On Schmidt and The Concept of Nature

Two good passages nicked from friends:

“Since men are, as physiological beings, directly entwined with nature, organs of its circulation process, what befalls all creatures befalls them; like all animals they die, and nothing comes thereafter, as Brecht puts it. If they wish to separate themselves off from nature as Subjects, they must tackle this problem in order to reproduce their life. They must work with nature, and negate it, and in all forms of society this means the sacrifice of pleasure, and self-denial. Whether man’s relation to nature is considered from the point of view of that of diversity, it is not possible to speak of an attempt to make nature metaphysical.”

and from a passage Bonefeld has clearly taken to heart:

Instead of dealing with the question of the material nature of the soul, which can have at times an idealist, that is to say a diversionary, function in society, even when the reply to it is a materialist one, Marxist materialism is primarily concerned with the possibility of removing hunger and misery from the world.’


Finally three additional points of importance for this work: I would say it also was (1) the first–or one of the first–works to use the Grundrisse (2) Was probably enormously influential on the philological method many Marxologists use today. (3) Got Adorno to further engage and ground his work in Marx’s thought.


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10 Responses to On Schmidt and The Concept of Nature

  1. “Alfred Schmidt remains true to the motifs of critical theory, not merely commenting upon them, but rather acting decisively in order to bring them back into connection with Marx’s critique of political economy. His work functioned as a sort of bridge between Western Marxism and the Neue Marx-Lektüre, and had a share in the later reconstruction debates, in which however Schmidt no longer participated.”

    Ingo Elbe, _Marx im Westen_

    • HR says:

      That’s excellent!

    • HR says:

      After reading some obits it also seems Schmidt remained a little to true to some of the unappealing motifs of critical theory. For it seems that Horkheimer got him into the Masons, in which he eventually reached the highest level. Not one for conspiracy theories but I can kind of see how the Masonic aesthetic is compatible with a critical theorist stepped in the the movement of Hegel’s logic.

      • probably also due to an admiration for the role many masonic lodges played during the 18th century … a similar way was taken by the Polish-Jewish Trotskyist Ludwik Hass who passed away four years ago … and among French left socialists like Pivert, it was never an issue to be a member of le Grand Orient de France, but this is a different story

  2. Jura says:

    As regards (1), you are being too German-centric, I’m afraid! I think there were quite a few works which used the Grundrisse around and before 1960 (when Schmidt graduated with his thesis). Even in the Eastern bloc: J. Zeleny’s “The Logic of Marx’s Capital” (orig. 1962, English 1980) uses the 1953 Berlin edition. Some articles by Soviet authors on various aspects of the Grundrisse appeared in the late 1950s, but also during the 1940s (especially on pre-capitalist forms).

    A Western example would be Rosdolsky’s paper “Der Gebrauchswert bei Karl Marx. Eine Kritik der bisherigen Marx-Interpretation” (1959), which would later appear in his “The Making…”, quotes the 1939-1940 Moscow edition. BTW, Jan Hoff mentions in “Marx Global” that Rosdolsky’s work on the Grundrisse (“The Making…”) was almost finished around 1953/1954. He published an article on “capital in general” (a term stemming from the Grundrisse) already in 1953.

    • HR says:

      I had a feeling that bit may have been hyperbole. I suppose it would be accurate that say that it was one of the early works that popularized The Grundrisse. I certainly didn’t realize Rosdolsky’s work on the Grundrisse was done that early. I happily stand corrected Dr. Kapital.

      Do you happen to have read any of the stuff by Zeleny?

      Looking into getting together a team to translate this


      • Jura says:

        I’ve read all of Jindřich Zelený’s works that I could get my hands on, but his bibliography is quite extensive. A lot of it was originally written in Czech which is like a second native language to most people in Slovakia (however, he also wrote in German and Russian). I’m planning to write an article about Zeleny and some of the other, less-known authors in pre-1989 Czechoslovakia who wrote on the methodology of Capital. Some of that stuff is actually interesting in the light of the “neue Marx-Lektüre”. I will not start writing the article sooner than summer 2013, so here’s some info on Zelený:

        Apart from Karel Kosík, Zelený was the only Czechoslovak author writing on Marx who got some reception in the West (his key work was published in West Germany, Britain and many other places, even in South Korea and Indonesia). His work from 1962 (which I think was later combined with something else and translated into German and English, see below) was interesting – at the time, at least – because it openly criticized Soviet authorities on Capital. The interpretation he puts forward generally falls into the “logical is historical” category (and was sharply criticized in West Germany), but at the same time it is, in my opinion, the best exposition of this sort of interpretation (which is probably why the nLM people in Germany felt obliged to criticize it). That is perhaps why you can still see it quoted in the West from time to time (especially in the anglophone context). But apart from the mistaken views on the role of history in Chapters 1 & 2 of Capital, the book contains many interesting insights. For example, on the essence-appearance distinction (interpreted in a Hegelian fashion: appereance is essential and essence must appear) or on the role of quantitative analysis in Marx’s work. And last but not least, it is one of those very few books (so far I’ve counted two) in pre-1989 Czechoslovakia to quote Isaak Illich Rubin (namely, an article from 1929 published in “Pod znamenem marksizma”).

        There is a later work from 1968 called “Praxis and Reason” which is on Marx’s critique of Hegel and generally on Marx’s relation to the German philosophical tradition. There, Zelený quotes authors like Lukács, della Volpe, Habermas, Althusser, Rancière, Balibar, and, yes, even Alfred Schmidt. He clearly knew his stuff. I believe this work was combined with the one from 1962 (“On the logical structure of Marx’s Capital”) to form the basis for the English translation (I’m not 100% sure though because I’ve never seen this 1980 Oxford edition titled “The Logic of Marx’s Capital”) and perhaps also the German one (again, not 100% sure).

        In 1969, he published “Introduction to Philosophy”, a textbook organized into lectures. In the spirit of the 1960s, it was quite “fresh” and spent a lot of time discussing the (almost) contemporary bourgeois philosophy like logical empiricism. He clearly drew on his previous 2 major works on Marx when writing it.

        Apart from this, he published many articles in German and Russian, including one in “Kant-Studien” (1966), an important journal of Kant-research.

        I still haven’t understood what exactly happened to Zelený after the 1968 invasion. Some people told me he became really dogmatic, perhaps as a defensive reaction to the hell that break loose in the academia and intellectual life in general. He became an important, high-ranking academic, but, in my opinion, his later works do not match the quality of the earlier ones. He mostly devoted his time to questions of scientific rationality (and its historical types; the idea was that “Marxian rationality” was a supersession of the Newtonian and previous ones; the germ of this is already in his works from the 1960s) and paraconsistent logic (and its relation to “Marxian dialectics” understood in a Lenin’s-Philosophical-Notebooks-way). In 1981, he published “A Treatise on Dialectics”, a collection of articles on, well, dialectics. I think it does not represent a major advance compared to the 1962 work; his stance on the Soviet orthodoxy (stuff like Rozental, historically important here but pretty much unknown in the West) had grown softer. But quite interestingly he quotes some of the West German authors involved in the discussions on Marx’s method at that time: Reichelt, Bischoff et al. (Projektgruppe Entwicklung des Marxschen Systems, Projektgruppe zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie), Fulda, Bubner, Sohn-Rethel… Again, this is quite unique in Czechoslovak literature. Unfortunately, most of the quotations are used in a purely negative way, without any extended critical discussion. He even defends Soviet orthodoxy from the (justified) criticisms of the Germans. All in all, quite a sad story in my view.

        I’m still not familiar with his works from the 1990s, like “Analytical and/or Dialectical Thinking” (Boston 1995), but think they are line with his general diversion from marxology (and therefore probably not very interesting to us).

        Jindřich Zelený died in 1997 in Prague. Today his works are virtually unknown in former Czechoslovakia.

      • Jura says:

        BTW if you could tell me the title of Zelený’s essay in the collection edited by Schmidt, that would be ace.

      • HR says:

        Cheers for the info. I have to look into some of the more interesting stuff.

        Looks like the essay is called Zum Wissenschaftsbegriff des dialektischen Materialismus.

      • HR says:

        It looks like HM might be interested in publishing a translation of this collection if y’all know of anyone who might be interested.

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