theory of alienation, and from the standpoint of the economic interests of the working class in the mature theory of surplus value, so that the development of Marx’s critique is seen as a move, for good or ill, from ‘philosophy’ to ‘economics’.~

These interpretations can certainly find some textual justification, for Marx borrowed from a wide range of sources, so that his early works, in particular, can easily be dismissed as an eclectic and contradictory mixture of borrowings and original insights. It is also true that the young Marx used the materialism of political economy as a stick with which to beat the idealism of Proudhon and the Young Hegelians, at the same time as using the utopian communism of the latter as the basis of a critique of the ‘cynicism’ of political economy. However these interpretations isolate Marx’s texts from the intellectual and political project which underlies them and gives them their coherence in relation to his work as a whole, whether to dismiss Marx’s early work as incoherent and unoriginal, or to appropriate his work for quite different projects. My aim in this chapter is to cut through this confusion, to locate Marx’s early works in relation to his overall project. While the exposition of Marx’s early work in this chapter is close to that of the few commentators who have stuck to Marx’s text (see particularly Comu. 1934; Mkszaros, 1970; Arthur, 1986; and the exposition, although not the interpretation, of McLellan, 1970), the interpretation is very different from those which dominate the literature.

The assimilation of Marx’s works to other projects is not surprising when we remember that the founders of ‘Marxism’ all came to the works of Marx from quite different intellectual backgrounds, and saw Marx’s work a., the means of resolving intellectual and political problems which they brought with them. Moreover the publication of Marx’s texts was in the hands of his ‘orthodox’ interpreters (first Kautsky, and then the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), so that those texts which did not endorse the orthodox interpretations were only published in the 1930s, as part of the still (unfinished) project of publishing Marx’s complete works, and even then were not widely disseminated. The appearance of these ‘subversive’ texts did not immediately lead to a re-examination of Marx’s work as a whole, but rather to the reinforcement of the orthodox opposition of Marx’s romanticism to his mature economism.

The re-interpretation of Marx’s work is perfectly legitimate, and indeed is essential if Marx’s work is to have a continuing relevance. However the dominant interpretations of Marx’s work, far from revitalising Marxism, lose sight of the originality and critical power of Marx’s critique of political economy, to reduce Marx to an ideologue of one or another brand of ‘utopian’ or ‘scientific’ socialism. But Marx’s critique of political economy cannot be reduced to the simple task of reinterpreting the findings of classical political economy from a different class viewpoint, or situating them historically, or criticising them morally, all of which had been done by previous thinkers, let alone to the narrow technical amendment of certain aspects of the labour theory of value. Marx’s critique is in fact a total critique in the sense that it is at one and the same time methodological, theoretical and political, attacking the very foundations of classical political economy in attacking the conception of society and of history on which it rests. Moreover it is not only a critique of political economy, it is a critique of liberal social theory in general, and at the same time a critique of the capitalist society which that theory serves to legitimate.

It was really only with the re-emergence of an independent socialist movement in the advanced capitalist countries in the 1960s that the orthodox interpretations of Marx’s work began to be questioned. Much of this work of re-interpretation again involved absorbing Marx into contemporary academic debates within economics and sociology, as a means of introducing critical perspectives into a complacent conservativism. But Marx’s texts also came to be seriously studied in their own right, and to be translated and published more widely.

(Selections from the early writings appeared in 1956 (Bottomore and Rubel, 1956). The Grundrisse only appeared in French in 1968 and in English in 1973.) Lost traditions of Marxism (lost because annihilated by Hitler and Stalin), embodying alternative political and ideological perspectives, began to be recovered (Korsch, 1970; Rubin, 1972; Hilferding, 1975; Pannekoek, 1975; Grossman, 1977; Mattick, 1978; Bottomore and Goode, 1978; Smart, 1978; Pashukanis, 1978) and Marx’s work restored to the context of his own intellectual and political project, which had long been submerged beneath the polarisation of social democratic reformism and Marxism-Leninism (Colletti, 1972, 1975; Draper, 1977-8; Mattick 1983). It is these developments which have made it possible to recover the intellectual power and revolutionary significance of Marx’s critique of political economy and, more generally, of liberal social theory, to resolve this paradox of a critique which is both total, and yet retains so much from what is criticised.”

Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology  p 49-51.

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