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.

About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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