A new translation of Michael Heinrich’s perceptive review of Postone’s Time Labor and Social Domination:
This lopsidedness of Postone’s conception of the theory of value is continued in his concept of capital, which is developed solely from the perspective of production, as introduced by Marx in the first volume of Capital. What is behind this is Postone’s correct criticism of traditional Marxism, which sought to transcend the anarchy of the market through planning, but which hardly problematized the conditions of production of industrial capitalism.
However, concentrating upon the production side of things can also lead to a lopsided picture. The circulation of the total social capital, the equalization of the average rate of profit, and the mediation of these processes by credit relations are not simply additional processes that one can deal with or not. Capital is not at all possible as a socially all-encompassing relation of production without credit relations. The dynamic of capital cannot be grasped solely in terms of the sphere of production. Rather, the unity of production and circulation is always the precondition of this dynamic. That is particularly valid for an understanding of those processes which have been dealt with in the last decade under the keyword “globalization” and in which an internationalized financial system plays a central role.
With regard to the political consequences of Postone’s approach, it is above all the absence of a critique of the state which proves to be problematic. It is a categorical gap. Postone touches upon the historically variable relationship between the state and capital – the liberal phase in which the state hardly got involved in the economy was followed by an interventionist stage, which is now supposedly replaced by a neoliberal stage – but this historical observation is not grounded in a categorical analysis of the state. That which Postone correctly regards as a strength of Marx’s analysis of capital – namely that Marx’s concept of capital is not limited to a specific historical configuration, but rather that capital is a social relationship connected to various historical configurations – he does not appear to apply in the same manner to the state.
This missing categorical anaylsis of the state thus makes it possible for Postone to write in an uncritical manner about democracy and democratic self-determination. Postone, who convincingly criticizes the ahistorical conception of economic categories, appears in contrast to share an ahistorical conception of democracy. Instead of Postone reflecting upon democracy as a specific form of mediation of the “abstract domination” that he emphasizes, democracy appears in his rather vague statements as a trans-historical form of organization of the political, which is inhibited by “unequal relations of power,” which encounters better or worse conditions for its realization, and which will finally be fully realized in socialism. Thus Postone remains, even if this was not his intention, chained to a discourse which merely confronts real conditions (really existing democracy) with an idealization of these conditions (true democracy). But the real goal should be a critique of the political categories of bourgeois society which is adequate to the critique of economic categories.
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“In a meritocracy, all attention is directed at results. Results appear as the real. Conversely, the process from which the real emanates appear as extenuated reality, as a private matter, so to speak. But for the political economy of labor power, it is precisely the process and not the results, that fulfill the conditions necessary for an analysis of how labor and real life are identical. They are not to be found as such in the result. It turns out that abstract labor consists of the privation and the partial refund of concrete, lived labor time. The time during which a female punch operator stands at her machine is virtually struck from her lived time; it is not she — a living person — who stands there before the machine, but rather her abstraction, If she makes extraneous movements that rationalization experts advise her to avoid, she infringes — as something real — upon the unreality of labor’s time frame. An important question for the political economy of labor power lies in the way this punch operator is able to prepare herself for this abstraction by using her own powers. She does not have to exert herself in order to operate the machine; it is strenuous and consumes her power, but the machine dictates her will. She must exert herself in order to endure this abstraction.” History and Obstinacy p 134.
I started reading the new translation/edition of Kluge and Negt’s History and Obstinacy on the bus to and from teaching. What I’ve read is really great so far, and it got me thinking about humans.
As I see it, the book can be seen as an important and necessary counterpart to Backhaus and Reichelt’s work. Whereas those two took up and tried to extend Adorno’s account of social objectivity, Kluge and Negt’s took up and extended Adorno’s account of subjectivity and natural history.
I say important and necessary because although I obviously think the work of the NML and Value-Form Theory is immensely important, it seems to me that it is likewise important to link this work and focus the inverted world back on the society that constitutes it. Moreover, Kluge and Negt’s approach, provides a perspective on humans that avoids the sort of humanism I have always been averse to. Rather than treating human nature as an essence that has somehow persisted through out a history that only need be reunited with its alienated appearance for it to be restored, they focus on how such a history has left its mark upon the human subject; from the pre-historical imperatives of self preservation that have given us our fingerprints, through primitive accumulation, to capital; indicating not only how this sort of negative-humanism could be brought together with value theory, but the gravity of the obstacles that impede negating them.
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