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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