Notes on Gerstenberger: Towards the Trifecta

I think Gerstenberger might provide the best way of working towards some sort of integration between form analysis, critical theory and value theory in terms of a way of historically locating the theoretical insights of form analysis and critical theory. From what I’ve read of Political Marxists she seems to offer the most theoretically sophisticated account of capitalism. She also interrogates this account with history, rather than simply giving history the last word. As a result, I think her following methodological points should also be taken into account when trying to conceive of the relation between value theory, critical theory and particular empirical reality. I plan on raising them in the concluding bit of my thesis when offering some thoughts on how to make aspects of the critical marxian theory of fetishism and social domination relevant for our current crises prone conjuncture.

In the first place I think the following two points she raises in reference to the state derivation debate can also be said to apply to critical Marxist social theories which I think can also be said to have a generally a-historical and monolithic conception of capitalist society. Yet, at the same time it seems that these critical Marxist theories do have insights into the structure of capitalist society that have been jettisoned in recent work and which might be revitalized if these insights were rendered more historically and socially specific:

This article suggests that present debates can be improved by critically taking stock of theoretical approaches to state analysis, which have been proposed in the context of materialist analysis. The general overview it provides concentrates on the question of the essential specificity of capitalist state power and of the relation between this specific structure and concrete historical processes….It suggests that all the contributions to this debate mistook the bourgeois state form as being “the” general form of the capitalist state while, in fact, it is a historically specific form of a capitalist state. Despite this critique it is suggested that present debates could be improved if the concept of the separation of state and society as it has been developed in the course of the derivation debate were once again taken into consideration. Gerstenberger The Historical Constitution of the Political Forms of Capitalism 60

A means of remedying this is suggested in her essay on The Bourgeois State Form Revisited in Open Marxism Volume 1.

Since structuralist notions, be they those of the So called derivation debate or those of Poulantzasian models of interpretation, have come under critique, Marxists have become used to stressing the necessity of combining historical with logical analysis- This essay is intended to demonstrate the shortcomings of any analytical conception which presupposes the possibility of conceiving of logical analysis as separate from historical analysis and hence of any possibility of ‘combining’ both forms of anaylsis. Such presuppositions result in transforming specific historical into general forms of modes of production or else explaining them in terms of specific combinations of different modes of production. Form analysis which does not eliminate social practice from materialist analysis can be conceived of as the analysis of historical processes of social formation. I do not think it is possible to lay down generally valid rules of just how much ‘history’ has to be integrated into Marxist form analysis. The critical measure would always have to be the possibility of recognising those historical prejudices which lead us to define the result of very specific processes of social formation as general forms of a mode of production, thereby transforming materialist analysis into philosophy of history.

For critical marxist theories of fetishism and social domination I would say these insights are reflected in the way that specific social criticism–say Lukacs’ account of reification or Adorno’s account of reification–are first of all conceived as indicative of capitalist modernity per se and are secondly adopted or rejected on these terms. Thus Lukacs or Adorno’s account of reification–which in many ways received their critical impact by pointing out that society and culture had become commodified and were therefore indicative of capitalist domination–are often employed in the same manner to contemporary society. This ignores several important things: (1) It is no longer a revelation to point out our society if commodified. (2) This is one of the reasons contemporary capitalist society is much different than Lukacs or Adorno’s models. As a result it seems much more productive and rigorous to examine how the structure of domination that Lukacs and Adorno’s theories offer accounts of is embodied and functions in contemporary society. To do this it seems more fruitful to offer an account of the constitution, reproduction and domination of these forms in terms of the relationship Gerstenberger outlines between the form analysis of Marx’s monetary theory of value and its current manifestation in our crisis ridden society.

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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