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Critical Theory

and the Critique of


Political Economy

ABOUT THE SERIES


Critical Theory and Contemporary Society explores the relationship between
contemporary society as a complex and highly differentiated phenomenon,
on the one hand, and Critical Theory as a correspondingly sophisticated
methodology for studying and understanding social and political relations today,
on the other.
Each volume highlights in distinctive ways why (1) Critical Theory offers
the most appropriate concepts for understanding political movements, socioeconomic conflicts and state institutions in an increasingly global world and (2)
why Critical Theory nonetheless needs updating in order to keep pace with the
realities of the twenty-first century.
The books in the series look at global warming, financial crisis, postnation
state legitimacy, international relations, cinema, terrorism and other issues,
applying an interdisciplinary approach, in order to help students and citizens
understand the specificity and uniqueness of the current situation.
Series Editor
Darrow Schecter
Reader in the School of History, Art
History and Humanities, University of Sussex, UK

BOOKS IN THE SERIES


Critical Theory and Film: Fabio Vighi, Reader and Co-director of the iek
Centre for Ideology Critique at Cardiff University, UK
Critical Theory and Contemporary Europe: William Outhwaite, Chair and
Professor of Sociology at Newcastle University, UK
Critical Theory of Legal Revolutions: Hauke Brunkhorst, Professor of
Sociology and Head of the Institute of Sociology at the University of
Flensburg, Germany
Critical Theory in the Twenty-First Century: Darrow Schecter, Reader in the
School of History, Art History and Humanities, University of Sussex, UK
Critical Theory and the Digital: David Berry, Department of Political and
Cultural Studies at Swansea University, UK
Critical Theory and the Contemporary Crisis of Capital: Heiko Feldner,
Co-director of the Centre for Ideology Critique and iek Studies at
Cardiff University, UK and Fabio Vighi, Reader and Co-director of the
iek Centre for Ideology Critique at Cardiff University, UK
Critical Theory and Libertarian Socialism: Charles Masquelier, Lecturer in
Sociology at the University of Surrey, UK

Critical Theory
and the Critique of
Political Economy
On subversion and negative reason

WERNER BONEFELD

N E W Y OR K L ON DON N E W DE L H I SY DN EY

Bloomsbury Academic
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First published 2014
Werner Bonefeld, 2014
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No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting
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can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bonefeld, Werner, 1960
Critical theory and the critique of political economy : on subversion and
negative reason / Werner Bonefeld.
pages cm. (Critical theory and contemporary society)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4411-6139-0 (hardback)
1. Marxian economics. 2. Critical theory. 3. Frankfurt school of sociology.
4. Capitalism. I. Title.
HB97.5.B556 2014
335.412dc23
2013046546
eISBN: 978-1-4411-5227-5
Typeset by Newgen Knowledge Works (P) Ltd., Chennai, India

To my son Declan. He is simply the best.

Contents
Acknowledgements

ix

1 Introduction: Critical theory and the critique of political

economy

Part one On the critique of political economy


as a critical social theory
2 Political economy and social constitution:

On the meaning of critique 21


3 Society as subject and society as object: On social praxis

Part two Value: On social wealth and class


4 Capital and labour: Primitive accumulation

and the force of value 79


5 Class and struggle: On the false society
6 Time is money: On abstract labour 121

101

Part Three Capital, world market and state


7 State, world market and society

147

8 On the state of political economy: Political form and the

force of law

165

53

viii

CONTENTS

Part Four Anti-capitalism: Theology and


negative practice
9 Anti-capitalism and the elements of antisemitism:
On theology and real abstractions 195
10 Conclusion: On the elements of subversion
and negative reason 219
Selected bibliography
Index 239

229

Acknowledgements
I

had the good fortune to present some chapter drafts at conferences,


including the May-Day conference in Ljubljana, May 2013, the International
Conference on Neoliberalism, University of York, July 2013, the workshop on
Critical Theory and Antisemitism, Cambridge, June 2013 and at a research
workshop at the Centre of Social Movements, University of Glasgow, January
2013. I thank all participants for their insightful comments, discussions and
helpful criticisms. Special thanks are due to Robert Fine, Lars Fischer, Nick
Gane, Jay Geller, Vassiliki Kolocotroni, Anej Korsika, Michael Lebowitz,
Brendan McGeever, David McNally, Stephen Shapiro, Hae-Young Song,
Annette Spellerberg, Marcel Stoetzler, Ana tromajer, Erik Swyngedouw,
David Seymour and Claire Westall. I am most grateful to Ana Dinerstein, John
Holloway, Peter Hudis, Michaela Mihai and Chris Rogers for their very helpful
comments and insightful remarks on chapter drafts. I am indebted to Greig
Charnock, Vasilis Grollios, Richard Gunn and Chris OKane, who read the
whole manuscript, seeing things that I failed to see. Thank you so very much
for your generosity, insights, disagreements, help and encouragements. The
responsibility for this piece of work is of course entirely my own.

1
Introduction: Critical theory
and the critique of
political economy
Reason, left to work alone, creates monsters; while imagination
unalloyed by the power of reason gives rise to futile ideas.
Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment

Subversion and the


critique of political economy
Subversive thought is none other than the cunning of reason when confronted
with a social reality in which the poor and miserable are required to subsidize the
financial system for the sake of sustaining the illusion of abstract wealth. Yet,
this subsidy is necessary in existing society, to secure its wealth and prevent
its implosion. This rational irrationality of a capitalistically organized mode of
social reproduction is at the centre of the critique of political economy. It
asks why human social reproduction takes this irrational form of an economic
logic that asserts itself over the acting subjects as if by force of nature. The
critique of political economy is intransigence towards the existent patterns of
the world. It demands that all relations in which man is a debased, enslaved,
forsaken, despicable being have to be overthrown.1 Debasement subsists as
society unaware of itself, one in which human sensuous practice exists, say,
in the form of a movement of coins that impose themselves objectively on
and through the acting subjects as if the law of coins were a world apart from
the social subjects who constitute the society governed by coins.

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

For the critique of political economy as a critical social theory, the fetishism
of commodities entails the movement of some abstract economic forces that
assert themselves over society on the pain of ruin. Yet, however objective in
its nature, economic nature is in its entirety a socially constituted nature. The
question of the social nature of the movement of coins is therefore one about
the specific character of the capitalistically constituted social relations that
assert themselves in the form of economic forces beyond human control.
The money form disappears as a social relationship, and instead asserts an
abstract economic logic, which, I argue, manifests the vanished social subject
in her own social world as a personification of economic categories. The
capitalist social subject is a coined subject.
There is, says Adorno, a need for a practice that fights barbarism, and yet,
he argues rightly, there can be no such practice.2 Barbarism cannot be fought
in a direct and immediate manner what does it really mean to struggle
against money, resist the movement of coins, combat the movement of
interest rates, fight price movements and resist poverty in a mode of social
reproduction in which social wealth entails the dispossessed labourer in its
concept? A practice that fights barbarism is about the social preconditions
that manifest themselves in the logic of reified economic forms. In terms of
a critical theory of political economy, it is not the independence of economic
categories of cash and coin, value and money, as forces over and above, and
also in and through the social individuals, that requires explanation. Rather,
what needs to be explained are the social relations of production, which
manifest themselves as a relationship between reified economic things that
assert themselves behind the backs of those same individuals who comprise
and sustain society. That is, reification is really an epiphenomenon.3 Critically
conceived, the theory of reification does not substitute the religious idea of
God for the logic of secularized things. Reification is either a critical concept
that asks about the social constitution of reified relations or it is not, in which
case it becomes affirmative in its grasp of society. Spellbound by the plight
of the dispossessed in a system of wealth founded on dependent labour
relations, the tireless charge of reification is premised on the assumption
that reification essentially has to do with reified things.4 In this case, then,
the protest against reification becomes reified, divorced from thinking, and
irrational.5 The critique of reification asks what is reified and what therefore
appears in reification. What appear in reification are the social relations of
production in the form of self-moving economic things. However reified in
its appearance, the economic world is and remains a world of definite social
relations.
The fetishism of commodities does therefore not just comprise, as Moishe
Postone argues in his critical theory of social domination, an opposition

INTRODUCTION

between exchange value and use value in which non-identical things for
use are treated identically as value abstractions.6 Nor does the illusion in the
process of exchange lie solely in the socially valid objectivity of real economic
abstractions, an objective illusion as Reichelt has argued.7 The mysterious
character of an equivalent exchange of money for more money (M . . . M;
say, 100= 120) has to do with the transformation of the commodity labour
power into a surplus value producing labour activity (M . . . P . . . M). The
understanding of the mysterious character of an equivalence exchange
between unequal values does therefore not lie, as Reichelt suggests, in
the objective character of the equivalent exchange relations themselves.
Rather, it lies in the concept of surplus value.8 Adorno thus argues that
the equivalence exchange relations are founded on the class relationship
between the owners of the means of production and the seller of labour
power, and this relationship vanishes in its social appearance as an exchange
between one quantity of money for another.9
Adornos point not only focuses the critique of political economy as a
critique of the capitalist form of wealth, and its production, it also renounces
the established view, according to which the critique of political economy is
a critique from the standpoint of labour.10 The standpoint of labour does not
reveal an ontologically privileged position. Rather, the standpoint of labour
is in every aspect tied to the capitalist economy of labour.11 Indeed, both
the capitalist and the worker are personifications of economic categories.12
That is, society stays alive, not despite its antagonism, but by means of it.13
Against the grain of the classical Marxist tradition, I argue that the critique of
political economy amounts to a critique of ontological conceptions of economic
categories, including the category of labour as a trans-historically conceived
activity that defines the human metabolism with nature in abstraction from
society. The origin of this critique goes back to the early Frankfurt School
challenge to the orthodox Marxist tradition, and it was later taken up by the
so-called new reading of Marx that developed in Germany in the aftermath of
the 1968 student movement.14

On the critique of political economy


as a critical social theory
The context of this book is the new reading of Marx, which was principally
developed by Hans-Georg Backhaus, Helmut Reichelt and also Moishe
Postone. Reichelt and Bachkaus in particular developed the critical theory
of the early Frankfurt school, especially Adornos account, as an alternative

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

to the existing versions of Marxism that originated from the second and
third Internationals as the theoretical expressions of social democracy and
Leninism.15 It rejected Marxian economics as a radicalization of Ricardos
political economy, which, as Marx had argued, develops the labour theory
of value on the basis of some undifferentiated conception of labour that is
presumed to be eternally valid as a goal-directed social activity that mediates
between humans and nature, creating specific products in order to satisfy
determinate human needs.16 Ricardo, says Marx, views the bourgeois form
of labour . . . as the eternal natural form of social labour.17 For the new
reading this critique of classical political economy was pivotal. Instead of the
classical Marxist view that purports a dialectics between the trans-historically
conceived forces of production and the historically specific relations of
production, it developed Marxs work as a critique of capitalism in terms
of a historically specific form of social interdependence with an impersonal
and seemingly objective character.18 The new reading thus renounced the
classical argument about trans-historically valid economic laws of development
and in its stead, conceptualized the economic appearance of society as the
necessary manifestation of definite social relations. Its stance entailed the
further rejection of the idea that economic development is an expression
of the struggle for hegemonic class power. The new reading argued that
capitalist economic categories belong to the society from which they spring.
In a society that asserts itself behind the backs of the acting subjects, one in
which the individuals are really ruled by economic abstractions, the idea that
society is after all nothing more than a manifestation of the balance of class
forces is purely instrumental in its view of the social forces.
Adornos negative dialectics did not just provide the theoretical catalyst for
the new reading. Rather, it provided both the incentive and the critical insight
for the development of the critique of political economy as a critical social
theory.19 The happenstance that Adorno, and Horkheimer and Marcuse too,
did not publish a work about Marxs critique of political economy has been
taken to mean that they did not concern themselves with political economy
nor with economics, be it bourgeois economics or Marxian economics.20
There is, as Dirk Braunstein remarks drily, no economist by the name of
Adorno or a political economist called Horkheimer. 21 The early Frankfurt
school developed a distinctly heterodox Marxist approach to the critique of
political economy. Its critical intent can be summarized with reference to the
subtitle of Marxs Capital a critique of political economy which as Alfred
Schmidt argued succinctly, amounts to a conceptualized praxis (begriffene
Praxis) of the capitalistically constituted social relations. 22 In this context,
the title of Adornos defining work, Negative Dialectics, is emblematic. It
is neither a dialectics of structure and agency, nor a dialectics of history

INTRODUCTION

as a self-moving ontology of the being and becoming of economic matter;


nor is it also a dialectics of the trans-historical forces of production that
manifest themselves in the anatomy of capitalist social relations. 23 Negative
dialectics is the dialectics of a social world in the form of the economic
object, one that is governed by the movement of economic quantities. The
economic world comprises the sensuous world of the doing individual as
a charactermask or personification of a social totality that though created
and reproduced by the acting subjects themselves, asserts itself behind
their backs. 24
Critical theory conceives of society as an existing immanence that is
antagonistic in itself.25 There is only one reality, and that is the reality of the
existent social relations. The social individuals themselves produce their own
reality, and it is their own reality that, as Horkheimer put it, enslaves them.26
The social individual is governed by the products of his own hand, and it
is his own social product that acts with the force of an elemental natural
process.27 What manifests itself behind the backs of the social individuals is
their own work.28 Negative Dialectics is the dialectics of the manner in which
definite social relations vanish in their own social world only to reappear as,
say, relations of price competitiveness. On the pain of ruin, their own social
world rules over and through them as if by the force of an invisible hand that
takes care of both the beggar and the king. 29
Conceived as critical social theory, the critique of political economy
flouts tradition. It conceives of historical materialism as a critique of society
understood dogmatically. It therefore rejects Engelss idea of dialectics as
a science of the general laws of nature, human society and thought.30 As
a science of general laws, dialectics is the method of a bewitched world;
it transforms social laws into laws of nature, and thus treats society as a
manifestation of the forces of economic nature in being and becoming.
Engelss conception of a dialectics of general laws of nature lies at
the foundation of what Heinrich characterizes as worldview Marxism.31
Worldview Marxism represses the notion that the existent relations of
economic objectivity are socially constituted in their entirety. Instead, it views
the economic structure of society as an expression of some trans-historically
active forces of production that manifest themselves in the rise and fall of
particular social relations of production. Critically conceived, the natural
character of capitalist society is both an actuality and at the same time a
necessary illusion. The illusion signifies that within this society laws can only
be implemented as natural processes over peoples heads, while their validity
arises from the form of the relations of production within which production
takes place.32 In distinction to the classical view of a dialectics of history and
nature, for the critical theory tradition dialectics is a method of presenting or

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

developing the categories of a definite and finite form of society, unfolding


the social genesis of the whole system of real economic abstractions. 33
Critically conceived, Capital is therefore not an economic text.34 Economics
is the formula of an inverted world.35 This stance raises the question about
the meaning of critique in the critique of political economy. What is criticized?
According to Marx, his critique of political economy amounts to a critique
of economic categories and he argued that the economists deal with
unreflected presuppositions.36 That is, in the hands of the economists the
law of capitalist accumulation [is] metamorphosed . . . into a pretended law
of nature.37 The critique of political economy focuses thus on the system of
economic inversion and its categories of cash, price and profit to decipher
the social relations that vanish in their appearance as personifications of
particular class-relations and class-interests. 38 The circumstance that every
individual reacts under the compulsion of economic forces begs the question
of the origin of this socio-economic nature and the manner in which it renders
individuals mere character masks, agents of exchange in a supposedly
separate economic order.39 The question of capital thus becomes a question
about the social relationship between persons expressed as a relationship
between economic things, that is, real economic abstractions. Just as the
critique of religion does not criticize God on the basis of God, the critique of
political economy does not criticize real economic abstractions on the basis
of real economic abstractions. Rather, the critique of religion deciphers the
social relations that assume the form of God and vanish in the idea of God
only to reappear as cowed believers in God, mere human derivatives of divine
rule. Similarly, the critique of capital is not a critique from the standpoint of
economic nature. Like the critique of religion, it too deciphers the definite
social relations that manifest themselves in mysterious, seemingly extramundane economic forms and forces that prevail in and through the social
individuals as personifications of economic forces.

The new reading of Marx and the


critique of economic forms
The new reading of Marx developed as a sustained effort at a critical
reconstruction of the critique of political economy as a critical social theory.
It unfettered Marx from dogmatic certainties, opening up a number of critical
perspectives, and, I argue, did not fully reveal what it had unchained. In
particular it kept at arms length the political form of capitalist society, that is,
the state, and in particular the class antagonism and the class struggle, which is

INTRODUCTION

the dynamic force of a negative world. Indeed, the essence of an antagonistic


society is that it is not a society with contradictions or despite contradiction,
but by virtue of its contradictions.40 The new reading developed a critical
alternative to classical Marxism, including Althusserian structuralism, by
turning against the traditional idea of society as an historically overdetermined
structure of some general historical laws. Instead it developed the categories
of political economy from within their social context. Against the traditional
view, it thus conceived of the categories of political economy as the finite and
transient products of the finite and transient reality of capitalist social relations
as an existing totality. Nevertheless, by keeping the class antagonism at
arms length, it treated society as a contradictory though conceptually logical
system of economic inversion. As a consequence, it has also very little to say
about the political form of political economy, the state. By viewing political
economy as a supposedly separate economic order of monstrous inversion,
its conception of capitalist society as a negative totality remains a mere
postulate.41
The new reading saw that Marxs work entailed contradictions and
inconsistencies, argued that his critique of political economy was therefore
not fully developed and that the dialectical method of presenting the
economic categories as perverted forms of definite social relations had
in fact been hidden by Marx, apparently in an attempt at popularizing his
work.42 In the hands of Backhaus and Reichelt, critical reconstruction entailed
at first archaeological textual analyses and comparisons between the various
editions and drafts of Capital, and all other works, to ascertain nuances
and changes in the meaning of categories. This attempt at reconstruction
assumed, wrongly as Reichelt argued later, that Marxs work contained
a hidden veracity, which can be reconstructed and put together to form a
consistent and complete account of what Marx had intended.43 The attempt
at establishing the veritable Marx ended up amplifying the very contradictions
and inconsistencies that it had set out to overcome. The new reading thus
revealed the unfinished and ambivalent character of Marxs work, and it
moved hither and thither to establish a consistent account where none could
be found, leading towards a circular argument that, say, on the one hand,
rejected naturalistic explanations of abstract labour and then, on the other,
posited Marxs naturalist definition of abstract labour as evidence for the still
incomplete character of critical reconstruction.
Hans-Georg Backhaus developed Marxs value form analysis as a most
robust and insightful critique of economic categories.44 For him, economics is
the discipline of monstrous economic forms. Economic theory manifests thus
the categorical unconsciousness of economic abstraction, and he therefore
defines economics as a discipline without subject matter. This then raises the

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

question about the foundation of economic forms. According to Backhaus,


the critique of fetishism deciphers economic categories on a human basis.
It reveals the human content of seemingly extramundane economic things.45
This argument, however suggestive in its critical intension, comes at a price.
The anthropological standpoint is not the critical standpoint. Man in general
does not do anything. Does not work, does not eat, does not truck and barter
and has no natural tendency, needs, consciousness, etc. Man in general
does also not alienate herself in the form of value. In distinction to Backhaus,
Man has needs only as concrete Man and the determinate character of this
social man is to be brought forward as the starting point, i.e. the determinate
character of the existing community in which he lives.46 Neither economic
nature nor anthropology but the definite social relations that manifest
themselves in mysterious economy forms are the point of departure.47 That
is to say, the reified world of economic necessity is innately practical it
entails the actual relations of life in their inverted economic form.
Helmut Reichelt developed the critique of economics as an immanent
critique of the existing social relations.48 For this critique, the dialectical
method of exposition is fundamental it unfolds the economic forms as real
abstractions of social mystifications. The critique of political economy intends
therefore to be more than just a critique of the discipline of economics.
Fundamentally, it is an exposition of the system, and through the exposition,
critique of the system.49 Although the value form expresses the abstract
essence of capitalism value vanishes in a constant movement of forms, in
which economic quantities assert themselves as independent and seemingly
irresistible economics forces it is as incomprehensible as the existence of
God in the religious world. Value form analysis thus amounts to an exposition
of the law of value as a process of social autonomization, which economics
analyses in terms of price movements, stock market developments and other
such macro-economic analyses of, in themselves, incomprehensible economic
quantities. The purpose of the dialectical exposition of the economic system
is therefore to establish, say, the need of money to lay golden eggs as the
objective necessity of the law of value and not as an entirely contingent
chance development based on the decision and will of this or that banker.
Adorno captures the objective necessity of society well when he argues
that the objective rationality of society, that is exchange, detaches itself
from the logic of reason. Society as an autonomised force is therefore no
longer comprehensible. What alone remains comprehensible is the law
of autonomisation.50 What however is autonomized and what appears in
the appearance of society as a movement of real economic abstractions,
such as price and profit? The new reading of Marx conceived of this law
of autonomization as the manifestation of the law of value, and perceived

INTRODUCTION

value as the self-moving essence of capitalist wealth. In distinction to


this conception of value as the essence of society, I argue that society is
fundamentally Man in her social relations. What is therefore autonomized
is not some abstract essence of value as the ontological foundation of the
capitalist system that generates an inverted reality in which commodities
simply instantiate their abstract essence as values.51 Rather, it is the definite
social relations of production that subsist in the form of mysterious economic
things that seemingly possess the mystic character to instantiate themselves.
Theoretical mysteries find their rational explanation in the comprehension of
the historically specific character of human social practice, however perverted
this practice might be in the form of a relationships between economic things.
That is, definite social relations between men themselves assume . . . the
fantastic form of a relation between things that assert themselves as real
economic abstractions, upon which movement the life of the social individuals
depends in its entirety. Yet, their genesis is founded on the peculiar social
character of the labour that produces them.52 The new reading focuses on the
exchange validity of value without examining the peculiar social character of
labour, leading to a conception of the value form as some abstractly valid selfmoving essence of wealth, an universal in re that posits its own expansion.53
However, the exposition of the capitalist categories falls short if it proceeds
as a merely logical derivation of economic forms. These forms are the forms
of definite social relations, which are historically branded and antagonistic
from the outset. In distinction to the new reading, the social antagonism does
not derive from the economic categories as the real-life expression of their
contested movements. Rather, and as I set out to argue, the class antagonism
is the constitutive premise of the economic categories.
Moishe Postone develops the critique of political economic as a critical
theory of both the form of wealth and its production. He argues that the
economic system has its origin in the commodity form of labour and
develops this notion into a powerful critique of classical Marxism, which
views labour in trans-historical terms as the goal-orientated human effort
of production. Postones critical theory therefore renounces the classical
analyses of capitalism from the standpoint of labour, according to which
capitalist economy is an irrational and exploitative system of labour that
socialism will transform into a rationally planned economy for the benefit
of workers.54 In distinction, Postone argues that labour is the object of
the critique of capitalist society. 55 Yet, his own conception of labour as a
specifically capitalist form of labour remains flat: he does not tell us how
this historically specific form of labour was branded and how its branding
holds sway in the conceptuality of capitalist wealth, and its production. In
distinction to the new reading, including Postones account, I argue that the

10

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

conditions which led to the creation of the capitalist form of labour, that is,
the divorce of the mass of the population from the means of subsistence,
passes over into results of the presence.56 In Postones account capitalist
society appears as a rigidified system of commodified labour. He assigns
to this labour systemic properties that establish the economy of labour as
an objective framework for action that structures the social conflicts and
class struggles in concrete social settings.57 His conception of class is a
traditional one the life world of the social individuals is determined by their
market situation, which expresses itself in a multiplicity of class-relevant and
other forms of conflict. In distinction, I hold that class is not a revenue-based
category. Rather, it is the critical category of capitalist wealth. A critical
theory of class does not partake in the classification of people; it thinks in
and through society to comprehend its existing untruth.

Scope and structure


Helmut Reichelt is right when he argues that the time has come to reconsider
the purpose of reconstruction, moving it on from an attempt at finding the
veritable Marx to the development of the critical themes and insights that
the new reading of Marx has established as fundamental to the critique of
the monstrous objective power of economic things.58 In distinction to the
new reading, the development of the critical themes and insights rests on
the acceptance that Marxs account is fundamentally ambivalent, beyond
reconstruction. This point is most strongly made by Michael Heinrich.59 He
establishes that Marxs revolutionary break with classical political economy is
marked by the pains of transition, leaving a multi-layered argument that, say,
in the case of the conception of abstract labour, which is the value producing
labour, overlaps with naturalistic definitions that derive from the tradition of
classical political economy.
This book develops the critique of political economy as a critical social
theory of economic objectivity, beyond critical reconstruction. At its best, the
critique of political economy thinks against the spell of the dazzling economic
forms. It wants to get behind the secret of our world, to demystify its fateful
appearance as a force of economic nature. Critical theory does not think
about (reified) things. Rather, it thinks out of these things.60 For this task,
the insights of the new reading are fundamental, especially the argument
that the capitalist social relations manifest themselves in the inverted form
of objectively valid, seemingly natural economic abstractions. Yet, taken by
itself, it does not explain the social character of economic objectivity. What
is objectified? In distinction to the new reading, I argue with Adorno that the

INTRODUCTION

11

movement of society is antagonistic from the outset.61 Further, I argue that


the critique of political economy is not just a critique of the economic form
of society. It is also a critique of the political form of society, which I develop
first by means of an argument about the relationship between world market
and national state, and then by an account of the state as the political form of
the capitalist social relations.
The book is divided into four parts. The first part contains a connected
argument about the character of a critique of political economy. It contains a
chapter (Chapter2) on the meaning of a critique of political economy, which I
develop with the help of the new reading. The chapter explores the difficulty
of determining the subject matter of economics, expounds the classical
Marxist interpretation of economic laws and develops Marxs characterization
of his work as a critique of economic categories as critical theory of social
constitution. Chapter 3 develops the implications of this characterization
further into an argument about the capitalist forms of social practice, which I
develop with the help of Adornos negative dialectics.
The second part develops the class character of the law of value in three
connected chapters. In distinction to the new reading, it argues that the social
antagonism is the logical and historical premise of the law of value. Chapter4
argues that the hidden secret of the law of value is the forceful expropriation
of the labourer from the means of subsistence. In this context I argue that the
attempt of the new reading to develop the economic categories by means of
logical exposition banishes the class relationship from the critique of political
economy. In distinction, the chapter argues that the existence of a class of
labourers with no independent access to the means of subsistence is the
fundamental premise of the capitalist social relations. Chapter5 develops this
argument further into a critical theory of class as the objective category of the
capitalist form of wealth and thus of the entire system of social reproduction.
The law of value is premised on the force of law-making violence that
established a class of surplus value producers who depend for their life on the
sale of their labour power. Chapter6 extends discussion of the creation and
reproduction of a class of dispossessed producers of surplus value into an
argument about abstract labour as the historically specific labour of capitalist
wealth, of value. It argues that the value-producing labour manifests the force
of law-making violence in the form of an economic dictate of a time-made
abstract. Social wealth manifests itself in exchange as the labour of socially
necessary abstract labour time.62
The third part develops the critique of political economy as a critique of the
form of the state. I reckon that the law of value has no independent economic
reality. It does not dominate anything and anyone, nor does it instantiate
itself just like that. Value relations are relations of political economy, and

12

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

political economy presupposes the force of law making violence as the


premise of its civilized appearance as an exchange relationship between
the sellers and buyers of labour power as equal legal subjects, governed by
the rule of law. Chapter7 establishes the world market as the categorical
imperative of the capitalist form of wealth. The world market asserts itself
as a coercive force over labour in production. However, coercion is not a
socio-economic category. It is a political category, which characterizes
the state as the political form of bourgeois society. I argue that the world
market society of capital entails the (national) state in its concept. Chapter8
focuses on the state as the political form of bourgeois society. In distinction
to traditional accounts that derive the state from the economic, I hold that
the law of value is premised on depoliticized exchange relations, and I argue
that the state is the concentrated force of socio-economic depoliticization.
Fragments apart, Marxs promise of a critique of the form of state did not
materialize. The chapter therefore develops its account with reference to
Hegels political philosophy and Smiths classical political economy and
its further development in neo-liberal thought, to make sense of Marxs
characterization of the state as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie.
The conclusion returns to Marx to argue that the state is the political form
of capitalist society.
The fourth and final part assesses the anti-capitalist implications of the
critique of political economy as a critical social theory. Chapter 9 presents
forms of anti-capitalism that personalize the critique of capitalism as the power
of money or the power of imperial force, or both. Here, the critical notion
that the social individual personifies the economic categories regresses into
the condemnation of hated forms of capitalism that are identified with the
interest of particular persons. The personalized critique of capitalism entails
the elements of antisemitism from the outset, which the chapter explores as a
perverted critique of capitalism. Chapter10 is the final chapter. It summarizes
the argument by exploring Adornos demand for a praxis that fights barbarism.
Contrary to the rumour about critical theory, its entirely negative critique of
existing conditions does not entail an impoverished praxis. Rather, it entails
the question of praxis what really does it mean to say no in a society that
is governed by real economic abstractions?

Notes
1 Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel s Philosophy of Right,
Introduction, Collected Works, vol. 3 (London 1975), p.182. Throughout this
book, Man with a capital M is used in the sense of Mensch. In the German

INTRODUCTION

13

language, Mensch can be masculine as in Der Mensch, feminine as in Die


Menschheit and neutral as in Das Menschlein. Menschlichkeit is always
feminine, as is reason, labour and revolution.
2 Theodor Adorno, Einleitung zur Musiksoziologie (Frankfurt 1962), p.30.
Translations from German texts are by the author.
3 Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London 1990), p.190.
4 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.191. Adornos argument is directed against
Georg Lukcss theory of reification. See Chapter3.
5 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.110.
6 Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of
Marxs Critical Theory (Cambridge 1996), pp.3623.
7 Helmut Reichelt, Social Reality as Appearance: Some Notes on Marxs
Concept of Reality, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis, Human
Dignity: Social Autonomy and the Critique of Capitalism (Aldershot 2005).
8 Theodor Adorno, Seminar Mitschrift of 1962, Appendix to Hans Georg
Backhaus, Dialektik der Wertform (Freiburg 1997), p.508.
9 Adorno, Seminar Mitschrift of 1962, p.506.
10 See, for example, Georg Lukcs, History and ClassConsciousness (London
1971) and Ernest Mandel, The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl
Marx (New York 1971).
11 Marx makes this point forcefully in his Critique of the Gotha Programme,
Marx Engels Selected Works, vol. 3 (Moscow 1970).
12 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.92.
13 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.320. See also Johannes Agnoli, Destruction
as the Determination of the Scholar in Miserable Times, in ed. Werner
Bonefeld, Revolutionary Writing (New York 2003).
14 The new reading characterises the German trajectory of the more general
trend in the late 1960s at breaking the stronghold of Soviet Marxism
on Marxist interpretation and analysis, from Italian autonomism to the
Conference of Socialist Economists in the United Kingdom, and also
Althusserian Marxism in France, which amounted to a concerted effort
at Westernising Soviet Marxism. On this effort, see Perry Anderson,
Considerations of Western Marxism (London 1976). For contemporary
accounts influenced by the German debate, see Ricardo Bellofiore and
Roberto Fineschi, Re-reading Marx (London 2009), Chris Arthur, The New
Dialectic and Marxs Capital (Leiden 2004), and Michael Heinrich, An
Introduction to the three Volumes of Karl Marxs Capital (New York 2012).
15 On this point, see Hans-Jrgen Krahl, Konstitution und Klassenkampf
(Frankfurt 1971).
16 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, pp.45. Backhaus renounces
the traditional Marxism as Ricardian in origin, for three reasons. It deals with
an undifferentiated conception of labour, accepts that economic categories
manifest a naturally derived substance and develops its account akin to the
tradition of classical political economy, which conceived of history as an

14

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY


objectively unfolding process based on the development of the division of
labour.

17 Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (London 1971),


p.60.
18 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, p.3.
19 On this, see Dirk Braunstein, Adornos Kritik der politischen konomie
(Bielefeld 2011). Braunsteins book explores Adornos reading of Marx,
arguing that there is a genuinely Adornoian version of critique of political
economy (p.10). His account is based on unpublished seminar transcripts
and posthumously published material. The book is rich in detail and
documentary evidence.
20 See Jrgen Habermas, Philosophisch-politische Profile (Frankfurt 1987) and
Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination, A History of the Frankfurt School and
the Institute of Social Research, 19231950 (London 1973).
21 Braunstein, Adornos Kritik.
22 Alfred Schmidt, Praxis, in ed. Hans-Georg Backhaus, Gesellschaft: Beitrge
zur Marxschen Theorie 2 (Frankfurt 1974). In distinction, Gillian Rose, The
Melancholy Science: An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno
(New York 1979), p.147, conceives of praxis as the power of the object.
She does not enquire into the genesis of its power.
23 Gerald Cohen, Karl Marxs Theory of History: A Defense (Oxford 1978)
offers the most elegantly written account of history as an objectively
unfolding force of human progress. The classical Marxist tradition expounds
this view of history with unerring enthusiasm; see, for example, Terry
Eagleton, Why Marx was Right (New Haven 2011). Eagleton though critical
of Cohens account, remains faithful to it. He expounds history as a history
of (overcoming) economic scarcity. Walter Benjamins Theses on the
Philosophy of History, Illuminations (London 1999) offers the most robust
critique. See, also, Richard Gunn, Against Historical Materialism, in ed.
Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism,
vol. II (London 1992); Alfred Schmidt, History and Structure (Cambridge, MA
1983); Maximiliano Tomba, Historical Temporalities of Capital: An AntiHistoricist Perspective, Historical Materialism, vol. 17, no.4 (2009), and
Krahl, Konstitution und Klassenkampf.
24 I use the word doing here with critical reference to Holloways work. John
Holloway, Change the World without Taking Power (London 2002) and Crack
Capitalism (London 2010).
25 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.317.
26 Max Horkheimer, Kritische und Traditionelle Theorie (Frankfurt 1992), p.229.
27 Marx, Capital, p.772. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. II (London 1978), p.185.
28 Herbert Marcuse, Negations (London 1988), p.151.
29 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.251.
30 Friederich Engels, Anti-Dhring, MEW 20 (Berlin 1983), p.132. Engelss
point is core to the classical Marxist tradition, see footnote 23.

INTRODUCTION

15

31 Heinrich, An Introduction, p.24.


32 Theodor Adorno, Lectures on History and Freedom (Cambridge 2008a), p.118.
33 Hans-Georg Backhaus, Dialektik der Wertform (Freiburg 1997), p.440. On
dialectics as a method of exposition, see Helmut Reichelt, Why Did Marx
Conceal His Dialectical Method? in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn,
John Holloway and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism, Emancipating
Marx (London 1995) and Helmut Reichelt, Zur logischen Struktur des
Kapitalbegriffs bei Marx (Freiburg 2001).
34 Frederic Jameson, Presenting Capital (London 2011) sees Capital as a purely
economic text. If it were, this would be bad for Marx.
35 On this, see Theodor Adorno, Soziologie und empirische Forschung, in ed.
Theodor Adorno, Hans Albert, Ralf Darendorf, Jrgen Habermas, Harald
Pilot and Karl Popper, Der Positivismusstreit in der deutschen Soziologie
(Mnchen 1993), p.94.
36 Karl Marx, Letter to Lassalle, 22 February 1858, in MEW 29 (Berlin 1963),
p.550. On the economist as a thinker of unreflected presuppsotions, see
Karl Marx, Letter to Engels, 2 April 1958, in MEW 29 (Berlin 1963), p.315.
37 Adorno, History, p.118.
38 Marx, Capital, p.92.
39 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.311.
40 Theodor Adorno, Lectures on Negative Dialectics (Cambridge 2008b),
pp.89.
41 Arthur captures the chained character of the new reading well. He
conceives of the new reading as a systematic dialectics, in which Man in
her social relations appears as an unnecessary distraction to the systematic
demystification of the objective irrationality of the value form. Arthur, The
New Dialectic, p.12.
42 See Reichelt, Why Did Marx Conceal His Dialectical Method?, I use the
term perverted form with critical intent. In the German edition of Kapital,
Marx uses the phrase verrckte Form. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, MEW 23
(Berlin 1979),p.90. In the English edition this is translated as absurd form
(p.169). In German, verrckt has two meanings: verrckt (mad) and verrckt
(displaced). Thus, the notion of perverted forms means that they are at one
remove both mad and displaced. In other words, they are perverted forms of
human social practice, in which subject and object do not statically oppose
each other, but rather are caught up in an ongoing process of the inversion of
subjectivity into objectivity, and vice versa. Hans-Georg Backhaus, Between
Philosophy and Science: Marxian Social Economy as Critical Theory, in ed.
Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism,
vol. I (London 1992), p.60. I translate verrckte Form as perverted form to
capture this process of maddening inversion.
43 Helmut Reichelt, Neue Marx-Lektre. Zur Kritik sozialwisschenschaftlicher
Logik (Hamburg 2008).
44 Backhaus, Between Philosophy and Science, and Hans-Georg Backhaus,
ber den Doppelsinn der Begriffe politische konomie und Kritik bei

16

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY


Marx und in der Frankfurter Schule, in ed. Stefan Dornuf and Reinhard
Pitsch, Wolfgang Harich zum Gedchtnis, vol. II (Mnchen 2000).

45 Hans-Georg Backhaus, Some Aspects of Marxs Concept of Critique in the


Context of His Economic-Philosophical Theory, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and
Kosmas Psychopedis, Human Dignity (Aldershot 2005).
46 Karl Marx Randglossen zu Adolph Wagners Lehrbuch der politischen
konomie, MEW 19 (Berlin 1962), p.362.
47 Marx, Grundrisse (London 1973), p.832.
48 Reichelt, Neue Marx-Lektre, and Helmut Reichelt, Die Marxsche Kritik
konomischer Kategorien. berlegungen zum Problem der Geltung in
der dialektischen Darstellungsmethode im Kapital, in ed. Iring Fetscher
and Alfred Schmidt, Emanzipation und Vershnung. Zu Adornos Kritik der
Warentausch-Gesellschaft und Perpektiven der Transformation (Frankfurt
2002).
49 Marx, Letter to Lasalle, 22 February 1858, in MEW 29 (Berlin 1963), p.550.
For the new reading this exposition is fundamental to the character of the
critique of political economy as a critical social theory. See Reichelt, Zur
logischen Struktur. See also Kosmas Psychopedis, Dialectical Theory,
in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open
Marxism, vol. I (London 1992).
50 Theodor Adorno, Einleitung, in ed. Theodor Adorno, Hans Albert,
Ralf Darendorf, Jrgen Habermas, Harald Pilot and Karl Popper, Der
Positivismusstreit in der deutschen Soziologie (Mnchen 1993), p.23.
51 Arthur, The New Dialectic, p.80.
52 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.165.
53 Reichelt, Die Marxsche Kritik konomischer Kategorien.
54 For Alex Callinicos, Is Leninism finished? Socialist Review (January 2013),
this is the revolutionary standpoint as developed for our time by Lenin.
55 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, p.6.
56 Marx, Grundrisse, p.460. For insightful accounts, see in particular Silvia
Federici, Caliban and the Witch (New York 2004)and Mariarosa Dalla Costa,
Development and Reproduction, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Revolutionary
Writing (New York 2003).
57 See Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, p.319. On Postones
account see, among others, Werner Bonefeld, On Postones Courageous
but Unsuccessful Attempt to Banish to Class Antagonism from the Critique
of Political Economy; Chris Arthur, Subject and Counter-Subject; Marcel
Stoetzler, Postones Marx, all published in Historical Materialism, vol. 12,
no.3 (2004).
58 Marx, Grundrisse, p.832. Reichelt, Neue Marx-Lektre.
59 Michael Heinrich, Reconstruction or Deconstruction, in ed. Riccardo
Bellofiore and Roberto Fineschi, Re-reading Marx. New Perspectives after
the Critical Edition (London 2009); Enstehungs- und Auflsungsgeschichte

INTRODUCTION
des Marxschen Kapital, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Michael Heinrich,
Kapital & Kritik (Hamburg 2011).
60 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.33.
61 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.304.
62 Adorno, Seminar Mitschrift of 1962, p.507.

17

Part ONE

On the critique
of political
economy as a
critical social
theory

2
Political economy and
social constitution: On
the meaning of critique
Introduction
Marx frequently refers to economic categories as sensuous-supersensible
things, strange things, perverted forms, abounding in metaphysical
subtleties and theological niceties, mythical in character and so forth.1 These
formulations are decisively uneconomic and point towards the critique of
political economy as a theory of the social constitution of economic categories.
Traditional conceptions of political economy, from classical political economy
via modern economic theory to traditional Marxist accounts, are haunted by the
spectre of social constitution. A traditional conception of political economy is
characterized by the dismissal of the human social reality of its subject matter
as a metaphysical distraction that gets in the way of economic analyses.
What however is political economy if it is not a theory about the manner
in which society organizes its reproduction? Economic theory deals with
economic quantities and economic laws, speaks the language of economic
categories, conceives of the economy of labour as a general economic
necessity, analyses economic relations in macro-economic terms and argues
that economic theory is the veritable science of some innately economic
matter. Economic theory is the theory of society unaware of itself.
This chapter asks about the purpose of the critique of economic
objectivity. What is to be understood by economic matter and what does its
critique reveal? Marxs critique of political economy asks why human social
reproduction manifests itself in the form of self-moving economic forces that
assert themselves behind the backs of the acting subjects, indifferent and

22

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

indeed hostile to their needs. The chapter is divided into three sections and
a conclusion. It starts with the difficulty of economic theory to determine its
subject matter in abstraction from society. It then introduces the traditional
Marxist argument, including, in particular, Althussers structuralist account
that capitalist economic categories are historically specific manifestations
of general historical laws, which establish the objective framework for the
development of definite forms of social relations. I hold that the structuralist
account develops the insights of classical political economy, which it presents
as Marxs critique of political economy.2 The third section introduces the
critique of political economy as a critique of economic categories and argues
that this critique amounts to a critical social theory. Instead of deriving
capitalist economic categories from some presumed trans-historical forces
of economic nature, it dissolves the economic categories on a social basis,
arguing that definite forms of social relations manifest themselves in
mysterious economic forms. For the critical tradition, the critique of economic
categories therefore entails a theory of the social constitution of economic
forms. Apart from summarizing the chapters argument, the conclusion sets
the theme of subsequent chapters, arguing that class antagonism is the
critical concept of a capitalist society.

On economic nature and economic theory


At best, economic theory conceives of its categories as comprising some
transcendental essence of human economic behaviour. It regards Man as
economic Man and having put back in Man the economic idea of Man, it
argues at best akin to the principles of classical political economy, Adam Smith
and David Ricardo in particular, that the wealth of nations is founded on the
productive power of labour.3 This labour evolves throughout the ages, leading
to a greater technical division of labour, which occasions the rise and fall of
definite modes of subsistence, from the property relations of the hunters
and fishers, with whom Smith begun, via the property relations of pasture
and agriculture, to the property relations between the three constituent
classes that for Smith comprise what he called commercial society the
land owners who live by rent, the owners of stock who live by profit and the
class tied to work that lives by wages. According to Adam Smith, the modes
of subsistence comprise definite forms of property relations, government,
social institutions and moral sentiments.4 At its best, then, economics
is an argument about the manner in which the evolution of the technical
division labour gives rise to definite forms of society. It conceives of labour
as a purposeful and goal-oriented exchange with nature, and construes this

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

23

necessity of the human metabolism with nature as a general economic law


of history, in which developments in the technical division of labour give rise
to historically definite forms of property, relations of distribution, forms of
government, social institutions and ideological conceptions.
At worst, economics is drawn into a game of formal abstractions, in which
labour as a social practice of human reproduction is replaced by mathematical
equations that rationalize and calculate the movement of economic quantities.
In this account, economics transformed into a complex mathematical
science, which analyses the movements of cash, price and currency value,
without asking itself what the object of its calculating analysis might be.5
Economics presumes its object as an existing economic quantity that can
be analysed according to some agreed convention of observation, measured
according to some accepted standard of quantification, rationalized by means
of mathematical method and whose movements can be calculated with
predictive intent by means of the laws of probability.6
This, then, is the paradox of political economy: the economists, says Marx,
stagger about . . . within this contradiction, completely unaware of it.7 What
they just described as a thing reappears as a social relation and a moment
later, having been defined as a social relation, teases them once more as a
thing.8 As a theory of economic matter, economics articulates the theological
quirks of its subject matter. It presumes an economic objectivity external
to Man, analyses the value preferences of economic Man and studies the
market as a rational means of economic distribution and individual decisionmaking, which by means of the free price mechanism informs consumers
and producers of the degree of scarcity in the whole economy, leading to the
adjustment of value preferences by the economic agents.9 It thus analyses
the behaviour of markets as a force that objectifies itself in the individuals,
defining their expectations, structuring their activities and compelling their
behaviour in market relevant terms, on the promise of great wealth and on the
pain of default, bankruptcy and unemployment.
The subject of economic analysis is the inverted world of Monsieur le
Capital and Madame la Terre that Marx talks about in his chapter on the
Trinity Formula: a definite form of sensuous human practice asserts itself
in the movement of perverted economic forms, and this appearance
is real inasmuch as the social relations of production assume the form of
a relationship between things that objectivize themselves in the person.10
Economic objectivity entails the assertion of the economic laws as forces
external to Man and as forces on which as Adorno put it, the life of all men
hangs by . . . [to the] vanishing point in the death of all.11 Who would deny that
the economy manifests itself over the social individuals as a seemingly natural,
self-positing and self-moving thing beyond human control, substituting the

24

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

myth of economic fate for the myth of Gods wrath. Economic laws impose
themselves behind the backs of the acting subjects that sustain society, and
society is governed by the movement of real economic abstractions, which
akin to the mythical idea of fate impose themselves on the social individuals
with devastating force, cutting them off from the means of subsistence at
the blink of an eye. At issue is not the irrational rationality of economic forms.
What is at issue is their social constitution: why does this content of human
social reproduction take that fateful economic form?
According to Max Horkheimer, economic theory developed the traditional
theory of society to the point of absurdity. It identifies society in the form
of mathematical symbols that rationalize its appearance as a relationship
established by quantifiable economic things.12 Society appears as a thing, and
the economists perceive of this thing as having its own innate economically
determined laws of development that are valid at all times and all places,
as if they really embody some trans-historically active economic nature that
manifests itself in capitalism as its most developed historical form. The
economists argues Marx, naturalize the economic categories, which are
then quietly smuggled in as the inviolable natural laws on which society in
the abstract is founded.13 Economics is the standpoint of economic matter in
abstraction from society, which appears as a field of economic application. It
has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that form,
that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why the measurement
of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the value of the
product.14 Instead, it conceives of the capitalist labour process as the goalorientated activity of the human metabolism with nature, represents the
movement of prices with mathematical accuracy, adds up economic quantities,
analyses the movement of economic things, predicts on the basis of available
economic data what markets will do next, describes the manner in which the
human agents adjust to market demands for the sake of achieving greater
economic efficiency and effectiveness and explores the means of state as
the public authority of economic regulation. It identifies economic things as
both some quantifiable substance and an independent force of economic
rationality, which for the sake of economic progress requires a constant effort
at economic adjustment from the human agents; and yet, it cannot tell us
what the economic quantities are.
Economic theorists who have thought about these issues accept that it is
impossible to determine the subject matter of economics with any degree of
certainty. Even the fundamental categories of economic analysis are not at all
clear. As Joan Robinson put it, they turn out to be unseizable concepts when
we really try to pin them down and economic theory evades the problem
of giving meaning to a quantity of capital . . . by putting it into algebra.15

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

25

Economic theory presumes some decipherable economic rationality yet,


what really is this rationality? Is it a socially constituted rationality that though
created by the social individuals enslaves them to the product of their own
social world, which appears to them in the form of real economic abstractions;
or is the economic rationality founded on some trans-historical economic
nature that manifests itself in definite modes of subsistence? The notion that
society is governed by some general economic laws is confronted by the
paradox that their validity is fundamentally social. Validity is a social category.
Only for society can something be valid and have validity.16 Economic laws
are therefore not valid in themselves. They are not eternal natural laws
independent of history.17 Rather, their validity is fundamentally social, and they
are valid in and through society and society is always concrete society. That is,
economic laws are valid in and through the society to which they belong. Yet,
society is not the subject matter of economic theory. For economic thought
the notion that economic laws are inverted forms of definite social relations is
a scandal. It deprives economics of its economic subject matter. If, however,
economics does not deal with social essentials, and if it has therefore to
eliminate the concern with such essentials in order to establish itself as a
science of abstract economic quantities, of quantities of capital, then it has to
accept that its subject matter amounts to a metaphysics of economic being.
Or as Joan Robinson put it in exasperation about the seeming inability of
economics to establish itself as a science of economic matter: K is capital,
K is investment. Then what is K? Why, capital of course. It must mean
something, so let us get on with the analysis, and do not bother about these
officious prigs who ask us to say what it means.18
Economic science is haunted by its inability to define its subject matter.
Nicholas Kaldor suggested that it is quite unable to determine its subject
matter with any satisfactory degree of certainty is it a social science, an
economic science or a science of economic nature?19 Friedrich Hayek was
sceptical about its ability to make refutable predictions, and according to
Sam Brittan, his economics amounted ultimately to a moral philosophy.20
Daniel Bell pointed out that economic theory is a convenient fiction, an as
if, against which to measure the habitual, irrational, logical, egoistic, selfinterested, bigoted, altruistic actions of individuals, firms, or governments
but it is not a model of reality.21 But even as a fictional ideal, it is inherently
problematic.
Joan Robinson offered the hopeful view that it might be feasible after all
to establish economics as a science of economic matter and that this would
entail the elimination of its hitherto metaphysically conceived foundational
concepts, such as humanity and her needs.22 Joseph Schumpeter argued
early in his career that economics as a science has to view its categories as

26

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

categories of natural laws (Naturgesetze) and that it therefore has to take care
never to try to justify its social presuppositions.23 Later in his life, he appeared
undecided whether economics could in fact be called a science the question
was still in the balance.24 Schumpeter posited the very question that is core
to Marxs critique of political economy, and which economic theory has to
answer and continuously fails to answer with any degree of certainty. Is
capital, he asked, a repository of value, which can be expressed by but does
not consist in money, without reference to its particular commodity form or
its concrete application? . . . In fact the question arises: how is it possible,
that the values of any good whatsoever appear as something independent
[Selbstndiges]? For the value is inseparable from the object that is valued.25
Schumpeter was well aware that the science of economic matter depends on
conceptions of society that are not only alien to economics but also defy its
attempt at establishing itself as a science of economic matter. 26 He therefore
suggested that the attempt at banishing the metaphysical baggage of Man in
her social relations from economics amounts to an impossible task. Robinson
granted as much when she argues that money and interest rates prove to be
incomprehensible concepts, as do goods and purchasing power, when we
attempt to pin them down.27 They thereby conceded that it was impossible
to establish economics as a science in its own right. Crudely put, the
metaphysical baggage is the human-social content of economic categories,
which economics posits but cannot accept without calling itself into question
as a science of purely economic matter.
Economics conceived as a discipline without human-social metaphysics
tends towards its definition as a science of economic numbers, its
application as a method of analysing the relationships between economic
cost and economic benefit or to an argument about economics as a science
of physical quantities, which, as Kunihiro Jojima sees it, deals with atoms
and molecules.28 In either case, be it as a science of numbers or atoms, or
analysis of costs and benefits, economics is accepted as some determinate
second nature that though independent from the human-social relations,
structures the actions of its human agents who struggle over the spoils of a
system that asserts itself over them, as if it were a nature apart. Traditionally
this indeterminacy of a first nature within the determinate order of a second
nature has been conceived in terms of Says (in)famous law of the market
democracy of demand and supply. Here the social forces are seen to operate
within the framework of a spontaneous order in which each social category
is indeterminate in terms of its relative worth or economic position but
where every single social category is obliged to all in the generality of their
spontaneous interaction. 29 For the science of economics, the movements
of economic quantities express value preferences, which reveal a rationality

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

27

of economic action that is regulated by price movements.30 It sets out to


rationalize yesterdays movement of prices as a manifestation of a plurality
of economic-value preferences and on the basis of this direct and immediate
calculus, predicts tomorrows utility movements of economic quantities. That
is, it aggregates yesterdays economic behaviour to measure todays deviation
in order to predict tomorrows price movements, with winning intent. That is,
it translates quantities of capital into algebra. 31
The idea that economics is a philosophy of numbers, or a branch of
physics, or a science of the supply and demand for economic quantities,
defines its character as a science without a subject. Proudhons mockery
seems as relevant now as it was then: How might economics be a science?
How can two economists look at each other without laughing? . . . Economics
has neither a principle nor a foundation . . . it knows nothing; it explains
nothing.32 The economist, says Marx, is unable to utter a sentence without
contradicting himself.33 Economics sides with the mischief of a world that
ascribes subjective power to economic things and invisible principles. That is,
for economic thought the essence of economics is not society. It is economic
nature; yet it cannot tell us what this is. It thus seeks validation by means of
philosophical justification about the character of economic Man. Whatever its
calculations, in the end everything comes down to the natural propensity of
truck and barter and thus to human nature, this metaphysical foundation of
economics as a moral philosophy of natural laws.34
For the critique of political economy, economic nature is not the essence
of economics. The essence of economics is society, and society is the
social individual in her social relations. The circumstance that Man in her
social relations appears as a personification of economic things a bearer
of economic laws focuses the critique of political economy as a negative
theory of society. In capitalism, Marx argues, the individuals are governed by
the product of their own hands and what appears thus as economic nature
is in fact a socially constituted nature that belongs to definite social relations.
Social reality is thus an objective appearance: the social individual vanishes
in her own social world only to reappear with a price tag, by which she is
governed.35 Yet this inversion of the social subject into the economic object
is her own work. It does not derive from some abstract economic matter that
objectifies itself in the acting subject, as if by force of nature. For the critique
of political economy the critical issue is thus not the discovery of general
economic laws of history. Rather, its object of critique is the existent society,
in which definite social relations subsist in the form of abstract economic
forces, things endowed with an invisible will that asserts itself as a regulative
law of nature. 36 The following section explores the structuralist Marxist
tradition. I argue that its analysis of the capitalist economic forms is entirely

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

traditional in its grasp of society. It, too, rejects the idea of Man in her social
relations as a metaphysical distraction to the science of economic forces.

Economic nature and capitalist anatomy


Louis Althusser famously declared that Marxs critique of political economy is
a work of theoretical anti-humanism and proclaimed for a politics of practical
humanism to set things right.37 In his Preface to the French edition of Capital,
he made two important observations that focus his anti-humanist stance
succinctly. 38 First, he argued that the philosophical idea of alienation of the
Marx of the Paris-Manuscripts of 1844 does not have anything to do with the
economic Marx as the founder of scientific socialism. He therefore rejected
the theory of reification as a projection of the theory of alienation of the early
Marx onto the analysis of commodity fetishism ostensibly at the expense of
the scientific character of Marxs account. 39 Second, he argued that Capital
develops the conceptual system of scientific Marxism, not as a critique of
capitalism as an existing reality, but as a means of comprehending history in
its entirety.40 According to Althusser, Marxs study of capitalism led him to the
discovery of the general economic laws of history that manifest themselves
in the structure of the capitalist economic relations. Marxs Capital is thus
seen to present the general economic laws of the forces of production in their
historically specific capitalist form. The structure of society is thus determined
by the forces of production, which manifest themselves in historically specific
social relations of production. Capitalist social relations are perceived to
unfold within an objective framework of general economic laws. According
to Alfred Schmidt, Althussers structuralist view of Marxs critique of political
economy does not interpret familiar Marxist ideas in structuralist language
. . . Rather he presents structuralist positions without ceremony as Marxist
ones.41 However, Althussers point about the 1844 Manuscripts is a valid
one. Man as such does not exist and the anthropological standpoint is indeed
uncritical.42
Althusser sees the late Marx as the scientific Marx, and defines science as a
discourse without a subject.43 He therefore argued that one can recognize Man
only on the condition that the philosophical myth of Man is reduced to ashes.44
Poulantzas reinforced this view when he conceived of scientific Marxism as a
radical break from the historical problematic of the subject.45 Their argument
that, for the sake of scientific understanding, the social sciences have to be
a science without a subject points towards a conception of society as an
historically specific structure of enduring general economic laws. Science is
thus the consciousness of the inescapable lines and tendencies of structural

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29

necessity. It recognizes the structured existence of general economic laws


in the anatomy of the capitalist mode of production without being distracted
by the musing about reification or the fuzzy humanism of the doing subject,
be it in the form of the alienated subject or the anti-capitalist subject.46 Like
the economists discussed earlier, for the sake of scientific insight into the
capitalist anatomy of general economic laws, scientific Marxism argues that
the analysis of economic matter has to proceed without ulterior metaphysical
thoughts.47
For the structuralist tradition capitalist economic categories manifest
general economic laws in historically overdetermined forms of society.
Instead of conceptualizing the actual social relations of production, it
argues that capitalist development takes place within the framework of its
general laws, and it is within this framework that capitalist development is
determined . . . by the actions of the acting subjects and classes, the resulting
concrete conditions of crisis and their political consequences.48 Analysis of
really existing society depends thus on the development of intermediary
concepts, which analyse the mediation of general economic laws in concrete
settings.49 This mediation is however difficult to achieve. The general laws
of capitalist political economy operate as a force of nature leading to the
breakdown of the clear distinction between natural and social laws.50 Haugs
account exemplifies the scientific method appropriate to the task of resolving
this difficulty in a clear manner. As he sees it, every economic category
can be traced back to some basis in nature, and the scientific method thus
consists in tracing the natural basis of social phenomena.51 However, nature
does not exist in the abstract. One can therefore not find in history pure
manifestations of natural necessity because it never coincides directly with
its appearance in concrete societies. Thus, history . . . [is] the sphere of
manifold overdeterminations.52 In this perspective, then, the critique of
political economy reveals the capitalist mode of functioning (Wirkungweise)
of the general economic laws. Methodologically, the structuralist analysis
of capitalism applies a method of abstraction akin to the microscope of the
biologist. By means of microscopic analysis, abstraction is to dissect the
general economic laws in the anatomy of the capitalist social relations to
determine the inescapable economic laws that govern society in the last
instance.
For the structuralist tradition, the most fundamental economic law
comprises the inescapable necessity of labour as the purposeful activity
of social reproduction. Labour expresses thus a trans-historical materiality,
which is defined by its metabolism with nature. Capitalism is therefore
viewed as a historically specific modality of this necessity of labour. As
Postone argues most succinctly, instead of a critique of production, this

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view offers a theory of production defined by technical relations combining


factors in material production, which is about the production of use-values.53
There is, then, the enduring general law of labour as purposeful exchange
with nature in the abstract, regardless of time and space, and there is the
historically specific modality of this same exchange. These two forms of
labour are said to form a contradictory unity between materiality and social
form which is traditionally discussed as a contradiction between the transhistorically conceived forces of production and the historically specific social
relations of production and it this relationship between the materiality of
labour as a trans-historical force of production and the historically specific
social relations of production that establishes the fundamental contradiction
of capitalism.
In this account, the capitalist modality of the trans-historical materiality
of labour is one in which a class of private individuals possess a legal title
to factors of production. According to tienne Balibar, the capitalist social
relations are historically overdetermined manifestations of the trans-historical
forces of production, in which the economic relations of production appear
. . . as a relation between three functionally defined terms: owner class/
means of production/class of exploited producers.54 That is to say, the forces
of production are seen to manifest themselves in the form of historically
specific social relations of distribution, which are mapped on to production by
the legal connection of ownership of means of production.55 As an account
of political economy, it defines the class character of society on the basis
of the legal title to one of the factors of production, from which the classes
derive their revenues rent for the owners of land, profit for the owners of the
means of production and wages for the owners of labour power. Capitalism
is seen as a fundamentally private organization of labour based on the legal
title of the owners of the means of production to the product of labour. At
the same time this private character of labour organization is fundamentally
social in character since everybody is in fact working for each other. The
connection between the private organization of labour and its social character
is established by the market, which brings the many private labours into
contact with each other, establishing points of sale and purchase. The social
character of private labour is governed by the law of value that in capitalism is
seen to regulate the distribution of social wealth not only by means of marketbased exchange relations but also by means of class struggle who gets what
and who, say, pays the costs of austerity?56 According to Jessop the capitalist
exchange relations involve thus an interaction between multiple social forces
that in turn denote multicentric, multiscalar, multitemporal, multiform and
multicausal processes, which are co-existing and interpenetrating in a tangled

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31

and confused manner, and are thus anarchic, uncontrolled, unplanned and
crisis-ridden.57
As Patrick Murray put it succinctly in a different context, the structuralist
idea of historical materialism argues that the forces of production are not
social-form-determined but, on the contrary, are the ultimate determinant of
the relations of production.58 Instead of dissolving the reified appearance
of things, it views this appearance as the manifestation of natural economic
laws that structure the actual relations of life. Whereas social laws can be
changed, the laws of nature cannot. Harvey argues thus that human beings
are part of nature and are not passive agents, letalone mere victims, in natural
evolution and that they can thus change the manner in which the inescapable
law of labour is made manifest in the anatomy of historically specific social
relations.59 The question of socialism thus becomes a question of the rational
organization of the economy of labour, from the capitalist anarchy of the
uncontrolled, unplanned, and crisis-ridden market relations to the socialist
rationalization of the economy of labour by means of central planning.60
When posited as natural, the economy of labour appears as a force of nature,
legitimizing existing social relations as developed nature and delineating
possible futures as idealized derivatives of the existent. Both depend on the
deadly notion that freedom is recognition of necessity.61 Yet, nature has
nothing to do with it.
The idea that society is in the last instance determined by historically active,
general, economic laws is in its entirety tied to existing conditions.62 Historical
materialism conceived dogmatically as a science of some general economic
laws reflects existing society under the spell of identification, which includes
the allegedly realistic thesis that the capitalist social relations embody the logic
of an abstract market structure whose empirical reality is mediated by class
struggle.63 Instead of the critical notion that concepts are moments of the
reality that requires their formation, this idea holds that concepts are generally
applicable scientific instruments, which are capable of dissecting and analysing
every society at all times and places as an overdetermined manifestation of
abstract economic laws. This view suggests a radical separation between
thought and reality. Haug articulates this view most clearly when he proclaims
that the mastery of Marx was the discovery of thought independent from
empirical conditions.64 Alex Callinicos argues similarly. He advocates that
the Marxist method of analysis amounts to a sophisticated version of the
science of knowledge, which hypothesizes society as an as if of theoretical
construction.65 Theoretical knowledge appears as an hypothetical figure of
speech, an as if, which is corroborated by empirical analysis that falsifies
or verifies the proposed theory of society. This appearance is, however,

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deceitful in that the real world is mirrored in its theoretical hypothesis. That
is, the science of knowledge posits the scientific idea that the real world is,
say, regulated by a competitive market structure and then applies this idea
to capitalist markets, with conclusive effect, though questions remain as to
whether the freedom of competition has in reality not trans-morphed into
a freedom of monopolies. The supposition of thought as an independent
instrument of knowledge releases society from critical scrutiny. Rather than
asking about the social constitution of markets, it supposes the existence
of general economic laws, transforming the social laws into historically
overdetermined derivatives of natural laws, and then analyses the manner
of their mediation in the social world of intersubjective actions, comprising
class-relevant and other social interests, and finally examines what it calls the
hegemonic strategies of the competing social interests to ascertain emergent
political opportunity structures for the conduct of hegemonic strategies that
act through the state to achieve their goals.66 The structuralist supposition of
society does not comprehend society. It merely describes it abstractly as an
hypothesized unit of analysis.
The scientific statement that capitalism is in the last instance determined
by the general economic laws of development is as hypothetical in its
conception of society as the statement that the state is the decisive force of
the power of the social forces that act through it. The classical demand for a
unity of theory and practice has historically entailed the struggle for the state
as the means of socialist transformation, replacing the legal entitlements of
capital to the products of labour by means of collective organization, making
the economy of labour directly social by unfettering it from the constraints
of the capitalist pursuit of profit. Reminiscent of scientific socialisms ability
to transform its theoretical hypothesis of society into catchy slogans, Haug
thus states without further ado that the power of money and capital retreat
when the state advances.67
Althussers view that Capital is not a critique of capitalism as a living process
but rather a scientific study of the capitalist anatomy of general economic
laws is therefore apt as a succinct characterization of the traditional view that
capitalist economic forms have a basis in nature and thus express a natural
propensity.68 In the history of political thought, this view derives, as Simon
Clarke argued succinctly, from classical political economy.69 Indeed, the
attempt to free political economy from the metaphysical baggage of human
purposes is a traditional one, from classical political economy to the classical
tradition of historical materialism. It allows for a science of general economic
laws as natural laws (Naturgesetze) that, like Smiths natural propensity to truck
and barter, are historically active, leading the process of evolution, which in the
case of classical political economy appears linear in its developmental logic

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33

towards commercial society, and which in the case of the classical Marxist
tradition entails a more contradictory process of struggles and setbacks and
yet progressively moving forward throughout the ages towards capitalism as
a transition to socialism, as if history really is some automatic, theologically
conceived thing that unfolds by means of its own innate force.
Smiths theory is remarkable not only for the emphasis given to economic
forces that work their way through history towards commercial society, it
is also remarkable for the argument that in each historical stage, the political
form of society, be it conceived in terms of authority or jurisdiction, necessarily
flows from the state of property. For Smith, the transition towards commercial
society and its law of private property rests on the natural propensity of
humans to truck and barter and is the consequence of the development in the
technical division of labour. He views labour as goal-oriented in its purpose,
sees the productive power of labour as the foundation of social wealth and
argues that the development of this labour determines the progress of society,
from this stage of production to that state of production, affecting the mode
of subsistence at any given stage of development. The development towards
commercial society is founded on the technical division of labour, which
gives rise to the growing social differentiation of society into distinct social
classes, comprising a definite social division of labour. He defines classes by
their respective revenue sources wage, rent, profit and argues that these
revenues are determined by the contribution of the classes to the labour
process labour, land, stock. The underlying process of this differentiation
of society into the constituent classes that comprise commercial society
is the extension of the technical division of labour, which increases the
social surplus and leads to the expansion of private property, which in turn
underpins the evolving social division of labour and lays the foundation for
the separation of the state from society in capitalism. In sum, for Smith, the
forces of production manifest a general law of historical development, which
leads to the rise and fall of distinct social relations of production, culminating
in the system of perfect liberty that characterizes what he calls commercial
society. The innate nature of the forces of production thus entails a dynamic
of historical being and becoming.
In Smiths view the system of perfect liberty is the unplanned outcome
of the processes founded on the natural human propensity to truck and
barter. The underlying conception of this idea of historical progress was
summarized well by Adam Ferguson in 1782: nations stumble upon
establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the
execution of any human design. 70 That is, history appears as an objectively
unfolding process without a subject; it is designed akin to a law of nature and
results from the unintended consequences of human action.71 History thus

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appears as an unfolding of the human propensity to truck and barter, which


encourages the growing technical division of labour, which first facilitates
the emergence of historically specific social relations of production that
then become fetters to the further development of the forces of production,
leading to a crisis of a mode of production and transition towards a new
mode of production that facilitates the further development of the forces
of production towards commercial society. Clarkes argument that the
Althusserian view of Marxism derives from classical political economy is
thus to the point society can only do as nature does, and what nature does
for society results from the unintended consequences of human action. In
distinction, the circumstance that Man lives in nature and is herself a natural
being neither explains history nor capitalism, nor for that matter any other
form of society.72
Alfred Schmidts assessment of the classical Marxist tradition is to the
point: it elevates into a scientific norm what Marx criticized in his critique of
political economy, that is, like classical political economy, it views social laws
as laws of economic nature.73 It represses the notion of social constitution in
its entirety. Its grasp of society remains abstract and its critique of capitalism
does not aim at the thing itself. Instead of deciphering the conceptuality of
society that holds sway in its own context, it identifies capitalist economic
categories as historically overdetermined manifestations of some transhistorical forces of production. It thus hypothesizes the capitalist social
relations of production as a developed form of the general economic law of
labour. It perceives of this law of labour as the law of economic necessity, and
the law of necessity characterizes history as a force towards the overcoming
of conditions of economic scarcity. Terry Eagleton expresses this view with
disarming clarity. His account does not start with hunters and fishers, with
whom Smith began. He starts with some imagined primitive communist
mode of subsistence: When there is little or no surplus, as in so-called
primitive communism, everyone has to work, nobody can live off the toil of
others, so there can be no classes. Later there is enough of a surplus to fund
classes like feudal lords, who live by the labour of their underlings. Only with
capitalism can enough surplus be generated for the abolition of scarcity, and
thus of social classes, to become possible. But only socialism can put this
into practice.74 Eagletons account characterized the illusion of the first and
second Internationals that perceived capitalism as a transition to socialism. As
an economic statement, his view presents the categorical unconsciousness
of economic theory as the revealed truth of society in the abstract. That is, he
expresses the conventional view of modern economic theory, according to
which economics is the study of the distribution of scarce resources among
different people.75 That is to say, and as Robbins argued, economics is the

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35

science of human action in conditions of economic scarcity, rather than one of


the peculiar capitalist forms of social wealth, and the manner of its production
and reproduction, which is the subject matter of Marxs critique of political
economy.76
In sum, instead of thinking out of society, worldview Marxism analyses
capitalist society to discover the general economic laws and then conceives
of capitalist society as a manifestation of those same general economic
laws that its analysis of capitalism established. That is, it thinks about reified
things with an analytical grasp that, akin to a photographic representation
of reality, identifies the capitalist social relations with their appearance as
forces of nature. Its grasp of society thus appears entirely realistic in that
it posits society in its immediate being, which is pure appearance . . . of
a process running behind its back .77 As a science of economic processes
without a subject, it dissolves Man as the subject of her own social world
into the substance of her economic inversion. The illusions of such a
consciousness turn into dogmatic immediacies about the natural character of
society.78 That is, its critique of bourgeois society is entirely abstract. Abstract
negativity naturalizes capitalist society as an historically overdetermined
manifestation of some trans-historical materiality of labour, implicates the
capitalists for the defects of the established system of labour and proclaims
to know what needs to be done to achieve resolution.79 While Althussers
theoretical anti-humanism leaves society untouched by thought, his practical
humanism proclaims progressive ends in abstraction from society, rejecting
all discrimination, be it racial, political, religious. It is the rejection of all
economic exploitation and political domination. It is the rejection of war.80
The humanization of social relations is the purpose and end of the critique
of political economy. However, the effort of humanizing is confronted by the
paradox that it presupposes the existence of inhuman conditions. Inhuman
conditions are not just an impediment to humanization but a premise of its
concept.
Althussers practical humanism therefore manifests the illusion of his
science of society without a subject. It posits society as an as if of civilized
social relations, against which it measures the irrational, exploitative and
discriminative relations of a bloodied world. Devoid of a conception of the
actual relations of life, his practical humanism does not talk about the devil.
Instead it looks on the bright side.81 The blind spot of dogmatic thought
is predicated on the idea that society is a process without a subject.82 It
thereby accommodates its thought to the existing objective conditions that
render the individuals mere personifications of economic categories, which
its practical humanism denounces as exploitative, discriminative, violent,
unfair and irrational.

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Economic objectivity and social constitution:


On the notion of critique
For the critical theory tradition, Marxs critique of political economy is
immanent even if in the end it negates the whole sphere it moves in. It resists
the temptation to substitute the truth content of thought for its social function
and its conditioning by interests. Its historical materialism, too, is immanent
in the ontology of the wrong state of things, developing the conceptuality
of the capitalist relations from within. That is, critically conceived, historical
materialism is a dissolution of things understood as dogmatic.83 Rather than
deriving the social relations of production from some abstractly conceived
trans-historically active forces of production, it asks why the social relations
of production assume the form of a relationship between reified things and
what appears in reification.84
At its best, Marxs critique rejects naturalized conceptions of labour. His
disdain for such conceptions was especially exacting in relation to Smith and
Ricardo, and also the popular socialism of his time, from Proudhon to the
German social democrats.85 In his critique of Smith and Ricardo, Marx argued
that they naturalize economic categories as if the [imagined] individual and
isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom [they begin] is an actual fact, posited
by nature, not arising historically in the midst of bourgeois development. 86 He
saw his work as a critique of the entire system of economic categories. 87
In distinction to Engelss view that historical materialism is the science of
the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and
thought, he characterizes his materialist method as a critique of existent
social relations, not from the standpoint of some abstractly conceived
materiality of labour, but from within their own conceptuality:
It is, in reality, much easier to discover by analysis the earthly kernel of the
misty creations of religions than to do the opposite, i.e., to develop from
the actual, given relations of life the forms in which they have become
apotheosized. The latter method is the only materialist, and therefore
the only scientific one. The weakness of the abstract materialism of
natural science, a materialism which excludes the historical process,
are immediately evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions
expressed by its spokesmen whenever they venture beyond the bounds
of their own speciality.88
For the critique of political economy the transformation of every product
into a social hieroglyphic requires explanation from within the actual social

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37

relations. We need, says Marx, to get behind the secret of [mens] own social
product: for the characteristic which objects of utility have of being values
is as much mens social product as is their language. Thus, the fetishism
of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the labour that
produces them.89 Postone picks up on this point, arguing that the traditional
Marxist accounts, which argue from the standpoint of labour as the standpoint
of the general historical law of the forces of production, are unable to come
to terms with the critique of fetishism. 90 Indeed, just as the critique of God on
the basis of God leads to scholastic dispute about the precise nature of God,
the critique of economic nature on the basis of economic nature leads to a
spellbound scholarly dispute about the precise meaning of reified things. Just
as in the critique of religion, the critique of economic nature is not a critique
of the thing in-itself. It is a critique of definite social relations that express
themselves in the form of a relationship between things. What therefore
appears in the appearance of capitalist society as a relationship between
economic things is not some general economic nature. What appear are the
actual social relations in the form of objective economic forces.
The forces of production do not therefore comprise some general law of
economic motion in abstraction from society. Rather, they belong to the society
that contains them. As Marx put it, the forces of production and social relations of
production are two different sides of the development of the social individual.91
This point is fundamental not only because it characterizes the distinction
between classical political economy and Marxs critique of political economy, it
is fundamental also for the distinction between the critique of political economy
as a critical social theory and the traditional Marxist accounts of political
economy that ascribe a material force to history, which purports historical
materialism to be a dialectics between the trans-historically conceived, or in
any case naturally determined, forces of production and the historically specific
social relations of production. Adorno called this traditional Marxist conception
of historical materialism a perverter of Marxian motives and criticizes it as a
metaphysics.92 It denies, he says, the spontaneity of the subject, a movens of
the objective dialectics of the forces and relations of production.93
The circumstance that definite social relations assume the form of a
relationship between things, and thus subsist in and through a world of
things, has nothing to do with the things themselves. It has to do with the
peculiar character of the social relations that assume the form of things.
The social constitution of the economic categories is a matter of historical
formation. History does not make itself, nor does it unfold objectively. Nor
is history a matter of divine intervention. Critically conceived, history is
not some basic ontological structure of things in being and becoming. 94
Benjamin calls this metaphysics of history historicity a term that

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

captures the scientific conception of history as some ontologically unfolding


process, from this stage of human development to that stage of human
development.95 Historicity abstracts from historic experience and thus
perceives of history in entirely unhistorical terms as the being of its own
becoming.96 The theological quirks of the commodity therefore mock the
false consciousness in which the social relations of the exchange value
is reflected to contracting parties as a quality of things-in-themselves. 97
Instead of hypothesizing economic things, the critique of political economy
aims at the things themselves, dissolving their appearance as forces of
nature. Demythologization is its critical intent. It thus deletes the image
character of consciousness.98 The circumstance that the capitalist social
relations assume the form of a relationship between things and that the
acting subjects therefore experience their own social world as a world that
really is governed by the movement of economic things comprises the
necessary ideology of society. Critically conceived, ideology is not just a
view about the world. Rather, it is the socially necessary appearance of
definite social relations in the inverted form of real economic abstractions. 99
The scientific presumption of capitalist social forms as overdetermined
structures of general historical laws is therefore pure ideology. It transforms
the appearance of society into a scientific norm.
Marxs critique of trans-historical conceptions of economic nature
recognizes value as the self-moving essence of the capitalist social relations
as a solely social necessity. In capitalism the social individual is governed
by the products of his own hand, and the product of labour, society in the
inverted form of a real economic abstraction, asserts itself as a regulative
law of nature.100 Its comprehension has to resist the temptation of deriving
human social relations from the seemingly self-moving economic forces.
For Adorno, such derivation manifests the ideology of reification under
the spell of reified things, thought identifies the properties of economic
categories as the revealed truth of society.101 In distinction, Marxs critique
of political economy develops, to return to the earlier quotation, the reality
of capitalist society from the actual relations of life. That is, it thinks out of,
and in and through, the existent society. In order to understand things, one
has to be within them. For Marx, therefore, critique has to demonstrate ad
hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical.
To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But for Man the root is Man
himself and Man is the highest being for Man.102 The critique of political
economy is thus subversive of the reified economic categories. Rather than
identifying them on the basis of their immediate appearance, it traces them
back to the actual relations of life. It thus negates the deceitful publicity
of the economic categories as naturally appearing things. Their natural

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

39

appearance is a socially necessary illusion, yet it is an illusion all the same


and an objective one at that. Instead of publicizing the objective illusion
of society, critique is charged with dissolving their natural appearance
and it does so by deciphering them as human social forms, not of Man
as an abstract individual but of Man as a member of a definite form of
society. That is, theoretical mysteries find their rational explanation in the
comprehension of human social practice.103
These quotations from Marxs earlier work are at times seen to carry
little weight because he is said to have matured into a scientist of economic
structures as a result of his serious study of political economy. This view
accepts, rightly, that Marx was a highly intelligent scholar and it is for this
reason that his later work has indeed to be taken most seriously: critique, as
he argues in his mature work, has to return the relations among the things
themselves, the constituted forms of the economic categories, to relations
between men and the critique of the fetishism of the commodity form entails
an attempt at deciphering the puzzling forms as forms assumed by social
relations between man and man.104 He thus defined his critique as a critique
of economic categories and argued that it amounts to a general critique
of the entire system of economic categories.105 For the critical tradition, the
new reading in particular, Marxs critique amounts therefore to an attempt
at deciphering the entire system of economic mystification as a socially
constituted real abstraction. The movement of economic abstraction is both
objective, as the constituted reality of definite social relations expressed in
perverted economic forms, and illusionary in its appearance as a self-moving
economic force of nature.106
For Adorno, Marxs critique engages therefore in a reducio ad hominem.107
According to Reichelt, this formulation brings the core problematic of Marxs
critique into sharp focus: how is it possible to understand the circumstance that
human social practice is constitutive at the same time as when the individuals
are ruled by really existing abstractions.108 The ad hominem critique engages
neither in the fuzzy humanism indicated by its dogmatic opponents nor does
it conceive of economic categories on an abstractly conceived human basis. It
focuses rather on the actual social relations of a definite form of society. Value
is a social relationship in the form of an economic thing. Value . . . is subject
of a process that manifests a relationship between persons as a relationship
between things.109 There is then only one social reality, and not two, as if
the social world were split between the logic of an abstract market structure
that provides the objective framework within which the empirical world of
social actions unfolds in a structured manner. However much society seems
divided between a system of seemingly self-moving economic quantities
and the actions of the social individuals who struggle over the spoils of an

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

economic system that asserts itself independently from them, the separation
between the in-itself and the for-itself, of substance and subject, is abstract
mysticism.110 The circumstance, then, that the fetishism of commodities
renders human social practice invisible in the form of its economic object,
calls for demystification. Yet, demystification does not reveal some hidden
reality of human doing. It reveals rather the constituted untruth of a world
that posits itself according to some innately economic logic, which asserts
itself independently from the social individuals that constitute, comprise and
sustain it through their own social practice. They do this without being aware
of it.111
Marxs work focuses on forms, at first on forms of consciousness (i.e.
religion and law), then later on the forms of political economy. This focus
on forms was identical with the critique of the inverted forms of social
existence, an existence constituted by the life-practice of human beings.112
That is, every social form, even the most simple form like, for example, the
commodity, is already an inversion and causes relations between people
to appear as attributes of things or, more emphatically, each form is a
perverted form, which causes the social relations to appear as a movement
of coins and makes the individual appear as an adjustable derivative of the
economic forces of cash, price and profit, which, as I argued at the start,
the economists set out to determine without metaphysical distractions.113
The movement of coins expresses a definite social relationship between
individuals subsisting as a relationship between things and coins, and in
this relationship the actual social relations subsist but as coined factors of
production. In capitalism individuals are really governed by the movement of
coins they carry their relationship with society, and therewith their access
to the means of subsistence, in their pockets.114 Although they tend to inflate
or become depressed, coins are not subjects. Yet, they impose themselves
on, and also in and through, the person to the point of madness and disaster,
from the socially necessary consciousness of cash and product, money and
profit, to abject misery and bloodshed. Capitalist wealth is money as more
money, and the necessity of more money objectifies itself in the persons as
mere agents of value who depend for their life on the manner in which the
logic of things unfold. What a monstrosity! An economic thing, this coin, that
in its nature really is nothing more than a piece of metal manifests itself as an
economic quantity in fateful movement, asserting a power by which the life
of all men hangs by. That is, the mythological idea of fate becomes no less
mythical when it is demythologized into a secular logic of things that akin
to an abstract system-logic structures the economic behaviours of the actual
individuals by means of competing price signals.115

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

41

Conclusion
The distinction between the structuralist Marxist tradition and the critical
theory reading of Marx could not be sharper.116 Here we have the ad hominem
critique of capitalism, which says that the categories of capitalist political
economy are the categories of definite social relations and that they are thus
immanent to the actual relations of life; and there we have an argument that
every social form can be traced back to some basis in nature and that the
capitalist social relations manifest a historically specific anatomy of some
general economic laws of history. Here we have the notion that the forces of
production and the relations of production belong to the society from which
they spring; there we have the idea that the forces of production comprise
a trans-historical law of labour that manifests itself in the rise and fall of
historically overdetermined forms of social relations.
For the critical theory tradition capitalist wealth manifests a definite
conceptuality of labour, and it recovered this insight against the classical
tradition, which expunged it from the critique of political economy by arguing
that labour is the source of all social wealth in every form of society. Like
classical political economy, it thus conceives of the production of wealth as
productive activity of human beings in general . . . divested . . . of every
social form and determinate character.117 According to the classical tradition,
then, what makes capitalism distinctive is not the peculiar character of social
labour. Rather, it is the legal entitlement of the owner class in the means
of production and the products of labour that distinguish the capitalist social
relations as an historically specific form of wealth appropriation and distribution.
Like the classical political economy, it fails as Marx put it in his critique of
Ricardo to investigate . . . the specific form in which labour manifests itself
as the common element of commodities;118 and it, too, thus regards the
bourgeois form of labour as the eternal natural form of social labour, defined
as a productive force of social wealth abstractly conceived.119 In comparison to
the orthodox tradition, Marxs critique does not suggest the ontologization of
economic laws. Rather, it suggests their critique as the purely social forms of
the actual relations of life. As the theoretical programme of critique this then
formulates the task of deciphering the immanent soul and the peculiar life
of a society that is governed by the movement of economic quantities.120
The new reading of Marx introduced a Marxism stripped off dogmatic
certainties and naturalistic conceptions of society. It brought to the fore a
Marx who subverts the economic object as a seemingly natural thing.
However, its own critical focus was blinkered. In the face of the orthodox
instrumentalization of the categories of class and labour, it sought to

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

renew critical Marxist scholarship without expounding these fundamental


categories. Instead it focused on the value form to establish the living reality
of the capitalist exchange relations, in which the difference between two
distinct commodities becomes commensurable in the form of an equivalent
exchange, in which commodities express their exchange value in the form of
money. In the form of money, commodities are all the same, some abstract
form of value. Indeed, since production is production for exchange value,
exchange value itself becomes use-value, that is, how much value can it
realize in exchange and what is its rate of profit? However, there is no profit
in equivalence exchange. The circumstance that the capitalist exchange
relations comprise an exchange between unequal values in the form of
value equivalence requires explanation. The exchange relations cannot be
fully established without a critical theory of abstract labour, class and class
antagonism. The attempt to do so substitutes the critique of the actual social
relations for a logical development of the value form as some secularized
thing that is valid in-itself, as if value posits more value just like that, without
certificate of birth.121
Capitalist wealth appears as a relationship between one commodity and
another; it appears thus in the form of value, which posits itself as a force of
endless self-expansion. Value enters into a private relation with itself. Value
therefore now becomes value in process, money in process, and, as such,
capital.122 Yet, this independent process of wealth is founded on the peculiar
character of capitalist labour, which is first and foremost characterized by the
commodity form of labour power, which is founded on the divorce of labour
from the means of subsistence. The capital relation can spring to life only on
the condition that labour power exists in the form of a commodity.
Marx develops the peculiar character of the commodity form of labourpower into an argument about the peculiar character of capitalist wealth,
for which the distinction between concrete labour and abstract labour is
as fundamental as the class relationship. As he put it in a letter to Engels,
[t]he best points in my book are 1. (this is fundamental to all understanding of
the facts) the double-character of labour according to whether it is expressed
in use-value or exchange value, which is brought out in the First Chapter; 2.
the treatment of surplus value independent of its particular forms as profit,
interest, rent, etc.123 Capitalist profit entails the class relationship between
the buyer of labour power and the producer of surplus value as seller of labour
power. Thus, the peculiar social form of capitalist labour is founded on the
divorce of labour from its conditions and premised on the double character
of labour as concrete labour and abstract labour. It produces wealth in the
form of surplus value, and the value validity of her labour manifests itself in
exchange by assuming the form of money. In the dazzling form of money,

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

43

value appears akin to an automatic process the original value . . . valorizes


itself independently and money is thrown into circulation and lays golden
eggs. What appears in the exchange equivalence between unequal values (M
. . . M) is money that brought forth living off-springs.124 Marx thus conceives
of the unfolding of the value form as an attempt at showing the origin of this
money-form,125 and argues that it is founded on the peculiar social character
of the capitalist form of labour that becomes productive only by producing its
opposite, that is, value, and value is money in process and as such capital.126
Neither money nor market-based exchange relations are peculiar to
capitalism. Its peculiar character is founded on the existence of a particular
commodity, that is, the commodity labour power. Like any other commodity
it has a use-value and an exchange value, and on the assumption that it is
traded on the basis of the liberal principles of equality, liberty and utility,
labour power is sold and bought by means of an equivalent exchange
according to its value. The peculiar character of the commodity labour power
is that its consumption can create a value greater than its own. It thus has
the capacity to create surplus value, which in the form of profit is realized by
means of an equivalent exchange between the things themselves.127 In the
equivalent exchange relations, money . . . is worth more money and it is this
manifestation of a value which is greater than itself that is core to Marxs
conception of capital as an automatic subject that has acquired the occult
ability to add value to itself. He asks where does it get this quality from, and
argues that money which begets money entails the existence of a particular
commodity whose consumption creates surplus value.128 The comprehension,
then, of the value form as a mysterious thing of value equivalence does not
lie within itself. Rather, and as Adorno saw it, the mysterious appearance
(Schein) of value equivalence lies in surplus value.129 What appears in the
equivalent exchange between two unequal values is surplus value in the form
of profit. The equivalence between unequal values is thus premised on the
concept of surplus value, and therewith the class relationship between the
buyer of labour power and the producer of surplus value.
The following chapters develop these insights. Chapter4 argues that the
conceptuality of capitalist wealth is founded on the divorce of labour from
its conditions, and this divorce, which Marx calls primitive accumulation, is
the constitutive premise of the capitalist class relations. Chapter5 develops
class as the critical category of the false society. Chapter6 unfolds the double
character of labour as concrete labour and abstract labour, which Marx holds
to be fundamental to the understanding of the ghost-walking of Monsieur le
Capital and Madame la Terre. What appears identical in the form of abstract
equivalence is non-identity under the aspect of identity.130 The following
chapter explores the social praxis of a ghost-walking world.

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

Notes
1 These characterizations can be found at the beginning of Marxs critique
of the fetishism of commodities, Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.1634. The
term sensuous-supersensible thing cannot be found in the English edition
of Capital. Marx uses the formulation sinnlich bersinnlich twice in the
German edition of Kapital, vol. I (MEW 23), pp.85, 86, and once in his Zur
Kritik der Politischen konomie (Berlin 1981), p.29. The English version
translates it first as transcendent and then as sensuous things, which are
at the same time suprasensible or social (Capital, vol. I, pp.163, 165)and
the English version of the Critique translates it as an abstract thing. Karl
Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (London 1971),
p.42. I translate sinnlich bersinnlich as sensuous-supersensible in
accordance with the English version of Hegels Phenomenology, where
bersinnlich is translated as supersensible. On this, see Helmut Reichelt,
Social Reality as Appearance: Some Notes on Marxs Concept of Reality,
in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis, Human Dignity. Social
Autonomy and the Critique of Capitalism (Aldershot 2005).
2 On this line of argument, see also Simon Clarke, Althusserian Marxism, in
ed. Simon Clarke, Terry Lovell, Kevin McDonnell, Kevin Robins and Victor
Seidler, One Dimensional Marxism. Althusser and the Politics of Culture
(London 1980).
3 Karl Marx, Comments on James Mill, lments d conomie politique, in
Collected Works, vol. 3 (London 1975), p.215.
4 On this, see Simon Clarke, Marx Marginalism and Modern Sociology
(London 1991). I will return to Smiths conception of history later in this
chapter when discussing the structuralist Marxist tradition.
5 Backhaus, Die Dialektik der Wertform (Freiburg 1997), p.60.
6 As Jevons put it, I do not write for mathematicians, nor as a
mathematician, but as an economist wishing to convince other economists
that their science can only be satisfactorily treated on an explicitly
mathematical basis. William Stanley Jevons, The Theory of Political
Economy (London 1888), http://www.econlib.org/library/YPDBooks/
Jevons/jvnPE.html (accessed 4 February 2013), p.4.
7 Marx, Comments on James Mill, p.33.
8 Marx, A Contribution, p.35.
9 Keynesian political economy accepts the market as an institution in which
economic values are in constant flow, and recognizes that the circularity of
this flow, a flow of buying and selling and reconversion of earned profits
into a means of investment, is not at all guaranteed. The state is thus called
upon as the public authority to maintain the circular flow of economic
values, preventing leakages and stoppages for the sake of economic
progress. On Keynesianism, see Simon Clarke, Keynesianism, Monetarism
and the Crisis of the State (Cheltenham 1988). John Holloway, The Abyss
Opens: The Rise and Fall of Keynesianism, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

45

John Holloway, Global Capital, National State and the Politics of Money
(London 1995).
10 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. III (London 1966), chap.48. On the meaning of
perverted in this context, see chapter1, fn. 42.
11 Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London 1990), p.320.
12 Max Horkheimer, Kritische und Traditionelle Theorie (Frankfurt 1992),
p.207.
13 Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London 1973), pp.87, 157.
14 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.174.
15 Joan Robinson, Economic Philosophy. An Essay on the Progress of
Economic Thought (New York 1962), pp.68, 88.
16 The point about the social validity of abstract economic laws derives from
Reichelt, Social Reality.
17 Marx, Grundrisse, p.87.
18 Robinson, Economic Philosophy, p.68.
19 Nicholas Kaldor, The Relations of Economic Growth and Cyclical
Fluctuations, Economic Journal, vol. 64, no.253 (1954), pp.5371.
20 Samuel Brittan, Hayek, Friedrich August (19881992), Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography (Oxford 2004), http://www.oxforddnb.com/
index/51/101051095/ (accessed 28 April 2013).
21 Daniel Bell, Sociological Journey: Essays 1960 1980 (London 1980), p.70.
This part of the argument draws on Backhaus, Dialektik.
22 Robinson, Economic Philosophy. See also Reichelt, Why did Marx Conceal
His Dialectical Method? in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn, John
Holloway and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism: Emancipating Marx
(London 1995).
23 Joseph Schumpeter, Das Wesen und der Hauptinhalt der theoretischen
Nationalkonomie (Leipzig 1908), p.26.
24 Joseph Schumpeter, Geschichte der konomischen Analyse (Gttingen
1965), pp.35, 37.
25 Joseph Schumpeter, Theorie der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung (Berlin
1964), p.189.
26 Schumpeter, Geschichte.
27 Robinson, Economic Philosophy, p.88.
28 Kunihiro Jojima, konomie und Physik (Berlin 1985).
29 Jean-Baptiste Say, A Treaties on Political Economy (New York 1971).
30 Jevons, The Theory of Political Economy, conceived of the relationship
between economic benefit and economic cost in terms of a relationship
between pleasure and pain, which crudely put involved the pain of
spending money in relation to the pleasure of purchasing a commodity.
He therefore defined value in subjective terms as utility: the utility of a
commodity accords value to it as an expression of pleasure over pain.

46

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY


The cost-benefit analysis is the economic account of life in general, see
Simon Bowmaker, Economics Uncut. A Complete Guide to Life, Death, and
Misadventure (Aldershot 2005).

31 Before 2008, market behaviour was buoyant as the numbers of successes


seemingly spoke for themselves. Lucas who won the Nobel Prize in
Economics in 1995 asserted in 2003 that the problem of depressionprevention has been solved, for all practical purposes, and has in fact
been solved for many decades. Robert Lucas, Macroeconomic Priorities,
American Economic Review, vol. 93, no.1 (2003), p.1. In 2007, he was
of the view that if we have learned anything from the past 20years it is
that there is a lot of stability built into the real economy. Robert Lucas,
Mortgages and Monetary Policy, The Wall Street Journal Online (19
September 2007), p.20. David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital (Oxford
2011), reports that when, in 2008, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
asked her assembled economists at the London School of Economics
why they had not foreseen the economic crisis, no ready response was
forthcoming the numbers had changed overnight, from boom to bust.
32 Pierre Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of
Right and of Government (Teddington 2008), pp.1056.
33 Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, vol. 3 (London 1972), p.316.
34 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of
Nations (Indianapolis 1981), p.25. See also Israel Kirzner, Human Nature
and the Character of Economic Science, Harvard Review of Philosophy,
vol. VIII (2000), pp.1423. Samuel Brittan, Essays, Moral, Political and
Economic (Edinburgh 1998).
35 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.176. The German original says gegenstndlicher
Schein. Marx, Das Kapital (Berlin 1979), p.97.
36 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.168.
37 Louis Althusser, For Marx (London 1996), chap.7.
38 Louis Althusser, Preface to Capital Volume One, in Lenin and Philosophy
(New York 1971).
39 Althusser, For Marx, p.230.
40 See Althusser, Preface, pp.712.
41 Alfred Schmidt, History and Structure (Cambridge, MA 1983), p.83.
42 On this, see Alfred Schmidt, Der strukturalistische Angriff auf
die Geschichte, in ed. Alfred Schmidt, Beitrge zur marxistischen
Erkenntnistheorie (Frankfurt 1969). Adorno, too, rejects the anthropological
view of history and economy and its spongy rhetoric of an abstractly
conceived humanism. See Dirk Braunstein, Adornos Kritik der politischen
konomie (Bielefeld 2011), p.29. For Schmidt the Marx of 1844 does not
illuminate the Marx of Capital. However, the Marx of Capital illuminates
the Marx of 1844. Althussers valid critique of the abstract humanism
of the early Marx does not imply that the Marx of the critique of political
economy is anti-humanistic. Rather, the economic Marx is the humanist
Marx because his critique of capitalist society seeks to decipher the actual

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

47

relations of life in their inverted form of economic things. The critique of


political economy does not reveal trans-historical economic laws of nature
nor does it argue on the basis of some abstract human essence that in
capitalism exists in alienated form. The humanism of the late Marx lies
in the conception of capitalism as comprising a definite form of social
relations. On the idea that Man alienates herself in economic forms, see
Bertell Ollmans book Alienation (Cambridge 1977).
43 Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy (New York 1971), p.160.
44 Louis Althusser, For Marx (London 1996), p.229.
45 Nicos Poulantzas, Theorie und Geschichte: Kurze Bemerkung ber den
Gegenstand des Kapitals, in ed. Walter Euchner and Alfred Schmdit,
Kritik der politischen konomie, 100 Jahre Kapital (Frankfurt 1969), p.65.
46 On the alienated subject, see Hans- Georg Backhaus, Between Philosophy
and Science: Marxian Social Economy as Critical Theory, in ed. Werner
Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism, vol. I,
pp.93132 (London 1992), p.81; On the doing subject, see John
Holloway, Crack Capitalism (London 2010).
47 Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Vorlesungen zur Einfhrung ins Kapital (Hamburg
2005), p.11. I discuss Haugs contribution in Naturalisation versus Critique
of Economic Categories, Critique. Journal of Socialist Theory, vol. 37, no.2
(2009), pp.27992.
48 Joachim Hirsch, The State Apparatus and Social Reproduction: Elements
of a Theory of the Bourgeois State, in ed. John Holloway and Sol Picciotto,
State and Capital (London 1978), pp.745, emphasis added.
49 See, for example, Bob Jessop, Polar Bears and Class Struggle, in ed.
Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway, Post-Fordism and Social Form (London
1991).
50 According to Harvey, we can only do as nature does. David Harvey,
History versus Theory: A Commentary of Marxs Method in Capital ,
Historical Materialism, vol. 20, no.2 (2012), p.13.
51 Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Vorlesungen zur Einfhrung ins Kapital (Hamburg
2005), p.108.
52 Haug, Vorlesungen zur Einfhrung, p.96.
53 Postone, Time, Labour and Social Domination (Cambridge 1996), p.9.
See also Simon Clarke, Althusserian Marxism, in ed. Simon Clarke, Terry
Lovell, Kevin McDonnell, Kevin Robins and Victor Seidler, One Dimensional
Marxism. Althusser and the Politics of Culture (London 1980).
54 tienne Balibar, The Basic Concepts of Historical Materialism, in Louis
Althusser and tienne Balibar, Reading Capital (London 1970), p.233.
55 Clarke, Althusserian Marxism, p.60.
56 In this account the law of value exists twice, once as a value meta-form
that is trans-historical in its nature and which entails value as the enduring
mechanism of wealth attribution and distribution in the abstract, and then
there is its capitalist form as a historically specific modality of wealth

48

CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY


distribution in class-relevant terms. See Jessop, Polar Bears; Haug,
Vorlesungen zur Einfhrung.

57 Bob Jessop, State Power: A Strategic-Relational Approach (Cambridge


2008), p.178.
58 Patrick Murray, Marxs Truly Social Labour Theory of Value, Historical
Materialism, vol. 6 (Summer 2000), p.64, fn. 21.
59 Harvey, History versus Theory: A Commentary of Marxs Method in
Capital , p.13.
60 Postone, Time, Labour and Social Domination, develops this point most
forcefully in his critique of Marxian economics.
61 Friederich Engels, Anti-Dhring, MEW 20 (Berlin 1983), p.106.
62 This point is most storngly made by Horkheimer, Kritische und Traditionelle
Theorie, p.246.
63 As argued most forcefully by Jacques Bidet, Exploring Marxs Capital:
Philosophical, Economic and Political Dimensions (Chicago 2009).
64 Haug, Vorlesungen zur Einfhrung, p.150.
65 Alex Callinicos, Against the New Dialectic, Historical Materialism, vol. 13,
no.2 (2005), pp. 4159. See Vasilis Grollios, Alex Callinicoss Marxism,
Critique, vol. 41, no.1 (2013), pp. 5579 for a similar critique to mine.
66 This further development of the structuralist account belongs to Bob
Jessop, Nicos Poulantzas: Marxist Theory and Political Strategy (London
1985).
67 Haug, Vorlesungen zur Einfhrung, p.102. The force of this view remains
undiminished. See, for example, Costas Lapavistas, Crisis in the Eurozone
(London 2012). Alfredo Saad-Fhilo, Crisis in neoliberalism or crisis of
neoliberalism? in ed. Leo Panitch, Gregory Albo and Vivek Chibber,
Socialist Register 2011 (London 2010).
68 See Althusser, Preface, pp.712.
69 Clarke, Althusserian Marxism, p.47.
70 Adam Ferguson, Essays on the History of Civil Society (Edinburgh 1966),
p.122.
71 In his critique of traditional historical materialist ideas about history
as a force of its own becoming, Adorno dryly remarks that historic
determination is known as a metaphysical accident. Adorno, Negative
Dialectics, p.323. In Jessops terminology, society is a Fundsache a
chance discovery. See Jessop, Polar Bears, see also Bob Jessop and
Ngai-Ling Sum, Beyond the Regulation Approach (Aldershot 2006)and
Alain Lipietz, Vom Althusserianismus zur Theorie der Regulation, in ed.
Alex Demirovic, Hans-Peter Krebs and Thomas Sablowski, Hegemonie und
Staat (Mnster 1992).
72 On this, see Alfred Schmidt, The Concept of Nature in Marx (London 1971).
73 Schmidt, History and Structure, p.81.
74 Terry Eagleton, Why Marx was Right (New Haven 2011), pp.434.

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION

49

75 On this definition see, Paul Samuelson, Economics: An Introductory


Analysis (London 1947).
76 Lionel Robbins, An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic
Science (London 1932).
77 Karl Marx, Zur Kritik der Politischen konomie. Urtext, MEGA II.2
(Oldenbourg 1991), p.64.
78 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.205.
79 Adorno, Lectures on History and Freedom (Cambridge 2008a), p.25.
80 Althusser, For Marx, p.237.
81 Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (London 1974), p.114.
82 See Max Horkheimer, Zur Kritik der instrumentellen Vernunft (Frankfurt
1985), p.84.
83 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.197, 11, 196.
84 Adornos and Horkheimers Dialectic of Enlightenment (London 1979),
does not argue trans-historically. It analyses the historical foundation of the
present. On this, see chapter IV, fn. 22.
85 Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, in Collected Works vol. 6 (London
1976). Marx, Grundrisse, pp.2489. Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha
Programme.
86 Marx, Grundrisse, p.83.
87 Marx, Theories, p.254, emphasis added, and translation altered, based on
the German original.
88 Engels, Anti-Dhring, p.132. Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.494, fn. 4.
89 Marx, Theories, pp.165, 167.
90 Althussers recommendation to skip this section of Capital recognizes its
challenge to the structuralist account.
91 Marx, Grundrisse, p.706.
92 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.355, 35860.
93 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.205. The quotation is adapted from the
German original of Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt 1973),p.205. The English
version translates relations of production as conditions, which confuses
the very point that Adorno is trying to make.
94 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.358.
95 Walter Benjamin, Thesis on the Philosophy of History, in Illuminations
(London 1999).
96 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.3989.
97 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.456.
98 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.205.
99 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.188. Translation amended from the German
original in Adorno, Negative Dialektik, p.190.

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

100 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.168, 772. See also Adorno, Negative Dialectics,
p.355.
101 Theodor Adorno, Gesellschaftstheorie und Kulturkritik (Frankfurt 1975),
p.60.
102 Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel s Philosophy of Right, in
Collected Works, vol. 1 (London 1975), p.182.
103 Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, Collected Works, vol. 5 (London 1975).
104 Marx, Theories, p.147.
105 Marx, A Contribution, p.22. Marx, Theories, p.254.
106 This point is made most forcefully by Reichelt, Zur logischen Struktur.
107 Adorno, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften, in Theodor Adorno, Hans
Albert, Ralf Darendorf, Jrgen Habermas, Harald Pilot and Karl Popper,
Der Positivismusstreit in der deutschen Soziologie (Munich 1993), p.143.
Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.186, 387.
108 See, Helmut Reichelt, Jrgen Habermas Reconstruction of Historical
Materialism, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis, The
Politics of Change (London 2000).
109 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.255.
110 Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Law, p.62.
111 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.1667.
112 Reichelt, Jrgen Habermas Reconstruction, p.105.
113 Marx, Theories, p.508. Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.169. On the meaning
of perversion, see chapter I, fn. 42. See also Backhaus, Dialektik der
Wertform, for a critique of economic theory as a metaphysics.
114 On this, see Marx, Grundrisse, pp.1567.
115 Adorno, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften, pp.311, 31920.
116 Perry Anderson, Considerations of Western Marxism (London 1976),
pp.723, does not agree. He notes that there is a remarkable similarity
between Althussers structuralist account and Adornos Negative
Dialectics.
117 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.815; translation amended.
118 Marx, Theories, p.138.
119 Marx, A Contribution, p.60.
120 Karl Marx, konomische Manuskripte 1857/58, MEGA II.1.1 (Berlin 1976),
p.10.
121 Chris Arthurs, The New Dialectic and Marxs Capital (Leiden 2004), critical
theory argues that value is self-positing.
122 Marx, konomische Manuskripte, p.256.
123 Karl Marx, Letter to Engels, 24.8.1867, Collected Works, vol. 42 (London
1987), p.407.
124 Marx, Capital, p.255.

POLITICAL ECONOMY AND SOCIAL CONSTITUTION


125 Marx, Capital, p.139. See also Helmut Reichelt, Zur Konstitution
konomischer Gesellschaftlichkeit, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Michael
Heinrich, Kapital & Kritik (Hamburg 2011).
126 Marx, Grundrisse, p.305.
127 Marx, Theories, p.127.
128 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.2557.
129 See Adorno, Mitschrift, pp.5078.
130 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.5.

51

3
Society as subject and society
as object: On social praxis
Preamble
They [the adherents of dialectical materialism] did not challenge
the ideas of humanity, liberty justice as such, but merely denied
the claim of our society to represent the realization of these ideas.
Though they treated the ideologies as illusions, they still found
them illusions of truth itself. This lent a conciliatory splendour, if not
to the existent at least to its objective tendencies . . . Ideologies
were unmasked as apologetic concealments . . . [and] were rarely
conceived as powerful instruments functioning in order to change
liberal competitive society into a system of immediate oppression
. . . Above all the leftist critics failed to notice that the ideas
themselves in their abstract form are not merely images of the
truth that will later materialize but that they are ailing themselves,
afflicted with the same injustice under which they are conceived
and bound up with the world against which they are set.1
What divides these gentlemen from the bourgeois apologist is, on
the one side, their sensitivity to the contradictions included in the
system on the other, the utopian inability to grasp the necessary
difference between the real and the ideal form of bourgeois
society, which is the cause of their desire to undertake the
superfluous business of realizing the ideal expression again, which
is in fact only the inverted projection [Lichtbild] of this reality.2

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

Introduction
Marxs argument that the monstrous objective power which social labour itself
created opposite itself as one of its moments is key to the critique of political
economy as a critical social theory.3 Not only does he argue that the monstrous
economic power is a product of social labour but also that it is beyond the control
of the social individuals. He thus characterizes the commodity as a sensuous
supersensible thing.4 The fetishism of commodities does not disguise the real
social relations of capitalism. Rather, the fetishism of commodities expresses
the real social relations in the form of capital as the automatic subject of
bourgeois society. For the ad hominem critique of economic categories,
the essence of the inverted world of economic things cannot be conceived
independently from its form of appearance.5 As the previous chapter argued,
the ad hominem critique is charged with cracking the relations of economic
objectivity as the apotheosized forms of the actual, given relations of life.6 It
decodes economic nature on a social basis, and thus comprehends, at least, that
is, its critical intension, the necessary disappearance of society in its economic
appearance. It thus amounts to an attempt at deciphering the immanent soul
of the seemingly natural economic forces in order to comprehend the peculiar
life7 of the strange things that abound with theological niceties.8
The insight that capital is not a thing but a social relationship between
persons expressed as a thing entails the critique of political economy as a
critical social theory.9 This chapter develops this critique in four sections. The
next section follows on from the previous chapter. It argues that concepts,
rather than being scientific instruments that can be applied to reality, seemingly
from the outside, belong in fact to the same reality that they analyse. In this
context, it assesses Lukcss theory of reification as an entirely traditional
account of the economic laws from the standpoint of labour. The following
section develops this theme further by exploring Marxs thesis that all social life
is essentially practical, however perverted in the form of the economic object.
Section three develops dialectics as an immanent critique of the false society.
The final section argues that historical materialism is at its best a critique of
things understood dogmatically. It amounts, as Sohn Rethel put it succinctly,
to an anamnesis of the social origin, or genesis, of real abstractions.10

On the concept of society


For a critical theory of society, the social relations of production are not
historically overdetermined manifestations of general economic laws. Critical

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

55

theory argues that economic laws are purely social forms that appear as
laws of economic nature. Their nature is a social nature and the genesis of
the monstrous objective power of economic laws is an entirely socially
constituted monstrosity. There is thus no theoretical vantage point from
which to analyse society as an object of microscopic scientific study. Social
theory is immanent to its own context. Rather than analysing the actual social
relations as historically specific manifestations of some general economic
laws of development, it thinks out of society, and thus out of its own context,
to establish the conceptuality of the existent social relations.
The conceptualization of the economic categories as purely social forms
entails the critique of political economy as a critique of ideology. Critically
conceived, ideology is not a worldview that attributes meanings to social
things from this or that moral or political standpoint. Rather, ideology is an
objective term that focuses the socially necessary appearance of society, one
in which human social reproduction appears in the form of a movement of
incomprehensible economic quantities. The critique of political economy does
not therefore reveal some ontological priority of the economy, as Lukcs
asserts. In Lukcs account, the economy manifests a second nature,11 and
nature, he says, runs its course . . . according to its own dialectic, independent
of the teleological projects of men.12 The presumption of some natural laws
that govern the economic process entails the derivation of the actual relations
from the self-development of the economy.13 Lukcss account remains
dogmatic.14 It identifies society as an as if of developed economic nature.
Instead of deciphering the appearance of economic nature on a social basis,
his tireless charge of reification posits this socially constituted economic
nature as the ontological premise of society.15 He thus naturalizes the economic
forms and condemns their capitalist mode of functioning (Wirkungsweise)
from the standpoint of labour, as the as if of socialist rationalization. For
a critical theory of political economy the perception of capitalist economic
laws as historically overdetermined laws of economic nature expresses the
fetishism of commodities in ideological form it posits society unaware of
itself as the premise of its theoretical dogma to lead the struggling masses,
to show them the way towards the socialist manifestation of economic
necessity, conceived abstractly as a necessity of nature.16
In contrast to Lukcss theory of reification, Adornos critical theory refuses
to lend itself to sanctioning things as they are. Intended as a theory without
affirmative traits, it purports to demystify rigidified, thing-like, congealed
relationships, rendering their immediacy transparent as socially constituted
things.17 For example, Marx writes that in the money fetish, a social relation,
a definite relation between individuals . . . appears as a metal, a stone, as a
purely physical external thing which can be found, as such, in nature, and

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

which is indistinguishable in form from its natural existence.18 There is only


one world, and that is the world of appearance. However, what is appearance
an appearance of, and what appears in appearance? Social objectivity does
not lead a life of its own.19 The relationship between coins is a socially
constituted relationship of economic objectivity the social relations vanish
in their economic appearance as a relationship between coined metals, and
this appearance is real it imposes itself over the social individuals because
it prevails in and through them. What appears in the appearance of society as
a stone, or a coin, is thus a definite social relationship between individuals
subsisting as a relationship between coins. Adorno therefore argues that all
concepts, even the philosophical ones, refer to non-conceptualities. 20 Say, the
economic concept of profit entails what it is not; that is, it entails the definite
social relations between individuals as the vanished premise of its economic
force. What has vanished cannot be conceptualized. Man is not visible in the
movement of economic quantities, and appears as a metaphysical distraction
to the economic analysis of all things economic. This distraction is all-important.
Capital is not a very mystic being of nature. It is a very mystic being of a
definite form of social relations.21 Critically conceived, historical materialism
opens up the non-conceptual with the aid of the concept, without reducing
it to the concept.22 It thus explores the economic concept from within, and
as such extinguishes the autarky of the concept, strips the blindfold from our
eyes. That the concept is a concept even when dealing with things in being
does not change the fact that on its part it is entwined with a non-conceptual
whole, that is, Man in her actual relations of life as a personification of her
own reified world.23
Adornos insight is fundamental to the understanding of Marxs critique of
political economy as a critical social theory. In the face of mythical economic
properties, it rejects the scientific doctrine of invariants and instead aims
at the thing itself from within its own context in order to grasp its social
nature.24 Chris Arthur rightly commends Adorno for having understood that
capitalism has a specific conceptuality, and that therefore conceptuality
holds sway in reality (Sache) itself.25 In the critical tradition, conceptualization
therefore does not mean the expounding of meta-theories, which, by means
of infinite regress, finishes up akin to the doctrine of the Invisible Hand with
deist conceptions of social existence, whether in their religious form of the
power of the Almighty or their secularized forms of the so-called logic of selfdeveloping economic things. Instead, it grounds the existence of invisible
principles in definite social relations, argues that it is these that produce their
own enslavement to the invisible, whether in its religious form of God or
secularized form of price movements. Furthermore, conceptuality does not
also entail the explanation of one thing by reference to another. Such thought

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

57

moves from one thing to another in an attempt to render its terms coherent
by means of external reference. The state is explained by reference to the
economic, and the economic by reference to the state. Similarly, demand is
explained by supply and supply by demand. By means of vicious circularity,
then, explanation becomes tautological. Further, conceptuality does not
mean the discovery of natural laws, like, for example, the natural tendency
of Man to barter, as Adam Smith alleged. That Man has to eat says nothing
about her mode of subsistence and the social necessities that a mode of
subsistence entails so-called social laws. Society, not nature, is the point of
critical departure.
Conceptualization means to bring the thing to its concept [die Sache auf
den Begriff bringen, der Begriff der Sache]. It has to do with the recognition of
reality not with the analysis of given socio-economic data. Conceptualization
goes beyond the perception of reality in its immediate appearance as one
governed by the movement of coins. For a critical theory of society, concepts
are moments of a reality that requires their formation. 26 They do not mirror
society. They explore society from within, expounding its coined reality.
The comprehension of things is therefore not the same as their
identification qua definition, or indeed registration in a system governed by,
for example, ideal-types. To comprehend things means to recognize their
existence in connection not with other things but in and through them.27
Thinking by means of definition or identification is quite able to say what
something comes under, what it illustrates, exemplifies or represents. It does
not, however, say what the thing is. Thinking, as Adorno saw it, is essentially
the negation of things in their dazzling appearance.28 Conceptualization thus
means to subvert the immediate appearance of things in order to recognize
them in their now pregnant immediacy a mediated immediacy [vermittelte
Unmittelbarkeit]. As a critical social theory, the critique of political economy
does not bow to economic things. It wants to know what they are, and what
they are is within them. It does not pretend that the immediate appearance
of things is unreal; nor does it simply negate the world of appearances as
if it were no more than a veil that hides the real human being in her social
relations. Rather it recognizes society for what it is: the human being itself in
its social relations, however perverted these relations appear in their inverted
form of a movement of coined economic forces.29 As a social product, the
reified world is a human world. As such, it manifests the objective necessity
of the existing relations of social reproduction, to which we owe everything
and that yet [threaten] to bury us all. 30
Thus, conceptualization does not mean thinking about things. Rather,
it means thinking out of things.31 If it were really about things, then
conceptualization would be external to its subject matter. Thought that does

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

not go into its object does not recognize its object. Instead, it hypostatizes
the social object as a natural thing, and by doing so, analyses it as an as if of
theoretical construction. By hypothesizing the objective world it hypothesizes
itself as the scientific consciousness of some general economic laws in being
and becoming.32 Such thought is able to name and order things but cannot
tell us what they are. On the one hand, its critique of reality is a moral one,
proclaiming for the ideas of humanity, liberty, and justice in abstraction from
society.33 In its vulgar version, on the other hand, it operates akin to a cash
register eager to calculate and predict the movement of economic quantities
with winning intent, without asking itself, and indeed rejecting the question
itself as an unscientific metaphysical diversion, what these quantities might
be. For instance does price of labour amount to a yellow logarithm or is,
say, 10 an hour just and fair?34 Whatever its fairness or unfairness, analytical
thinking does not bring the wage relation to its concept. Instead it offers a view
about the manner in which social wealth is distributed, without scrutinizing
the conceptuality of the capitalist form of wealth that rests on an equivalent
exchange between the buyers of labour power and the producers of surplus
value. Why has human labour power acquired the form of a commodity?
What laws of necessity exist in a society in which a whole class of individuals
is compelled to sell their labour power in order to gain access to the means of
subsistence? What does it mean to say that maintaining this access depends
on the progressive accumulation of the surplus value that the buyer of labour
power extracted from the labourer during the working day? That is, reification
really is an epiphenomenon. What is reified and what therefore appears in
reification? The social relations assert themselves in the reified form of coins
that move in fateful ways, determining the access to the means of subsistence
for the class tight to work, and the rate of return on somebody elses labour
for the buyers of labour power. To be a productive labourer, says Marx, is not
a piece of luck but a misfortune, and it this misfortune that asserts itself in
the inverted form of a coined freedom, in which the progressive accumulation
of extracted surplus value is the condition of achieving a labour contract that
provides access to subsistence. 35
In order to understand things, one has to be within them. The work of
the concept [die Arbeit des Begriffs] is immanent to its own social context.
The concept, of course, does not work. We do. The work of the concept
thus means to be led by thought without fear of where that might take
us. Fundamentally, its purpose is a subversive one. 36 It turns the relations
of economic objectivity upside down to find their rational explanation in
the comprehension of human practice. What belongs to the constituted
conceptuality of, say, the form of money? Is it a cunningly conceived
technical instrument of economic calculation and medium of exchange that

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

59

emerges from the pursuit of individual self-interest and comes to express


the collective wisdom of society, as Menger argues?37 Or is it the dazzling
form of capitalist wealth? What lies within its dazzling concept? Revealing
the constituted conceptuality of things entails discovery of their immanent
soul and peculiar life; it entails understanding their mode of motion
[Bewegungsweise], their capacity and power [Macht], their constituted
force and social necessity. Conceptualization thus means articulating what is
active in things and comprehending the violence that is hidden within their
civilized appearance as an exchange between property owners who in spite
of their manifest inequality in the ownership of the means of subsistence
are equal in the eyes of the law and who thus contract with each other
by their own free will, each pursuing their own interest in this Eden of the
innate rights of Man that substitutes direct, personal coercion with forms of
abstract dependency, with economic compulsion. 38
The individuals are governed by abstractions, and their life-circumstances
really are dependent on the movement of economic quantities. Economic
compulsion is a force of great misery that appears in the form of contractual
freedom, according to which nobody is obliged to anybody in particular and
therefore everybody is responsible for themselves. The freedom of contract
thus entails the force of silent economic compulsion that brings under
its sway a whole class of individuals who possess no other property than
their labour power and who must therefore by necessity become the selfresponsible slave of other individuals who have made themselves the owners
of the means of human existence. 39 That is to say, the class relationship
makes up the objective motor of the production process, and it is the
profitable extraction of surplus value from living labour upon which the social
reproduction of a whole class of dependent sellers of labour power depends
in its entirety.40 The higher the rate of return on exploited labour, the greater
the prospects for the labourer to achieve a contract of future employment.
The world of economic rationality is a perverted world.
The critical effort at deciphering the conceptuality of objective economic
forms works against its own tendency. Its critical intent is to demystify the
fetish; however, to conceptualize means to identify. Identification does not
crush the fetish; it affirms it. Conceptualization is thus itself contradictory it
has to think against itself in order to reveal things. In short, the conceptualization
of economic things as the objectified (vergegenstndlichte) forces of the
actual relations of life entails more than just their identification as perverted
social forces. Fundamentally, it entails the recognition of the sheer unrest of
life as the non-conceptual premise of the constituted economic forms.41 That
is, the conceptualization of economic things entails not only the recognition of
their contradictory, fractured, fragmented and indeed antagonistic character,

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

it also entails the understanding that capitalist society does not reproduce
itself despite the social antagonism. Rather, it maintains itself only through
antagonism.42 The antagonistic character of bourgeois society is immanent to
its concept. Society is the appearance of disunity in the unity of its concept.
The social antagonism asserts itself not only over the social individuals, it
asserts itself also in and through the social individuals who for the sake of their
life react under the compulsion of the movement of economic quantities,
sustaining themselves as personifications of economic categories.43

On social praxis
All social life is essentially practical. This, from Marxs 8th Feuerbach thesis,
includes thinking. Thinking is part of social life and all social life is essentially
practical. The thesis continues: All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism
find their rational explanation in human practice and in the comprehension
of this practice. The thesis is clear and at the same time most difficult.
Thought is to reveal reality by demystifying it, and demystification is a
matter of comprehending the human practice that is not immediately visible
in the mysterious social forms. Human practice is deemed essential as the
foundation of the social mysteries, and thoughts purpose is a subversive one:
it is to reveal the hidden social essence of mysterious things.44 For thought
to be thought it needs to comprehend human practice, or as Marx put it in
Capital, develop from the actual, given relations of life the form in which
these have been apotheosized.45 The comprehension of human practice
demystifies the world of economic things. And here the difficulties start.
What human practice has Marx in mind and where might it be found? The
appearance of human practice in the world as we know it does not show the
human practice whose comprehension alone is said to explain it. Marxs thesis
suggests that human practice needs to be discovered by thought in order to
comprehend the mysticism of its own appearance in the form of an economic
object that possesses the obscure quality of positing unequal values as equal
in equivalence exchange (M . . . M). In the form of an economic relationship
between price and product, human practice is the practice of coined economic
agents, who sustain the unconscious society by their own rational action.46
What appears in appearance is the enchanted world of capitalist wealth that
in the form of value asserts itself as if it were a force of nature. What sort of
human practice do we have to comprehend for the sake of demystification
and which practice is the valid one? And this in a society where the living have
been replaced by the dead that is, by the actions of economic things.47

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61

The problem analysed here is well focused by Helmut Reichelt. Expounding


on Marxs critique of fetishism human social relations appear as relations
between things and this appearance is real he argues that capitalist
exchange relations suggest that rationally acting subjects meet freely in the
marketplace to realize their rational interests, whereas in fact they act as
executives of abstract social laws which they themselves have generated
historically and reproduce through their rational behaviour, and over which
they have no control. The perception of society thus
ensues from within the subjects who . . . make contracts in the sphere of
circulation, where they deal in mysterious economic forms with so-called
goods, and who have always already perceived of each other as equal
and free subjects of law, and who, prior to this thinly veiled perception of
themselves as independent subjects, experience class society as one of
inequality, exploitation and rule by an autonomised system.48
Society is thus experienced not only as a class society based on inequality,
exploitation and domination, it is also experienced as a real abstraction,
that is, it entails both chance and necessity, which are experienced as fate.
The supersensible world of real abstractions subsists thus not merely over
peoples heads, but through them. That is, it prevails over mankind as
something that prevails in them.49 Sensuous practice is contained within the
enchanted world of real abstractions as that which has not been included
in its concept.50 The world of economic forces expresses sensuous human
practice in the form of a social hieroglyphic.51 Value, thus, asserts itself
as the autonomic subject of more value, instantiating, as Arthur sees it, its
own self-valorization.52 However, the power of value to instantiate its own
expansion, passes not merely over peoples heads, but through them.53 That
is to say, the supersensible world contains the social individual within itself as
the sensuous personification of her own reified social world.
The circumstance that subjective rational behaviour subsists through
a context of objective irrationality, that is, beyond human control, makes
society appear as an objectively unfolding force. Traditionally this unfolding
is analysed as a relationship between the forces of production and the
social relations of production that comprise the actions of the social classes
and other social groups within an overdetermined structured framework
of economic laws. Human action unfolds within an objective framework.
This view is widely shared, from Hayeks praise of the logic of the market
as the best possible framework for the pursuit of individual autonomy, to
Althussers theory of capitalism as an historically overdetermined structure of
the general economic laws, and Habermass dualist differentiation of reality

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

into life-world and system-world.54 If, as Marx claims, the comprehension of


human practice really is key to the comprehension of the enchanted world
of economic objects, can this same human practice be derived from those
same things whose comprehension is said to depend on the understanding
of human practice? Instead of being demystified, the world of things would
be affirmed in every conceivable way. The idea that society is subject to
natural laws is ideology if it is hypostasized as immutably given by nature.55
The fetishism of commodities expresses the social nature of the inverted
[verkehrte] and perverted [verrckte] world of definite social relations that
vanish in the theological niceties of strange things only to reappear as
the living character masks of economic categories. Social reproduction is
governed by the movement of coins that structure the social relations and
yet, the systemic property of the economic laws is entirely social: their own
movement within society has for them the form of a movement made by
things, and these things, far from being under their control, in fact control
them.56
Marxs thesis that the understanding of the world of things has to
comprehend human practice implies that this practice is constitutive.
However, this formulation is full of dangers, too. It invites, argues Adorno, the
liquidation of everything thinglike regressed to the subjectivism of the pure
act of human doing.57 Does human doing remain external to its own perverted
social product? Negri says that capital is a bewitching force whose power
is such that the doing, or the constitutive subject is, as it were, sucked into
capital.58 The real power, it seems, is not the constitutive but the constituted
subject. There is, however, only one reality, the recognition of which is
fundamental to the ad hominem critique of political economy.59 It does not
disregard its object of critique by elevating human subjective doing into a
natural social essence.60 The essence of capitalist society is capital itself, and
capital is fundamentally just a name of a definite form of social relations. Nor
does it mock the human subject by declaring it redundant.61 The meaning
of objectivity excludes the possibility that it can also be a subject. However,
there can be no subject without objectification. Detached from objectivity,
subjectivity amounts to a pure being of nothingness, without time and place,
that, always ready to denounce and condemn, asserts its existence for this
or that cause of action because of itself, indifferent to social contents.62 As a
subject of action for its own sake, it proclaims mastery over a world that has
completely devoured it.
The critical intension of what Adorno called the ad hominem critique of
political economy is the demystification of value as a supersensible economic
force. It argues that value is in fact a sensuous, supersensible thing. Within
itself, it contains the sensuous practice of the actual relations of life as its

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63

constitutive premise. Sensuous practice exists in and through those same


supersensible things that govern the social individuals as personifications of
their own social world. Adorno captures this idea of a socially constituted
world of inverted supersensible things well: The supersensible world, which
is the inverted world, has thus transcended the other world [the sensuous
world WB] and contains it within itself; for itself as inverted world, that
is, inverted in and of itself, it is itself and its opposite in their unity.63 Rather
than replacing the object by the subject, be it the subject of history as an
objectively unfolding force or Man herself as being in alienation, or indeed,
economic being as an ontological force that, in the last instance, colonizes
the life-world of social action, the critique of political economy sets out to
comprehend the social subject in the form of the object, which is the mode of
existence of the subject. Just as objectivity without the subject is nonsense,
subjectivity detached from its object is fictitious. Man is a social being qua
objectification [Vergegenstndlichung]. Man is always objectified Man.
Subjectivity means objectification. To be an object is part of the meaning of
subjectivity. The issue that the critique of fetishism brings to the fore is not
the subjects objectification but its reified mode. Appearance [Schein] is the
enchantment of the subject in its own world.64
The circumstance that objectification exists in the form of an independent
movement of value in process, money in process, and, as such, capital does
not imply that there is an as yet undiscovered, and indeed undiscoverable,
ontologically conceived economic logic that lies solely within the thing itself.65
Only as a socially determinate object can the object be an object.66 Value is
a relation between persons expressed as a relation between things and this
relationship between things governs over and prevails in the social individuals.
They are the living premise of real economic abstractions and subsist in their
own social world as the human resource of capital in process. The social
world is the objective world of real economic abstractions, and the economic
world is therefore an objective illusion. As Debord puts it: in a world which
really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false. Truth exists as an
existing untruth. Yet, it is true all the same.67

On the appearance of essence


All science would be superfluous if the outward appearance of things and
the essence of things directly coincided.68 Nor do essence and appearance
coincide directly, or belong to distinct realities. Essence must appear. If it does
not, then it is not essence; conversely, appearance must be the appearance

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of essence or it is nothing. There is only one reality a reality of disunion,


contradiction, fissures and antagonism; and thus a reality where subject and
object are inverted in a topsy-turvy way.69 The distinction between essence and
appearance exists within the things by means of an irreconcilable, antagonistic,
restless unity. Disunity subsists against itself in the form of unity. Disunity in
the form of unity entails coercion as the condition of unity. It is within the
concept of society, in its internality and immanence that the non-coincidence
of essence and appearance exists in the form of a coerced and coercive unity.
Disunity in the form of unity entails a social reality that is antagonistic from the
outset.70 The social antagonism holds sway in the concept of capitalist society.
Society is torn by contradictions and in antagonistic battle and reproduces
itself by virtue of its contradictions and antagonism.
Antagonism is not only a relationship of battle; it is also a relationship
of mutual dependency of a disunited social unity. The class relationship
between capital and labour is the relationship of social reproduction, and for
the sellers of labour power access to the means of subsistence depends on
the progressive accumulation of their living labour on the pyramids of abstract
wealth that feeds onto itself in a crisis-ridden effort of avoiding ruin. Thus,
the concept of reality is divided within itself: mutual dependency exists qua
antagonism, and unity exists qua disunity. Its reality contains within itself what
it denies. It manifests movements of economic quantities that deny the social
antagonism that threatens to force its reality apart, beyond itself. And yet the
concept of economy is not one of antagonism but of unity established by the
circular flow of economic quantities. The living-fate of the individuals depends
on the movement of these quantities. Fate is a category of a ghostlike society;
the mystic being of capital prevails in the social individuals as bearers of
particular class-relations and interests.71
Hegels notion that essence has to appear does not mean that the human
subject makes an appearance by asserting itself against the world of things
say, in terms of a conception of class struggle as a force that, from the outside,
breaks into the capital relation during periods of crisis.72 Hegels notion that
essence has to appear means that essence cannot choose not to appear.
It is forced to appear it is as if essence is coerced to appear in its own
inhospitable world, that what makes essence essential subsists in appearance.
Its appearance is thus at the same time its disappearance. The necessity of its
appearance entails that it vanishes in its appearance. The law of essence is its
disappearance qua appearance. That is, in the enchanted and perverted world
of capital,73 essence appears in the form of value and as such it appears as a
force of constant valorization that manifests itself in the form of profit.74 Value
becomes visible in the money form. Money is thrown into circulation to make
more money. The essence of society appears thus as an automatic process of

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

65

money which is worth more money, value which is greater than itself.75 In this
peculiar form of wealth, material wealth in the form of use values, things for use,
becomes the form of manifesting its opposite, that is, value, which is wealth
in abstraction from their use-values.76 Money does not express use values.
It expresses exchange value and exchange value entails the conceptuality of
money as capital that, in its restless pursuit of social wealth, is nothing unless it
begets more money. The circumstance that the essence of society disappears
in its appearance as an automatic force of abstract wealth is as real as the
fact that, on the other hand, there would be nothing without individuals and
their spontaneities.77 Sohn Rethels conception of historical materialism as
the anamnesis of the genesis of mysterious economic forms is thus to the
point. It focuses the monstrous objective power of capital as a real abstraction
that originates in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces
them.78 The actual relations of life disappear in the form of a movement of
abstract economic quantities, and yet what disappears in its appearance is the
constitutive premise of the entire system of economic things. The forces of
production belong to the inverted reality of the actual relations of life, in which
Man is governed by the products of his own hand.79 Here he appears as a
mere human embodiment of the abstract economic forces, on the movement
of which her life hangs by. In the world of economic objectivity, the person
appears as an investor in her own labour power, and thus as an entrepreneur
of labour power, seeking to maintain access to the means of subsistence by
maintaining her employability as an effective producer of surplus value.
The positivity of facts is deceitful. It hides what they are; yet when
confronted with what they are, the spell of positivity looses its magic,
revealing the violence and coercion that created and sustains the law of value.
The law of value obtains through what it denies, that is, the force of value,
which compels a whole class of dispossessed individuals to produce surplus
value as sellers of labour power, for the sake of making a living. The traditional
attempt at seeking empirical validation for theoretical pronouncements about
the probability of the economic lines of development upholds an identity
between thought and thing that is inextricably entwined with the structure
of reality itself.80 Reality is identified on the basis of its immediate and direct
appearance as if the fact of a given economic quantity really speaks for
itself. The mistake, says Adorno, in traditional thinking is that identity is
taken for the goal.81 The circumstance that the appearance of things hides
their genesis82 in human social relations entails a programme of critique that
deciphers the hieroglyphic.83 The economic law of factor competitiveness is
the appearance of living labour as productive power. Critiques enlightening
intent is to make visible what is hidden in things. It comprehends essence
in its appearance, that is, as a disappeared essence. Adorno captures this

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

appearance qua disappearance when he argues that essence [Wesen] is first


of all the fatal mischief [Unwesen] of a world that degrades men to means
of real abstractions that rule over and prevail in them.84 Essence exists in
the mode of economic things as mischief. That is to say, sensuous human
practice subsists against itself in the form of, say, freedom as wage slavery.
The perverted [verrckte] form85 of value manifests thus the mode of
existence of human purposeful activity in the form of quasi objective, impersonal
social forms expressed by categories such as the commodity and value. These
categories do not simply disguise the real social relations of capitalism (that
is, class relations); rather, the abstract social structures expressed by those
categories are those real social relations.86 As a movement of value, capital
is therefore neither an assortment of economic quantities that can be moved
from here to there, applied in this trade or that industry. Fundamentally, capital
is only a name,87 and every individual capital is at the same time the capital.88
Fundamentally, it is the name of a peculiar form of social reproduction. Capital
therefore really is the autonomic subject of bourgeois society: not as a personal
subject but, rather, as an impersonal subject that asserts itself as if by force of
nature. It posits wealth as ever-expanding wealth, restless in its pursuit of more
wealth for its own sake. In this dynamic, money is the constantly vanishing
appearance of wealth. It appears only fleetingly, or its substance consists only
in this constant appearance as disappearance.89 In the form of money, the
law of wealth as more wealth (M . . . M) asserts itself as capitalist wealth par
excellence, and, that is, it asserts itself as the consummate automatic fetish,
the self-expanding value, the money making money, and in this form it no longer
bears any trace of its origin.90 This then is, the most unintelligible form of
wealth that posits pure madness (reine Verrcktheit).91 Yet, money in the
form of capital (M . . . M) posits itself as more money only on the condition that
it maintains its relationship to labour as the productive power of surplus value.
Money is labour time in the form of the general object.92 It assumes the form
of an automatic fetish in which it antecedes its own process of reproduction.93
In this appearance, money begets more money seemingly by investing into
itself. The disappearance of its origin in the labour of surplus value production
appears in the form of financial crisis. The necessity of its affirmation qua
destruction discussed by Marx as the socially constituted dialectic between
the forces and the relations of production manifests the premise of labour
within the concept of capital. Labour has to produce surplus value for money to
maintain value validity. Destruction is the constituted nightmare of the capitalist
mode of social reproduction:
Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism;
it appears as if famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

67

supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to


be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much
means of subsistence; too much industry, too much commerce. The
productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the
development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they
have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered,
and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the
whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property.
The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth
created by them. And how does bourgeois society get over these crises?
On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces;
on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough
exploitation of the old ones.94
This commentary by the 29-year-old Marx is not a brilliant anticipation of
globalization and its crisis, which given the horrors of the last century, would
anyway have turned out to be far too optimistic. Rather, it conceptualizes the
critical subject and, in doing so, shows what lies within it. What lies within it is
its social nature. Creation qua destruction is a valid necessity of capitalist social
relations it belongs to its conceptuality [Begrifflichkeit], that is, the critique of
political economy discloses the conceptualized praxis (begriffene Praxis) of the
capitalist social relations.95 Conceptuality expresses the fact that, no matter
how much blame may attach to the subjects contribution, the conceived
world is not its own but a world hostile to the subject.96 Man vanishes in
her economic appearance and her own sensuous practice manifests itself
as the practice of supersensible things that make the world go round. Value
is not a self-standing concept. It does nothing and has no ontological force.
It depends on what its appearance denies, the non-conceptual renders its
concept objectively valid.97 In a world governed by real abstractions, society
as subject and society as object are the same and yet not the same. 98 Reason
exists in irrational form. It exists in the form of real abstractions of price and
profit, unit labour costs and human factors of production.

Expounding irrational social forms:


On dialectics
Dialectics is not a formal procedure or method applied to reality to determine
the enduring structures of economic necessity in the anatomy of bourgeois
social relations. The much-praised dialectics between structure and agency

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

is not helpful. It moves in vicious circles as it hops from structure to agency,


and back again, from agency to structure; and instead of comprehending
what they are, each is presupposed in a tautological movement of thought;
neither is explained. The dialectical method is also not to be confused with
the so-called dialectics of history that presumes the existence of transhistorical forces of production, which progress through history effecting the
rise and fall of definite social forms of production. Socialism, says Lukcs,
is the necessary product of the internal dialectic of social being, of the selfdevelopment of the economy [ . . . ] as well as of the class struggle.99 This
view of history as the becoming of socialism is absurd. Dialectics is not a
theology of history.
Neither is dialectics some magic wand. The circumstance that, in capitalism,
human beings enter into relationships with one another as character masks
of value says that the individuals vanish in their economic appearance. Thus,
the demand that thought is adequate to its subject matter entails more than
it bargains for. Its adequacy cannot be established by means of falsification
or verification. There is no verifiable it is. To say that something is already
casts doubt on the proclaimed identification of the it. To bring things to their
concept requires that concepts are open to the living experience of the thing.
The freedom of the wage contract challenges the concept of freedom in its
experience. Dialectics opens concepts. It focuses on social contents and
does so by moving within their social forms. It is tasked with subverting the
economic categories by revealing their social basis; and rather than translating
our consciousness of them into the doctrinaire language of natural economic
necessity,100 it dissolves their dogmatic posture by negating the whole sphere
it moves in.101 It affirms nothing it really is a critique of the entire system
of economic categories.102 That is, it demystifies the monstrous economic
forms as a socially constituted reality that asserts itself behind the backs of
those same social individuals who comprise and sustain it.
Dialectics says no more, to begin with, than that objects do not go into
their concepts without leaving a remainder. There is no concept of, say, value
without the experience of value. Value does not experience itself. Experience is
a sensuous category of lived objectification (Vergegenstndlichung). By means
of this cogitative confrontation of concept and thing,103 dialectics articulates
the real life-activity of the capitalist social forms as the definite social practice
of active humanity, however perverted its activity might be in the form of
capital as an automatic subject that prevails over, in and through society.104
The dialectical method amounts thus to a generic exposition of the categories
of political economy. Its purpose is to grasp the relations between humans in
their perverted form of economic objectification.105 The content of economic
categories contradicts their economic form of appearance. However much

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

69

value appears as an independent force of its own self-expansion, valorizing


value for the sake of valorization, it is a social form of human reproduction.
The circumstance that the capitalist form of social wealth is hostile (Adorno)
to the human subject highlights the perverted character of this definite form
of social relations between men themselves.106 As an ad hominem critique,
the critique of political economy confronts the constituted reality of the
economic forces, and by means of generic exposition, comprehends them as
the automatic forms of definite social relations. Concepts do not refer to God
or Nature, or to themselves. All concepts refer to non-conceptualities,107 and
as I discussed at the start of this chapter, the non-conceptual comprises the
actual relations of life in their existent forms of appearance of mischievous
economic things. That is, Man in her social relations exists in the mode of
being denied.108
In the critical theory tradition of the critique of political economy, dialectics
is not a form of thought that pacifies the contradiction, nor does it reconcile the
antagonism by means of formalistic indifference to social contents. Dialectics
is rather a method of presenting the economic categories on a social basis,
bringing to the fore the social origin of a topsy-turvy world. Adorno thus
conceived of dialectics as the consistent sense of non-identity. Non-identity
is immanent to the movement of reified economic forces. The supersensible
world is neither natural nor divine. It is a world of the actual relations of life,
and the circumstance that these relations manifest themselves in the form of
the economic object defines its negative character. Dialectics thinks against
the dazzling spell of the world of value. That is, it thinks against the flow of the
world, in contradictions, for the sake of the contradiction once experienced in
the thing, and against that contradiction. It is thus suspicious of all identity.109
Reification is real, but its concept contains more than it cares to reveal. Reality
is divided within itself. The resolution to the dialectical context of immanence
is that context itself.

Conclusion
No theory escapes the market place, including that theory which flouts
tradition.110 A critical theory flouts tradition only for as long as it retains
consciousness of its own entanglement with the false world of economic
inversion.111 It maintains this consciousness by thinking in and through society
developing the conceptuality of capital as a social relationship expressed as a
relationship between things that prevails not only over the individuals but also
in and through them. Capitalist society reproduces itself not despite the class

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

antagonism. It reproduces itself by virtue of the class antagonism. The class


antagonism is immanent to its concept.
The chapter has argued that human sensuous practice subsists through
its supersensible existence in the autonomisation of society as both
the object and subject of its perverted social practice.112 The critique of
reification is thus not about reified things as such. Rather, the reified world
of economic quantities finds its rational explanation in the comprehension
of the actual social relations that constitute and sustain it, and disappear
in their economic appearance as a dependent factor of production. In
distinction to traditional conceptions of historical materialism, which assign
a material force to history with the result that history becomes a basic
ontological structure of things in being,113 at its best historical materialism
amounts to a critique of economic nature, one that deciphers the
movement of real economic abstractions as the necessary manifestation
of actual social relations. It therefore does not mock the human subject as
a metaphysical nuisance. As a critical social theory, historical materialism
goes to the root of the matter, and the root of the matter is immanent to its
own social context. It thus dissolves the dogmatic posture of the relations
of economic objectivity by revealing their social genesis, grounding the
economic forces in the social relations of production. The following chapter
explores the social foundation of the capitalist social relations. It argues
that the primitive accumulation of capital is the constitutive premise of
capitalist society.

Notes
1 Adorno, Spengler Today, Zeitschrift fr Sozialforschung, no.9 (1941),
p.318.
2 Marx, Grundrisse (London 1973), pp.2489.
3 Marx, Grundrisse, p.832.
4 On this characterization of society, see Chapter2, fn. 1.
5 Helmut Reichelt, Social Reality as Appearance: Some Notes on Marxs
Concept of Reality, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis,
Human Dignity. Social Autonomy and the Critique of Capitalism (Aldershot
2005), p.36.
6 Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.494, fn. 4. On the meaning of
cracking, see Holloway, Crack Capitalism (London 2010).
7 Karl Marx, konomische Manuskripte 1857/58, MEGA II.1.1 (Berlin 1976),
p.10.
8 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.163.

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

71

9 Marx, Capital, vol. III (London 1966), p.814.


10 Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Warenform und Denkform (Frankfurt 1978), p.139.
The German original says: Historischer Materialismus ist Anamnesis der
Genese. Sohn Rethel also coined the phrase real abstraction to capture
the independent movement of economic things that move seemingly
by their own volition. Yet, they do not. Their movement expresses the
automaticity of an inverted society, which, in the form of the economic
object, is unaware of itself. In Marxs words: the individuals do this
without being aware of it. Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.1667. Still, awareness
does not stop the movement of society as an economic abstraction either.
For this to happen, the social relations of production need to be changed.
11 Georg Lukcs, Marxs Basic Ontological Principles (London 1978), pp.10,
160.
12 Georg Lukcs, Conversations with Lukcs, ed. Theodor Pinkus (Cambridge,
MA 1975), p.74. For an argument about the origins of this stance in
classical political economy, see Chapter2, section II.
13 Georg Lukcs, History and ClassConsciousness (London 1971), p.306.
Lukcs, Marxs Basic, p.159.
14 Theodor Adorno, Reconciliation under Duress, in Ernst Bloch, Georg
Lukcs, Bertold Brecht, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, Aesthetics
and Politics (London 1980), p.154. See also Simon Clarke, Marx,
Marginalism and Modern Sociology (London 1991), pp.31517.
15 Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London 1990), p.191.
16 Georg Lukcs, Lenin: A Study in the Unity of his Thought (London 1997),
p.35. For a rigorous examination of Lukcs along the lines suggested here,
see Vasilis Grollios, Dialectics and Democracy in Georg Lukcss Marxism,
Capital & Class (forthcoming) and Joe Fracchia, The Philosophical Lenin
and Eastern Western Marxism of Georg Lukcs, Historial Materialism,
vol. 21, no.1 (2013), pp.6893.
17 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.159.
18 Marx, Grundrisse, p.239.
19 Adorno, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften, Theodor Adorno, Hans
Albert, Ralf Darendorf, Jrgen Habermas, Harald Pilot and Karl Popper, Der
Positivismusstreit in der deutschen Soziologie (Munich 1993), p.127.
20 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.11.
21 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.827.
22 Adorno, Lectures on Negative Dialectics (Cambridge 2008b), p.65.
23 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.12.
24 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.355, 205, 197.
25 Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marxs Capital (Leiden 2004), p.243. See
also Helmut Reichelt, Die Marxsche Kritik konomischer Kategorien.
Ueberlegungen zum Problem der Geltung in der dialektischen
Darstellungsmethode im Kapital , in ed. Iring Fetscher and Alfred Schmidt,

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY


Emanzipation und Vershnung. Zu Adornos Kritik der WarentauschGesellschaft und Perpektiven der Transformation (Frankfurt 2002).

26 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.11.


27 See Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.25, 149.
28 Theodor Adorno, Drei Studien zu Hegel, in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 5
(Frankfurt 1971), p.204.
29 Marx, Grundrisse, p.712.
30 Adorno, Lectures on History and Freedom (Cambridge: 2008a), p.55.
31 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.33.
32 See Lukcs, Lenin: A Study in the Unity of his Thought, p.41.
33 Adorno, Spengler, p.318.
34 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.818.
35 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.644. For the development of this point, see
Chapters4 and 5.
36 Johannes Agnoli, Subversive Theorie Die Sache selbst und ihre
Geschichte (Freiburg 1996).
37 Carl Menger, Problems of Economics and Sociology (Urbana, IL 1963).
38 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.271, 280.
39 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.899. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme,
in Marx Engels Selected Works, vol. 3 (Moscow 1970), p.13, translation
amended.
40 Adorno, Spengler, p.320.
41 The notion sheer unrest of life is Hegels. Georg W. F. Hegel,
Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford 1977), p.27.
42 Adorno, Spengler, p.311.
43 Adorno, Spengler, p.311. Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.21.
44 Adorno, Spengler, p.33, sees the implication of this clearly: What differs
from the existent will strike the existent as witchcraft. The priceless
character of negative thought invites mockery as an academic judgement
and death (by burning), if and when required.
45 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.494, fn. 4.
46 Adorno, Spengler, p.356.
47 See Adorno, Minima Moralia (London 1974), p.229.
48 Reichelt, Social Reality, p.65.
49 Adorno, History, p.26.
50 Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Towards a New Manifesto (London
2011), p.27.
51 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.167.
52 Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marxs Capital, p.80.
53 Adorno, History, p.25.

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

73

54 On Habermass traditional conception of society as system and action,


see Helmut Reichelt, Jrgen Habermas Reconstruction of Historical
Materialism, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis, The
Politics of Change (London 2000).
55 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.355.
56 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.167, 1678.
57 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.374.
58 Antonio Negri, Interpretation of the Class Situation Today: Methodological
Aspects, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis,
Open Marxism, vol. II (London 1992), p.89.
59 I use the term recognition here in distinction to Axel Honneth, who
employs the term to tease out the promise of freedom that he considers
bourgeois society to contain. I use the term recognition to mean
the recognition of reality, not its hypothesis as an as if of a surplus
of freedom. Axel Honneth, The Pathologies of Individual Freedom
(Cambridge, MA 2010), p.10.
60 Existentialism conceives of Man in abstraction from society, and perceives
society as the alienated existence of Man. The standpoint of human nature
is the standpoint of nature. It replaces the conceptuality of society by its
hypothesis. On this, see the debate between Herbert Marcuse and Alfred
Schmidt in their book Existenzialistische Marx-Interpretationen (Frankfurt
1973). Traditional social theory is both existentialist and structuralist it
differentiates between economic system and economic action, between
structure and struggle, system-logic and life-world, objective framework
and inter-subjective relations, etc. Werner Bonefeld, Between Structure
and Autonomy, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Revolutionary Writing (New York
2003).
61 See Poulantzas, Theorie und Geschichte: Kurze Bemerkung ber den
Gegenstand des Kapitals, in ed. Walter Euchner and Alfred Schmidt,
Kritik der politischen konomie, 100 Jahre Kapital (Frankfurt 1969).
62 I return to this point in Chapter9 in the context of a critique of forms of
anti-capitalism that leaves capitalism entirely untouched.
63 Adorno, Drei Studien, p.131. In his Negative Dialectics he discusses this
unity as one of social identity, and conceives of this identity as an identity
between identity and non-identity. See also Reichelt, Social Reality as
Appearance for an insightful interpretation of this point.
64 Theodor Adorno, Stichworte, Kritische Modelle 2 (Frankfurt 1969), p.159.
65 The quotation is from Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.153. The idea of economy
as an ontological force derives from Lukcs, Marxs Basic Ontological
Principles.
66 See Adorno, Stichworte, p.157.
67 Guy Debort, Society of the Spectacle (New York 1994), para. 9.
68 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.817.

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

69 On this, see Backhaus, Some Aspects of Marxs Concept of Critique in


the Context of His Economic-Philosophical Theory, in ed. Werner Bonefeld
and Kosmas Psychopedis, Human Dignity. Social Autonomy and the
Critique of Capitalism (Aldershot 2005).
70 See Adorno, Society, in ed. Stephen Eric Bronner and Douglas Mackay
Kellner, Critical Theory and Society (London 1989), p.272. Adorno,
Negative Dialectics, p.304.
71 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.827. Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.92.
72 On this, see Werner Bonefeld, Capital as Subject and the Existence
of Labour, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn, John Holloway and
Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism, vol. 3 (London 1995).
73 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.830.
74 Or as Marx put it in Capital, vol. I, pp.6778: The categories of political
economy express the forms of appearance of essential relations. Political
economy borrowed these categories from everyday life without further
criticism it compares this portion of profit with another, transforming the
concept of value into an imaginary expression.
75 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.257.
76 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.127.
77 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.304.
78 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.165.
79 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.772.
80 Adorno, Lectures, p.20.
81 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.149.
82 Adorno, Einleitung zur Musiksoziologie (Frankfurt 1962), p.25.
83 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.167.
84 See Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.167.
85 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.169, uses the phrase absurd form. On this see
chapter I, fn. 42.
86 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of Marxs
Critical Theory (Cambridge 1996), p.62. Postone does not expound this
insightful point.
87 Marx, Grundrisse, p.262.
88 Reichelt, Social Reality as Appearance. Simon Clarke, Capital, Fractions
of Capital and the State, Capital & Class, vol. 2, no.2 (1978), pp.3277.
89 Marx, Grundrisse, p.209.
90 Marx, Theories, p.455.
91 Hans- Georg Backhaus, Between Philosophy and Science: Marxian
Social Economy as Critical Theory, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn
and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism, vol. I (London 1992), p.62.
Backhaus is citing from the German edition of Marxs Grundrisse (Berlin
1974), p.928.

SOCIETY AS SUBJECT AND SOCIETY AS OBJECT

75

92 Marx, Grundrisse (English edition), p.168.


93 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.392.
94 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London 1997),
pp.1819.
95 On these points, see Alfred Schmidt, Praxis, in ed. Hans-Georg Backhaus,
Gesellschaft: Beitrge zur Marxschen Theorie 2 (Frankfurt 1974), and
Horkheimer, Kritische und Traditionelle Theorie (Frankfurt 1992).
96 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.167.
97 This is Reichelts point in Social Reality.
98 Adorno, Einleitung, p.44.
99 Lukcs, Marxs Basic Ontological Principles, p.159.
100 Max, Theories, p.535.
101 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.197.
102 Marx, Theories, p.254.
103 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.5, 144.
104 Marx, Grundrisse, p.489.
105 Marx, Theories, p.147.
106 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.167; Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.165.
107 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.12, 11.
108 This articulation of the non-conceptual belongs to Gunn, Against
Historical Materialism, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas
Psychopedis, Open Marxism, vol. II (London 1992).
109 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.5, 145, 12. See also Johannes Agnoli,
Politik und Geschichte (Freiburg 2001), pp.1648.
110 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.4.
111 See Adorno, Minima Moralia, p.50.
112 Reichelt, Social Reality, p.65.
113 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.358.

Part Two

Value: On social
wealth and class

4
Capital and labour:
Primitive accumulation and
the force of value
Introduction
Conventionally, primitive accumulation is seen as a period of transition towards
capitalist society, which once established, brought primitive accumulation as
a distinctive period of transition from pre-capitalist societies to capitalism to
a close.1 In distinction, I argue that primitive accumulation did not contain
capitalist accumulation within itself as an already written future. The past does
not contain the future as its unfolding destiny. Rather, the present contains
the past, and it is the present that reveals the significance of the past as the
historical foundation of the existing social relations. This understanding of
primitive accumulation as the historical foundation of capitalist society has
important consequences for the critique of political economy. In my view, the
value form becomes clear only when primitive accumulation is considered.
In distinction to the new reading of Marx, which developed the value form
as a conceptually closed system and located the class relations within
the framework of this system, I hold that class is the historical and logical
premise of the value form. It entails the force of law-making violence within
its concept.2 This force of law-making violence is the divorce of labour from
the means of subsistence, which appears in the law of value in the form of
economic compulsion.
Many commentators have analysed capitalist development to include
elements of primitive accumulation.3 David Harveys book The New
Imperialism brought this stance to wider attention and debate. He argues
that primitive accumulation is the basis of all further capitalist accumulation
and that, in order for capitalism to maintain the wheels of accumulation, it

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has eventually to be repeated. He calls this primitive accumulation within


capitalism accumulation by dispossession, and contends that in contemporary
capitalism, accumulation by dispossession represents not only a specific
attempt to overcome the capitalist crisis of over-accumulation but that it
has in fact become the dominant form of accumulation.4 Accumulation by
dispossession appears not only at capitalisms periphery as a means of
developing the capitalist social relations but also at its centre. In his view,
accumulation by dispossession ranges from those processes of expropriation
that Marx identified as the violent separation of the producers from their
means of production and subsistence to, for example, the privatization of
nationalized industries.5 The meaning of the term connotes proletarianization
qua commodification. Massimo de Angelis makes this case most strongly
in his analysis of contemporary capitalism, in which he argues that capital
employs primitive accumulation as a means of decomposing what he sees
as societys natural desire to protect itself from the enforcement of the rule
of the market.6
In contemporary analysis, primitive accumulation appears as an imperialist
effect of capitalist accumulation, both internationally and domestically. This
understanding of primitive accumulation goes back to Rosa Luxemburg.7 She
maintained that capitalism must always have something outside of itself in
order to stabilize, and that crises of capitalist accumulation find a temporary
resolution in the imposition of conditions of primitive accumulation upon
new populations, creating new markets, discovering new raw materials and
recruiting new and cheaper proletarians.8 Writing in the 1970s, Samir Amin
reasserted this view. The mechanisms of primitive accumulation, he argued,
do not belong only to the prehistory of capitalism; they are contemporary as
well. It is these forms of primitive accumulation, modified but persistent, to the
advantage of the centre, that form the domain of the theory of accumulation
on a world scale.9 Harveys analysis follows on from Luxemburg and Amin,
emphasizing the processes of primitive accumulation that the expansion of
capitalism into the periphery has brought about under so-called neoliberalism,
and like de Angelis he expands on this analysis by arguing that it is also a
contemporary force at capitalisms centre, maintaining dispossessed labour
in conditions of economic compulsion.
In these analyses primitive accumulation is a permanent feature of
capitalist accumulation. However, this dialectical movement, that is one in
which the historical presupposition of capitalism becomes a result of its
reproduction, suggests that the relationship between accumulation by means
of dispossession and accumulation by means of surplus value extraction is
more intricate than Luxemburg-inspired conceptions of the permanence
of primitive accumulation allow. The transformation of the historical

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presupposition of capitalism into the result of its reproduction suggests that


the originality of primitive accumulation has to do with its social contents, that
is, the capitalistically organized social relations of production.
This chapter argues that the contemporary elements of primitive
accumulation are not side-effects or the result of some uneven and combined
logic of development; nor are they employed by capital to contain labour.10
Rather, primitive accumulation belongs to the conceptuality of capital. It
forms (bildet) the concept (Begriff ) of capital.11 It is both the foundation
of [capitalist] production . . . [and] given in capitalist production.12 The
conceptual foundation of this argument is as follows: In themselves money
and commodities are not more capital than are the means of production and
the means of subsistence.13 Indeed, trade, exchange and money pre-date
capitalism, and like the means of production or the means of subsistence,
neither are intrinsically capitalist in character. For them to be transformed
into capital, the prerequisites for capitalist production must exist.14 This
transformation can only take place on the condition that two different kinds
of commodity possessors . . . come . . . into contact, that is, on the one side,
the owner of money, means of production and means of subsistence, and on
the other, the owner of labour power.
The occult quality of money to lay golden eggs requires that the owner
of the means of production and subsistence meet in the market with the
free labourer selling his labour power. This is the one historical condition
for the transformation of the products of labour into commodities and of
money into capital. Capital dripping from head to foot, from every pore,
with blood and dirt, is founded on the complete separation of the labourers
from all property in the means by which they can realise their labour.15 In
short, it is thus essential that the labourer is unable to subsist other than by
selling her labour power in exchange for a wage. Commodity and money are
transformed into capital because the worker . . . is compelled to sell his labour
itself (to sell directly his labour power) as a commodity to the owner of the
conditions of labour. This historical condition is not only the prerequisite for
the transformation of money (or of the commodity by which it is represented)
into capital,16 it is also the historical basis from which all methods for raising
the social productive of labour . . . grow up.17 Capitalist society contains its
historical foundation in the premise of its concept; its werewolf hunger for
surplus labour subsists through it, and its law of accumulation reproduces
its premise in dispossessed labour on a continuously expanding scale.18
That is, the conditions of its becoming pass thus over into the results of
its presence.19 Once established capitalist production therefore reproduces
in the course of its own process the separation between labour-power and
the conditions of labour as the premise and innate necessity of its concept.20

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The circumstance that its constitutive premise in the expropriation of the


labourer vanishes in the law of value says no more than, to begin with, that
the violence of its historical foundation hides in its appearance as an economic
force of nature, which not only possesses the magical ability to instantiate
its own expansion value posits more value and appears thus as a force of
self-valorization it also entails the compulsion to sell labour power as the
condition of making a living. That is to say, the conceptuality of the law of
value is antagonistic from the outset.
The chapter is divided into two sections. It first expounds the transformation
of primitive accumulation as a precondition of capitalism into its constitutive
premise. It then shows how the concept of primitive accumulation fits into
Capital. In distinction to the new reading, which holds that Marxs critique
entails a purely logical exposition of the categories of political economy, these
categories express historically stamped relations. The law of value contains
the force of law-making violence within its concept in its civilized form, it
appears as the freedom of economic compulsion.

The secret of primitive accumulation


In the German original of Capital, Marx does not speak about primitive
accumulation. This term is offered in the English translation and, I suppose,
it is as close to the German original as is possible. Yet, it is inaccurate. The
German text says ursprnglich. This term can also be translated as original,
initial, unspoiled, as well as beginning, first manifestation and springing
to life. The term does not connote causality, where, say, an historical event
causes the formation of a distinct mode of social relations. Instead the term
asks about the genesis of the existent, its foundation. The significance of
primitive accumulation is capitalist accumulation. In other words, and with
reference to Marx, the anatomy of Man can explain the anatomy of the ape,
but not conversely, the anatomy of the ape does not explain the anatomy of
Man. 21 If the anatomy of the ape could really explain the anatomy of Man then
the ape would already possess Man as the innate necessity of its evolution
a natural teleology or an already-written future. Capitalist accumulation was
not already written into primitive accumulation as its necessary future. Rather
capitalist accumulation reveals the necessity of primitive accumulation in its
own concept.22 That is to say, and contrary to Jim Glassmans view, primitive
accumulation is not a progressive historical force of human development that
paves the way of transition from pre-capitalism via capitalism to socialism.
He sees primitive accumulation as a necessary step in the direction of fuller

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human development. Glassmans point is either banal the present is the


result of historical development or teleological in its conception of history
as a force that unfolds for the benefit of human satisfaction. According to
Glassman Marxs discussion of primitive accumulation focuses largely on
proletarianisation, since he is pre-eminently concerned with the formation of
what he takes to be the most revolutionary subjects and the central issues over
which they struggle.23 He seems to suggest that Marx was not concerned
with conceptualizing the social foundation of capitalism in free wage labour,
but rather in developing the revolutionary subject. The separation of genesis
from existence constitutes the blind spot of teleological or, in any case,
dogmatic thought, in which social practice is conceived of as a functional
agent in a structure of being and becoming.
Primitive accumulation is primitive only from the standpoint of capitalist
accumulation. Conceived as an ursprngliche accumulation it is not primitive
at all its terror has been written into the annals of mankind in letters of
blood and fire.24 It led to the complete separation of labour from its means of
existence, and this separation forms the concept of capital.25 The capitalist
form of labour is thus founded on object-less, free workers.26 The divorce
of labour from the means of production and subsistence turns them into
proletarians and their means of labour into capital.27 Labour divorced from
its means of existence is thus the foundation of capitalist production. 28 The
conditions of work thus confront labour as alien capital because they are lost
to [the labourer] and have assumed the shape of alien property. 29 Primitive
accumulation is the centrifugal point around which revolves the specific
capitalist form of social labour.
In capitalism the terror of separation appears in the civilized form of free
and equal exchange relations. Here Man is free because she needs to obey
no person but solely the laws of contract and is self-responsible for adjusting
the pursuit of her interests to changing market conditions. Force appears in
the civilized form of freedom as economic compulsion, which is the freedom
of economic bondage. That is to say, the freedom of the wage labourer
amounts, on the one hand, to the same old age activity of the conqueror,
who buys commodities from the conquered with the money he has stolen
from them.30 On the other, it amounts to the freedom of contract between
equal legal subjects of law in trading labour power, the one for the sake of
consuming it for the purpose of greater wealth in the form of profit, the other
to dodge the freedom to starve. 31 The Roman slave, argues Marx, was
held by chains; the wage-labourer is bound to his owner by invisible threads
inasmuch as her access to the means of subsistence is governed by the rate
of accumulation that determines the rate of unemployment and therewith
the conditions of the buying and selling of labour power.32 Thus, the free

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labourer vanishes in the economic categories, such as rate of investment and


economic growth, labour productivity and profitability, competitive labour unit
costs and world market conditions, etc., that govern her access to the means
of subsistence. The wage-labourer subsists in her own social world as a mere
agent of those same economic categories that have their historical basis in
the class struggle over the original expropriation of the mass of the population
from the means of subsistence. Capital is not only the form assumed by the
conditions of labour,33 it also appears as the independent force of wealth in
that the commodity seems to be a product of capital. 34 What appears in this
appearance rests on the foundation of the workers propertylessness a
propertylessness in the means of life that asserts itself in the form of capital
as an independent power of economic compulsion over the class-divided
social individuals.35
Instead of relations of personal dependency, capitalist social relations
are governed by abstract forms of dependency. Economic compulsion
appears to issue from the things themselves, as if by the force of nature.
It seems as if the social world existed twice, once as an innately economic
thing that imposes itself objectively on the acting subjects, and then as a
human personification of that thing, mere agents of production who, as
personifications of capital and wage-labour, embody the definite social
characteristics stamped upon them by the process of social production. 36
Society makes itself manifest behind the backs of the class-divided social
individual who is chained to the rock of his past. 37 As a movement of
economic quantities, society is no longer comprehensible here it
appears as encased in eternal natural laws independent of history 38
from time immemorial. 39 The understanding of primitive accumulation as
the constitutive premise of the existent economic forces destroys their
deceptive appearance as forces of nature. It also renounces the idea that
the perverted economic forms have a basis in some abstractly conceived
human basis.40 In the world of economic abstractions what alone remains
comprehensible is the law of autonomisation.41 This law of autonomization
is however a double-edged sword in that it carries its historical foundation
in the separation of the labourer from her means of existence within the
law of its movement. The propertylessness in the means of life entails the
struggle for the means of life.
Capitalist society cannot divorce itself from its historical basis. In essence,
capital is the existence of social labour the combination of labour as
subject as well as object but this existence as itself existing independently
opposite its real moments hence itself a particular existence apart from
them. For its part, capital therefore appears as the predominant subject

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and owner of alienated labour, and its relation is itself as complete a


contradiction as is that of wage labour.42
What, then, needs to be explained is not the relation between capital and
wage labour in its direct and immediate sense say, of capital as an economic
quantity of this or that amount of money, or of the worker as an investor in
human capital of this or that amount of employable skills but rather the social
constitution upon which the capital relation is founded and through which it
subsists. The capitalistically organized form of social labour presupposes the
expropriation of the direct producer, and it is thus the definite social form of
that expropriation. It originally appeared as conditions of its becoming and
hence could not spring from its action as capital now appears as results of its
own realization, reality, as posited by it not as conditions of its arising, but as
results of its presence.43 Capitalist accumulation reproduces its constitutive
presupposition in dispossession as the result of its own, innate social laws of
reproduction. The labourer
constantly produces material, objective wealth, but in the form of capital, of
an alien power that dominates and exploits [the labourer]: and the capitalist
as constantly produces labour-power, but in the form of a subjective source
of wealth, separated from the objects in and by which it can alone be
realised; in short he produces the labourer, but as a wage-labourer. This
incessant reproduction, this perpetuation of the labourer, is the absolute
necessary condition for capitalist production.44
As a result of its own realization, primitive accumulation is a permanent
accumulation.
What is to be understood by permanent in this context? In Latin, per
means through, way; and manere means to remain, to be continuous;
permanent then connotes a lasting character, something maintained through
and also in time. Regarding primitive accumulation, permanence means
that the divorce of labour from the means of production constitutes the
fundamental social practice of the capitalist social relations in the form of
independent economic forces that manifest themselves behind the back of
the individuals, as if the economic world were regulated by an invisible hand.
Indeed, the economic world asserts itself as an independent force not only
over and above the social individuals. It also prevails in and through them. The
logic of separation that gives economic things independent force, appears
in the form of an irresistible system dynamic, in which nothing remains in
the way it was and in which, and at the same time, the essential character
of the social relations remains unchanged: capital as the form assumed by

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the conditions of labour on the one hand, and the doubly free labourer, on
the other. Adornos concept of dynamic within stasis focuses this well:45
capitalism is a dynamic, ever developing and changing configuration of
definite social relations, where everything that is solid melts, at the same
time as which the law of development remains unchanged: expansive
reproduction of the object-less, free workers as the social foundation of the
capitalist form of wealth that dazzles to deceive. Wealth seems to posit itself
as more money and therefore always also as too little money; its demand
for expansion is tireless. The law of capital can thus be summarized as
follows: the law is what remains in disappearance. Whatever the specific
and changing historical forms of capitalism, it develops on the basis and by
force of the logic of separation. This logic is the constitutive premise of
capital as the automatic subject of a relentless process of accumulating
abstract wealth for its own sake.46
I have argued that primitive accumulation is the historical presupposition
and basis of capital and that its systematic content is the constitutive
premise of the capitalist social relations. Its content is suspended in capitalist
economic forms. The critical issue here is the precise meaning of suspended
(aufgehoben). Suspended is usually used as the English translation of the
German term aufgehoben or Aufhebung. Aufhebung is a term that is most
difficult to translate into English, and suspended does not carry the full
meaning of this typically many-sided German term. The notion that primitive
accumulation is suspended in capitalist accumulation does not collapse two
distinct concepts, as if there were no difference between accumulation by
expropriation (dispossession) and accumulation by means of exploiting the
free labourer. This difference is important, but so, too, is the connection
between them.
In Hegelian language, Aufhebung connotes a dialectical process of
determinate negation. That is, the determination of a term negates it at the
same time as which the so negated term transforms into a new term. In
this process, the negated term loses its independent existence and it does
so at the same time as which its essential character is retained in the new
term the new term is informed by the negated term. The circumstance that
the essence of the negated term is maintained in the new term means that
the essence of the old term is also the essence of the new term. Aufhebung
has more than just different meanings; they are also contradictory. The
concept entails all these different and contradictory meanings. Aufheben has
three main meanings: to lift up or to raise; to make invalid or to cancel/
eliminate; and to keep or to maintain. In our context, Aufhebung means
that the historic form of primitive accumulation is raised to a new level where
its original form and independent existence is eliminated (or cancelled) at

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the same time as its substance or essence (Wesenshaftigkeit) is maintained


in the new form. In other words, the notion that the essence of primitive
accumulation is aufgehoben in accumulation proper means that the essential
character of primitive accumulation, this divorce of the direct producers from
the means of subsistence, is raised to a new level, eliminating the history of
primitive accumulation as a specific epoch. At the same time its essential
character is maintained in the new form, that is, the historical presupposition
of capitalism becomes the premise of its existence: labour divorced from
its means becomes the result of a process of accumulation that is based
on the appropriation of the surplus labour that capital is able to extract, and
seeks to validate in exchange in the form of value, from the free labourer
in the hidden abode of production. Paraphrasing Marxs treatment of the
commodity, the process of the disappearance of primitive accumulation in
accumulation proper must, therefore, appear at the same time as a process
of the disappearance of its disappearance, i.e. as a reproduction process.47
As such a process of reproduction, the real foundation of the capital relation
becomes the characteristic result of capitalist production, perpetuating and
renewing the divorce between the objective conditions and the subjective
labour-power.48 The productive labourer does not represent an eternal
condition of labour. Rather, the productive labourer is historically specific. She
carries the violence of primitive accumulation within her branded existence as
the dispossessed producer of surplus value.

Value form and free labour


I have argued that it is not the anatomy of primitive accumulation that
explains the anatomy of capitalist accumulation but that it is instead the
anatomy of capitalist accumulation that explains the anatomy of the primitive
accumulation. This contention rejects both teleological explanations, such as
Adam Smiths stages theory of history, and natural law explanations of history,
such as, again, Adam Smiths natural propensity of Man to truck and barter,
upon which rests the traditional Marxist view of the trans-historical forces of
production and the social relations of production. The circumstance that Marx
discusses primitive accumulation in at the end of volume I of Capital might
therefore not be an afterthought, as Glassman believes it to be the case. In
his view:
Marx came to the issue of primitive accumulation late in the day . . .
[A]fter having spent hundreds of pages analysing the labour process

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through which commodities and surplus value are produced in capitalist


society, the process of expanded reproduction, he backtracks to consider
the origins of the surplus that made the first process of accumulation
possible the so-called primitive accumulation.49
In distinction to Glassman, dispossession does not create a surplus in wealth,
it is mere robbery of the many by the few. It changes the distribution of the
means of existence and in this process creates the social foundation of private
property, that is, the doubly free labourer. Marxs presentation of the historical
presupposition of the commodity form at the conclusion of volume I of Capital
is thus in part explained by the insight that the significance of primitive
accumulation does not lie, as Glassman argues, in primitive accumulation as
the first capitalist surplus, but, rather, in the establishment of the capitalist
social relations. That is to say, capitalist accumulation illuminates the historical
significance of primitive accumulation, and not the other way round.50
According to Marx, Capital was to track down [the] inner connection
between the economic categories, developing the actual movement of the
capitalist society, which is founded on the commodity as the elementary
form of capitalist wealth.51 The exposition of the economic categories does
therefore not present an historical process. Rather, it develops them from
within their own context, establishing their innate conceptuality from within
their own social relations of production. Therefore presentation must differ
from inquiry. For the new reading of Marx, this distinction between historical
analysis and logical exposition was fundamental for its reconstruction
of Marxs critique. It entailed a dialectical exposition of the entire system
of economic categories, unfolding the economic forms as forms of real
inversion.52 The new reading followed Marxs methodological observation
to the point where it would be unfeasible and wrong to let the economic
categories follow one another in the same sequence as that in which they
were historically decisive. Their sequence is determined, rather, by their
relation to one another in modern bourgeois society.53 Nevertheless, although
the value form of the commodity is the established principle of the capitalist
social relations, it represents the appearance of the separation of labour from
the means of production, and is founded on the peculiar character of capitalist
labour. The dialectical presentation of the system of economic inversion is
therefore limited, and by following Marxs observation to the letter, the new
reading limited its own critical potential. Chris Arthurs systematic dialectics
is a case in point. He argues that the dialectical method deals with a given
whole and demonstrates how it reproduces itself: thus the ordering of the
categories is in no way determined by the recapitulation of a historical chain
of causality; it is articulated on the basis of purely systematic considerations.

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He righty argues that the dialectical method deals with a given whole, and
he wrongly treats this whole as a closed logical system. In his view, capital
may be seen as the avatar of Hegels absolute concept and he wonders
why Marx introduces labour as a concept when introducing the general form
of value in the first chapter of Capital. His systematic dialectics thus tends
to substitute an argument about the homology between Marxs Capital and
Hegels Science of Logic for the recognition of the capitalist social relations.
Whatever homology there might be, the idea of a logical beginning is absurd.
The peculiar character of capitalist social relations cannot be found in some
logic of immanent abstractness, as Arthur argues.54
Similarly Backhaus believes that the exploration of the capitalist social
relations has to have a logical beginning, which, he says, forms the basis
of Marxs theoretical system.55 He subscribes to the absurd idea that the
category wage labour can be derived from the peculiar character of abstract
social labour. Yet, he does not tell us how.56 His insistence that exposition of
the economic categories is a matter of a priori construction sits ill with the
notion that the dialectical method entails their generic development as forms
of definite social relations. Backhaus resolves this difficulty by falling back
onto an argument about species being. Critique, he says, has to reveal the
genesis of a perverted world that Man as a species being has posited outside
of itself, be it in the religious form of God, the form of the political state, or
indeed the form of money.57 In distinction, Marxs point about the distinction
between presentation and inquiry does not say that inquiry should be dropped
for the sake of systematic presentation and really what would be the subject
matter of presentation if it would not be a presentation of the capitalist social
relations. Presentation presupposes inquiry, and the logical presentation of
the capitalist economic categories does not proceed independently from the
social relations whose peculiar character it seeks to decipher in its entirety and
from within its own context. The capitalist social relations are based on one
essential condition: that is, capital can spring to life only when the owner of
the means of production and subsistence finds the free worker available, on
the market, as the seller of his own labour-power.58 The purpose of Arthurs
systematic dialectics and Backhauss search for an objective beginning is to
reveal the peculiar conceptuality of the capitalist social relations. However,
this conceptuality is a historically branded conceptuality. For the sake of
logical coherence, they thus exclude from their development of the celestial
forms of capital the peculiar character of the social relations that manifest
themselves in the form of economic monstrosities.59
According to Helmut Reichelt, Man becomes a free labourer when his
labour power is objectified and becomes exchangeable as a commodity.60
What however does this mean? Reichelt conceives of society as a social

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system that is governed by the law of value, without the force of value. He
develops the value form as an objectively valid real economic abstraction, a
universal in re of capitalist wealth.61 However, the labourer did not become
free when her labour power was objectified in the commodity. The labourer
became free when she was forced off the land, when her means of existence
were expropriated by force and when her labouring existence was disciplined
with fire and blood. The genesis of economic categories cannot be found in
the idea of a free labourer who objectifies herself in capitalist social forms.
The law of value presupposes the force of value in the premise of its concept.
This premise is the labourer who is free of the means of production, free
to sell her labour power, and a labourer upon whom labour discipline has
been instilled, more often than not by means of terror and, always, abject
poverty.62
Similarly, Moishe Postone recognizes that the understanding of com
modified labour is fundamental to the comprehension of the value form.
However, he too develops commodified labour in abstraction from its historical
branding arguing that the peculiar character of commodity-producing labour
does not mean that the processes of primitive accumulation remains central
to the conception of alienated labour and commodity fetishism.63 Postone
makes commodity-determined labour the starting point of his critical theory,
and having cut it off from its historical constitution, argues akin to Giddenss
theory of structuration when he develops the critique of political economy
as a complex analysis of the reciprocal constitution of system and action
in capitalist society.64 By severing the genesis of the social forms from the
existing social relations, his account splits society into two interconnected
realities of system and action, or structure and agency, which, as I argued
in Chapter3, rather than offering a critique of the fetishism of commodities,
articulates the fetish in theoretical form.
The capitalist economic categories do not have a logical beginning, nor
do they have an anthropological foundation in Man as a species being.
Rather, economic categories . . . bear an historical imprint, and their logical
presentation amounts thus to a presentation of categories that bear the
stamp of history.65 That is, Marxs caution about the merits of dialectical
exposition merits attention: It is made quite definite at this point that the
dialectical presentation is right only when it knows its own limits.66 With
this in mind, the distinction between inquiry (Forschung) and presentation
(Darstellung) is fundamental. Indeed, the understanding of Capital stands
and falls with the concept of presentation.67 The chapter sequence of
Capital volume I does indeed not follow historical events and the mode
of presentation does not parallel any actual course of events. The chapter
sequence unfolds the fundamental categories of capitalistically constituted

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social relations commodity, exchange value, abstract labour, money, etc.


He discusses their historical constitution at the end of the volume. Marxs
argument is in reverse order to the actual, historical sequence in which the
social relations underlying these categories developed. That is,
the method of presentation must differ in form from that of inquiry. The
latter has to appropriate the material in detail, to analyse its different
forms of development, to track down their inner connections. Only after
this work is done, can the actual movement be appropriately presented. If
this is done successfully, if the life of the subject-matter is now reflected
back on the ideas, then it may appear as if we had before us an a priori
construction.
The logical development of the decisive economic forms takes a course
directly opposite to their real development. That is to say, the
reflection begins post festum, with therefore the result of the process
of development ready in hand. The forms which stamp products as
commodities and which are therefore the preliminary requirements for
the circulation of commodities, already possess the fixed quality of natural
forms of social life before man seeks to give an account, not of their
historical character . . . but of their content and meaning.68
The categories of abstract labour, value, exchange value, money, capital,
surplus value, capital accumulation, etc., presuppose the systematic content
of primitive accumulation in their conceptuality a conceptuality of separation
qua social unity. Unity appears in the form of a movement of real economic
abstractions that, endowed with an invisible force, govern over and prevail
through the social individuals. Like the religious form of God, the autonomized
force of economic abstractions cannot be understood. What can be
comprehended is the law of autonomization, that is, the disappearance of
the actual social relations in their own apotheosized economic forms. This
disappearance is therefore also an appearance of the social individuals as
personifications of economic categories, bearers of particular class interests.69
The fetishism of commodities makes it seem as if the social individual is
separated from her own social world, which appears to them in the form of
an unfolding system logic that threatens the further colonization of the life
world. The comprehension of the movement of economic forces is, however,
not advanced by the invocation of some mysterious life-world that is deemed
to be at risk of colonization by the economic forces. Rather, and as argued
in Chapter3, all social life is essentially practical, and the explanation of the

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system logic is thus a matter of comprehending this practice from within its
own perverted context.
Marxs critique of political economy argues that separation of labour
from the means of production is given in capitalist production70 and that
capitalist production therefore reproduces in the course of its own process
the separation between labour-power and the conditions of labour.71 It does
so by perpetuating the
conditions under which the worker is exploited. It incessantly forces him to
sell his labour-power in order to live, and enables the capitalist to purchase
labour power in order that he may enrich himself . . . It is the alternating
rhythm of the process itself which throws the worker back onto the market
again and again as a seller of his labour-power and continually transforms
his own product into a means by which another man can purchase him.
The logic of separation determines the class antagonism as a disunited
relationship of social unity no capital without dispossessed labour and no
surplus value without the imposition of necessary labour on formally free
labour. That is,
capital presupposes wage-labour, and wage-labour presupposes capital.
They reciprocally condition each others existence; they reciprocally bring
forth each other. Does a worker in a cotton-factory produce nothing but
cotton goods? No, he produces capital. He produces values that serve
afresh to command his labour and by means of it to create new values.72
Commodities must be realized as values.
The fact that value whether it exists as money or as commodities and
in the further development the conditions of labour confront the worker
as the property of other people, as independent properties, means simply
that they confront him as the property of the non-worker or, at any rate,
that, as a capitalist, he confronts them [the conditions of labour] not as
a worker but as the owner of value, etc., as the subject in which these
things possess their own will, belong to themselves and are personified as
independent forces.73
Capital appears here as an intangible, abstract force a transcendental
subject that is neither this nor that, and yet both at the same time, governing
the social individuals as if by fate, and that is akin to the idea of the invisible
hand as the regulative mechanism of reified economic things. Marxs critique

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of commodity fetishism does not reject the reality of the invisible hand
that, with unyielding steadiness, regulates the relations of abstract wealth
by reproducing the inequality in property between capital and labour on an
expanding scale. Indeed, fetishism is real. It is founded on the doubly free
labourer this indispensible prerequisite of the commodity form.
Having developed the categories of value, value form, use-value and
exchange value, abstract labour and concrete labour, Marx develops his
argument from the transformation of money as money into money as capital,
to the analysis of the buying and selling of labour power. Then it follows the
free labourer into the factory, analysing the relationship between necessary
labour and surplus labour, the constituent parts of the working day. Here
capital sets the free labourer to work attempting to appropriate as much
surplus labour time as possible in effect an attempt at expropriating the
life-time of the labourer, seeking to reduce it to labour-time in its entirety.
But all methods for raising the social productivity of labour that grow up on
this basis [the basis of primitive accumulation WB], are at the same time
methods for the increased production of surplus value. From the production
of surplus value we arrive at the reconversion of surplus value into capital.
This conversion reveals the law of equal exchange as fiction: the separation
of property from labour thus becomes the necessary consequence of a law
that apparently originated in their identity. On the other hand, the individual
capitalist has constantly to expand his capital, so as to preserve it, and he can
only extend it by means of progressive accumulation. The risk is bankruptcy.
Thus, mediated through competition, personified capital is spurred into
action. He is fanatically intent on the valorization of value; consequently he
ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for productions sake, leading to
the extension of the area of exploited human material and, at the same time,
the extension of the direct and indirect sway of the capitalist.74 In sum, the
law of private property entails that labour capacity has appropriated for itself
only the subjective conditions of necessary labour the means of subsistence
for actively producing labour capacity, i.e. for its reproduction as mere labour
capacity separated from the conditions of its realization and it has posited
these conditions themselves as things, values, which confront it in an alien,
commanding personification.75 Capitalist reproduction thus reproduces
the class antagonism on an expanding scale by positing the capitalist as
the owner of the means of existence on the one hand, and the doubly free
labourer on the other. It posits its own presupposition a presupposition that
transformed from historical presupposition into the constitutive premise of
the capitalistically organized mode of social reproduction.
Turning finally to capitalist accumulation, Marx argues that it merely
presents as a continuous process what, in primitive accumulation, appears

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as a distinct historical process, as the process of the emergence of capital.76


Capital accumulation continues the process of expropriation in its own terms,
as capital centralization. One capitalist strikes down many others.77 At the
same time, the capitalist reproduces himself as capital as well as the living
labour capacity confronting him . . . Each reproduces itself, by reproducing
the other, its negation. The capitalist produces labour as alien; labour
produces the product as alien.78 Leaving aside his desperately triumphal
remarks when analysing the historical tendency of capitalist accumulation
the centralisation of the means of production and the socialisation of
labour reach a point at which they become incompatible with their capitalist
integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private
property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated79 his critique unfolds
the logic of separation upon which the entire system of economic categories
rests, to the point of destruction. The force of value vanishes in the law of
value that, once the capitalist process of production . . . is fully organised
. . . breaks down all resistance by means of the silent compulsion of
economic relations that not only compel workers to sell themselves
voluntarily, but that also constantly generates a relative surplus population
that maintains competitive labour markets. The law of value now appears as
a natural economic law of the supply and demand of labour. Nevertheless,
the direct employment of the forces of law-making violence, the force of
state, is still of course used, but only in exceptional circumstances, at times
of great uncertainty.80
In sum, the logic of separation begins with primitive accumulation,
appears as a permanent process in the accumulation and concentration of
capital, and expresses itself finally as centralisation of existing capitals in a
few hands and a deprivation of many of their capital (to which expropriation
is now changed).81 In the course of capitalist accumulation, labour power is
hired with the money that in the form of profit appeared only yesterday as the
coined expression of the surplus value that was pumped out of social labour.
The exchange between equivalents manifests itself as the age-old activity of
the conqueror, who buys commodities form the conquered with the money
he has stolen from them.82 It is now also in the process of transforming
the individual owner of redundant or, in any case, superfluous labour-power
into a bodily thing that can be dissected into saleable parts. 83 Marxs notion
of the doubly free wage labourer appears to have been transformed. The
doubly free wage labourer has indeed become, at least for a growing part
of humanity, more than just a labouring commodity. It has also become a
carrier of bodily substances that, like any other commodity, can be sold
on the market at prevailing market prices. The historical foundation of its
existence transforms into the fundamental dynamic of its own presence, in

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which accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time
accumulation of misery . . . and moral degradation at the opposite pole, i.e.
on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital.84 In the
equivalent exchange between the buyer of labour power and the producer
of surplus value, living labour vanishes in its mediated existence as more
money, and value . . . now becomes value in process, money in process,
and, as such, capital.85

Conclusion
By treating capitalism as a conceptually logical system, the new reading
remains spellbound to the logic of things. I have argued that the logic of
separation is the real generation process of capital. 86 It is the historical
foundation and premise of capitalist social relations. It holds sway in the
conceptuality of capital as a definite social relationship. At its best, the
dialectical method of presentation unfolds the system of economic categories
as the necessary form of this historically branded conceptuality. The
violence of capitals original beginning is the formative content of the
civilized forms of the commodity exchange relations, which are governed
by the ideals of an equivalent exchange between equal legal subjects who
contract in freedom from coercion, each seeking to advance their own
personal interests. The law of value presupposes the force of value within its
concept of freedom. Violence hides in the civilized form of the equivalence
exchange relations as economic compulsion. Chapter5 develops this topic
further in relationship to class.

Notes
1 See, for example, Paul Zarembka, Primitive Accumulation in Marxism, in
ed. Werner Bonefeld, Subverting the Present. Imagining the Future (New
York 2008). See also Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A
Reinterpretation of Marxs Critical Theory (Cambridge 1996), p.349.
2 For an argument about the centrality of primitive accumulation for capitalist
development, see Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch (New York 2004),
and Dalla Costa, Development and Reproduction, in ed. Werner Bonefeld,
Revolutionary Writing (New York 2003). John Holloway, Crack Capitalism
(London 2010), pp.16670. The notion of an innate connection between the
force of law-making violence and its civilized appearance in the form of the
rule of law derives from Walter Benjamin, Critique of Violence, Reflections
(New York 2007).

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

3 See, for example, Jesse Goldstein, Terra Economica, Waste and the
Production of Enclosed Nature, Antipode, vol. 45, no.2 (2013), pp.35775.
Derek Hall, Rethinking Primitive Accumulation, Antipode, vol. 44, no.4
(2012), pp.1188208; Stuart Hodkinson, The New Urban Enclosures,
City, vol. 16, no.5 (2012), pp.50018. Mark Neocleous, War on Waste:
Law, Original Accumulation and the Violence of Capital, Science and
Society, vol. 75, no.4 (2011), pp.50628, Wilhelm Peekhaus, Primitive
Accumulation and Enclosures of the Commons, Science and Society, vol.
75, no.4 (2011), pp.52954. The origins of this chapter go back to Werner
Bonefeld, Class Struggle and the Permanence of Primitive Accumulation,
Common Sense, no.6 (1988), pp.5465 and builds on Werner Bonefeld,
Primitive Accumulation and Capitalist Accumulation: Notes on Social
Constitution and Expropriation, Science and Society, vol. 75, no.3 (2010),
pp.37999.
4 David Harvey, The New Imperialism (London 2003), pp.1402, 14950,
153, 158, 172.
5 Harvey, The New Imperialism, p.146.
6 Massimo de Angelis, Marx and Primitive Accumulation, in ed. Werner
Bonefeld, Subverting the Present. Imagining the Future (New York 2008).
7 Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital (London 1963).
8 See Karl Marx, Capital, vol. III (London 1966), chap.14, where he discusses
means of crisis resolution.
9 Samir Amin, Accumulation on a World Scale. A Critique of the Theory of
Underdevelopment (New York 1974), p.3.
10 As argued by de Angelis, Marx and Primitive Accumulation; Jim Glassman,
Primitive Accumulation, Accumulation by Dispossession, Accumulation by
Extra-economic Means, Progress in Human Geography, vol. 30, no.5
(2006), pp.60825.
11 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.246.
12 Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, vol. 3 (London 1972), p.272.
13 Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.874.
14 Marx, Theories, p.272.
15 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.874, 255, 926, 874.
16 Marx, Theories, p.89.
17 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.775.
18 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.874.
19 Max, Grundrisse, p.460.
20 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.723.
21 Marx, Grundrisse, p.105.
22 For Adorno, too, history can be comprehended from the standpoint of
the present alone. See Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic
of Enlightenment (London 1979). See also Dirk Braunstein, Adornos Kritik

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der politischen konomie (Bielefeld 2011), p.177. Adornos argument that


history has been a history of invention from the sling-shot to the atom
bomb, or a process of the forward march of instrumental reason, does not
say that the sling-shot contained the atom bomb as its necessary further
development. The atom bomb is not the innate necessity of the sling-shot.
Rather, it says that the atom bomb reveals the sling-shot, and as such,
it reveals a history made universal as one of violence and destruction.
Similarly, Marxs notion that history is a history of class struggle does not
entail history as an ontological force of universal class oppression that
somehow develops by means of its own logic towards capitalist society
and, some hope, beyond capitalism towards socialism. Rather, it grasps
the existent social relations. In Adornos view, Marxs critique of political
economy amounts to a critique of history because his critique of capitalism
reveals the whole of history in the present conditions of domination,
exploitation and misery. See Adorno, Gesellschaftstheorie und Kulturkritik
(Frankfurt 1975), p.7 and Stichworte. Kritische Modelle 2 (Frankfurt 1969),
pp.2950. See also Benjamins critique of the philosophy of progress in
his Theses on the Philosophy of History, in Illuminations (London 1999).
For the sake of history, one needs to read history against its grain, and,
that is, one needs to think out of history, out of the battles, out of the
struggles, to comprehend what has not been. On this, see Chapter10.
23 Glassman, Primitive Accumulation, p.611.
24 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.875.
25 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.246.
26 Marx, Grundrisse, p.507.
27 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.928.
28 Marx, Theories, p.272.
29 Marx, Theories, p.422.
30 Marx, Capital, vol. I, 728.
31 Adorno, Lectures on History and Freedom (Cambridge 2008a), p.201.
32 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.719. Adam Smith argues this point succinctly. He
says, the freeman is responsible for his own subsistence, whereas the
slave is in the keep of his masters. The slave is thus of more expense
than the worker and the work of a freeman comes cheaper then that
performed by a slave. Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the
Wealth of Nations (Indianapolis 1981), p.87. On the rate of accumulation as
the regulative force of labour market conditions, see Marx, Capital, vol. I,
chap.25.
33 Marx, Theories, p.492.
34 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.880.
35 Marx, Grundrisse, p.515.
36 See Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.716.
37 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.51.

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38 Marx, Grundrisse, p.87.


39 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.825.
40 See Backhaus, Some Aspects of Marxs Concept of Critique in the
Context of His Economic-Philosophical Theory, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and
Komsas Psychopedis, Human Dignity. Social Autonomy and the Critique of
Capitalism (Aldershot 2005).
41 Theodor Adorno, Einleitung, in Theodor Adorno, Hans Albert, Ralf
Darendorf, Jrgen Habermas, Harald Pilot and Karl Popper, Der
Positivismusstreit in der deutschen Soziologie (Munich 1993), p.23.
42 Marx, Grundrisse, p.471.
43 Marx, Grundrisse, p.460.
44 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.716.
45 Adorno, Gesellschaftstheorie, pp.2645.
46 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.255, translation altered.
47 Marx, From the Preparatory Materials, in Marx Engels Collected Works,
vol. 29 (London 1987), p.498.
48 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.716. See also p.724.
49 Glassman, Primitive Accumulation, p.610.
50 In Hegelian language, capitalist accumulation posits its presupposition.
On this, in the context of Marxs dialectical development of the economic
categories, see Roberto Fineschi, Dialectic of the Commodity and its
Exposition, in ed. Riccardo Bellofiore and Roberto Fineschi, Re-reading.
New Perspectives after the Critical Edition (London 2009). Kosmas
Psychopedis, Dialectical Theory, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and
Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism, vol. I (London 1992).
51 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.102, 125.
52 Marx, Theories, p.453, and Capital, vol. I, p.167.
53 Marx, Grundrisse, p.107.
54 Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marxs Capital (Leiden 2004), pp.64, 141.
Arthurs notion of history as a chain of causality is most traditional in its
view of the present.
55 Backhaus, Die Dialektik der Wertform (Freiburg 1997), p.442.
56 Backhaus, ber den Doppelsinn der Begriffe politische konomie und
Kritik bei Marx und in der Frankfurter Schule, in ed. Stefan Dornuf and
Reinhard Pitsch, Wolfgang Harich zum Gedchtnis, vol. II (Mnchen 2000),
p.178. Nor does he determine the meaning of abstract labour, except to say
that it can be understood as general social labour, which for him contradicts
the capitalist form of labour as private in character. Since abstract labour is
social in character, he sees it as an inverted form of communism (p.174),
at the same as which he maintains against the Ricardian tradition that it is a
peculiar capitalist form of labour.

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57 Backhaus, ber den Doppelsinn, p.127. Also Backhaus, Between


Philosophy and Science, p.81.
58 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.274.
59 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.494, fn. 4. Translation altered.
60 Helmut Reichelt, Zur logischen Struktur des Kapitalbegriffs bei Marx
(Freiburg 2001), p.270.
61 See Helmut Reichelt, Die Marxsche Kritik konomischer Kategorien.
Ueberlegungen zum Problem der Geltung in der dialektischen
Darstellungsmethode im Kapital , in ed. Iring Fetscher and Alfred Schmidt,
Emanzipation und Vershnung. Zu Adornos Kritik der WarentauschGesellschaft und Perpektiven der Transformation (Frankfurt 2002).
62 As documented and developed by, for example, Edward Palmer Thompson,
The Making of the English Working Class (London 1968). Peter Linebaugh
The London Hanged (London 2003). Christopher Hill, The World Turned
Upside Down (London 1972), and Federici, Caliban and the Witch.
63 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, p.349.
64 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination, p.158. Anthony Giddens, The
Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge 1990).
65 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.273.
66 Karl Marx, From the Preparatory Materials, p.505.
67 Alfred Schmidt, Zum Erkenntnisbegriff der Kritik der politischen konomie,
in ed. Walter Euchner and Alfred Schmidt, Kritik der Politischen konomie
heute. 100 Jahre Kapital (Frankfurt 1968), pp.356.
68 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.102, 168.
69 Louis Althusser, Essays in Self-Criticism (London 1976), pp.129, 2023,
identifies the social individuals by their function and fits them into the
economic structure as bearers of structural properties.
70 Marx, Theories, p.272.
71 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.723.
72 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.723, 928, 724, fn. 21.
73 Marx, Theories, pp.47576.
74 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.775, 730, 739, 73940.
75 Marx, Grundrisse, pp.4523.
76 Marx, Theories, p.272.
77 Marx, Theories, p.929.
78 Marx, Grundrisse, p.458.
79 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.929.
80 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.899. See Chapter8 for an exposition of the force of
exception in neoliberal thought.
81 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.246.

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82 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.728.


83 See Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Capitalism and Reproduction, in ed. Werner
Bonefeld, Richard Gunn, John Holloway and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open
Marxism, vol. III (London 1995), p.12.
84 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.799.
85 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.256.
86 Marx, Theories, p.422.

5
Class and struggle:
On the false society
Introduction
According to Adorno, Marx found economics disgusting, but he dealt with
it, and this constituted part of his genius.1 Marx did not complete his critique
of political economy and, as Adorno puts is, he died over his exposition of
the theory of class in the final chapter of Capital volume III.2 Adornos point is
both right and wrong. At its best, Marxs critique of political economy does not
amount to a social theory of class. It amounts, rather, to a critique of capital as
a social relationship between persons which is mediated through things.3 He
is right in that Marx was seemingly unable to complete his chapter on class,
which does not go much further than asking what constitutes a class?4 The
use of the verb constitutes contrasts sharply with the conventional Marxist
attempt at developing an authoritative definition of class.5
How might it be possible to define class within a critical project that
emphasizes that theoretical mysteries find their rational explanation in the
comprehension of the actual relations of life? The definition of the working
class would require at least one additional definition, namely that of the
capitalist representing the other side of the class divide. Marxs critique
of political economy argued that the capitalist is capital personified and
endowed . . . with consciousness and a will. The characterization of the
capitalist and worker as personifications of economic categories, bearers
of particular class interests, suggests that class is not a subjective category
that derives from class consciousness.6 Rather, it suggests that class is an
objective category of the false society.
The labour market is a mysterious institution: the class tied to work is
compelled to sell its labour power voluntarily to the owner of the means of
subsistence. Both parties appear as equal legal subjects who are governed

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

by the law of contract according to which equivalent is exchanged for


equivalent. Marxs argument assumes that the commodity labour power is
traded according to its value, like any other commodity. The labourer does not
sell herself. She sells her labour power. However, the seller of labour power
cannot be distinguished from the commodity that the capitalist has acquired
and, as is his right, puts to use with the express aim that his investment yields
a profit. For the seller of labour power, the purpose of the sale is to make
a living mediated by wage income. For the buyer of labour power, it is the
production of surplus value. Class thus characterizes a relationship between
the owners of the means of production and the producers of surplus value.7
I hold that class is the critical category of the entire system of capitalist wealth,
which appears in the form of an equivalent exchange between money and
more money. This appearance is real. What appears in the appearance of the
value form as an equivalence exchange relationship between unequal values
(M . . . M) is the surplus value that has been pumped out of the workers.8
Or as Adorno put it, the mysterious character of the value form lies in the
concept of surplus value.9
The chapter argues that the understanding of class can go forward only in
and through the critique of capital as the form assumed by the conditions of
labour.10 In distinction to Postone, who argues that the capitalist social forms
cannot be fully grasped in terms of class categories and that any such attempt
entails a serious sociological reduction of Marxs critique, I argue that class
is an objective category of a perverted system of wealth, and its production.11
It is the logical and historical presupposition for the existence of individual
capitalists and workers, and the basis on which the labour of one section of
society is appropriated without equivalent by another.12 It therefore denotes
a social relationship that is independent from individuals while prevailing only
in and through them. It is the foundation of the whole system of mysterious
economic forces that manifest themselves behind the backs of the social
individuals, on the pain of being cut off from the means of subsistence. That
is to say, to be a productive labourer is not an ontologically privileged position,
according to which the working class is the driving force of historical progress.13
Rather, it is a great misfortune.14 The critique of class society finds its positive
resolution only in the classless society, not in a fairer class society.

On class and classification


In his short chapter on class, Marx answers his question What constitutes
a class? by saying and the reply to this follows naturally from the reply to

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another question, namely: What makes wage-labourers, capitalists and


landlords constitute the three great social classes?15 He then shows the
difficulty in arriving at any sensible answer: each individual occupation will
constitute its own class-group, a group that needs to be divided again and
again to grasp the specificity of each categorys functional characteristic
and socio-economic role.16 Classification contradicts its very purpose:
clarification is sought by classifying the social relations into distinctive
segments with the result that social categories proliferate to such an extent
that the classificatory project finishes up with an unmanageable number of
definitions. Instead of clarity, definitions encourage, in the name of accuracy
(!), an infinite number of categories. This in turn leads to the creation of more
general classifications,17 such as the level or basis of income, to provide clarity
where accuracy failed. The notion of, for example, income as a tool to
indicate class characteristics was of course very much criticized by Marx in
his chapter The Trinity Formula, which precedes his short chapter on class.
Indeed, if class is understood as a social relationship, the definition of the social
individuals according to economic positions, levels and sources of income,
social status and labour market situation, eliminates the critical function of
concepts by claiming that their negative aspect simply does not exist as
everybody is positively identified and classified.18 The revenue of the working
class is the wage and the revenue source wage defines the working class.
This circularity of thought proliferates into many other circularities: capitals
revenue is profit, and landowners revenue is rent; and the psychoanalyst
who is paid by the state from the taxes collected merely, an unproductive
service provider just as the social worker?19 All these groups stand not so
much in relation with each other but, rather, in relation to each other. They
relate externally to each other. The concept of social groups does not inform,
and is not informed by, the concept of social relations: it reports, instead, on
externally related things that are seen either to be colliding with one another20
or capable of interpolation.21 Is it really possible to view a group as a social
relation?
The theory of social stratification classifies the social individuals as
members of this or that social group according to some analytical criteria
such as level of income, educational achievement, living standard, etc.
In this manner it seeks to render intelligible the observable facts of life
without conceptualizing them as forms of definite social relations. Instead,
it generalizes the raw sense data of the sign worker into a classificatory
category and then applies the classification to the working class to signify it.
In other words, first of all a norm is abstracted from empirically observable
signs, and then it is in the light of this norm that the significance of these
same signs is assessed. The empirically observable fact that a great number

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

of people are tied to work and make a living by means of wage income
leads to the classification working class as the ideal-type of the class that
works, and then the classification working class is validated by the same
reality from which the classification derived in the first place. This clearly
tautological approach finds its raison dtre as a mathematical number game:
the traditional working-class, however this suspect category might itself be
defined, might or might not have declined. Were this research to find that
there are no more workers but only employees, and that employment has
been replaced by employability,22 would this mean that the class antagonism
between capital and labour, that is, between the buyers of labour power and
the producers of surplus value, has been transformed into a different set of
social relations and form of social wealth?23
Within the classical Marxist tradition, class is defined by its economic
position. There is thus an argument about the location of the working class
in the production process, the position of the working class in relation
to capital on the labour market, the differentiation between productive
and unproductive labour in relation to the production of surplus value, the
distinction between mental and manual labour, and the novelty of immaterial
labour succeeding, it is said, its former materiality, etc. 24 For this approach, the
great embarrassment is the circumstance that there are social groups that do
not fit into either of the two main classes, the working class and the capitalist
class. Still, the embarrassment is only one of degree. All that is required is to
introduce a new classificatory category into which those that stand in the middle
between the two opposing classes can be assigned: the middle class. Again,
this class is internally stratified based on income and status differentiations,
ideological projections, closeness to working-class interests, backwardness
in terms of ideological projection and social position, etc. In this context, the
class struggle is conceived as a question of the leadership of the working
class vis--vis other class strata to ascertain the construction of likely class
alliances. It is the position of the working class in the production process that
privileges it as the revolutionary class in-itself. In order to become a class
for-itself it has to acquire the requisite revolutionary class-consciousness,
which provision is a matter of revolutionary leadership.25 While favouring a
vocabulary with a progressive ring, such as class position, class alliance, etc.,
the classical Marxist conception of class is entirely affirmative of the working
class as the producer of social wealth, and perceives its position in production
as an ontological privilege.
In his Trinity Formula, Marx develops a robust critique of the theory of class
proposed by classical political economy, and shared by modern sociology,
including the classical Marxist tradition, according to which the component
classes of society are determined according to the source of their revenue,

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105

wages, rent and profit, which Weberian sociology perceives of in terms of


market situation. Moishe Postone develops this sociology ostensibly as an
alternative to the orthodox Marxist tradition. He argues that the Marxian theory
does of course include an analysis of class exploitation and domination.
But, he says, the critique of political economy goes beyond investigating
the unequal distribution of wealth and power within capitalism to grasp the
very nature of its social fabric, its peculiar form of wealth. It thus analyses,
he argues, a definite system of labour that is structured by . . . the social
forms of commodity and capital and argues that this system is differentiated
from the life-world of class-relevant struggles over the (un)equal distribution
of wealth.26 Terry Eagletons conception of class struggle brings this classical
view into sharp focus. For Eagleton class is a category of struggle over the
surplus and he argues that the class struggle is likely to continue as long
as there is not sufficiency for all.27 The class character of society has thus
to do with the class-specific distribution of the scarce economic resources
that the structured system of labour produces. Eagletons views on the class
struggle over scarce resources and the progress of wealth beyond scarcity
falls into the tradition of political economy that Marx denounced as a learned
dispute . . . as to how the booty pumped out of the workers may be most
advantageously divided for the purposes of accumulation. 28 In this tradition,
the critical notion that the class relationship is constitutive of the capitalist
form of wealth, which entails an equivalent exchange between the owner
of the means of subsistence and the propertyless producer of surplus
value, disappears from view. In its stead, it views the economic structure
of capitalism as some objectively given framework of social development,
and it is within this framework that the class struggle unfolds as a struggle
over the spoils of the system of wealth how much for wages, how much
for profits? Conventionally, this idea of class as structurally embedded social
force is expressed by the term class in-itself.
The notion of a class in-itself refers to capitalist social relations as
objectified relations of economic nature. Class in-itself is not a category that
thinks out of society. Rather, it is a category of social observation, which
articulates what is immediately apparent, that is, there is a class that is tied
to work, it lives by wages and is the living factor of production. It thus defines
this class by its labour market situation, contribution to the production process
and wage-based access to the means of subsistence. 29 That is, class in-itself
is not a critical category. Its employment leaves the so-called objective
conditions entirely untouched by thought.30 Following Horkheimers account,
the acceptance of society as an objectively structured thing constitutes the
blind spot of dogmatic thought, which is predicated on the separation of the
social existence from its genesis. 31 Class relations cannot be derived from

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the hypothesized anatomy of bourgeois society and its equally


hypothesized economic laws. Such a derivation transforms dialectical
concepts of social practice into classificatory categories that describe reality
abstractly without telling us what it is.32

Equivalence and surplus value:


On class and competition
There are of course such things as the market situation of the middle class and
associated moralities and interests; and the location and position of working
class in the social organization of capitalist wealth; and there is the capitalist
spurred into action by the forces of world-market competition to increase the
productivity of labour as a means of avoiding bankruptcy and there are also
the categories of population and nation, national interest and transnational
class, and hegemonic project. In order to comprehend the conceptuality
of these terms, one has to find out about the relations of subsistence to
decipher the movement of this divided, contradictory, fractured, disjointed,
unsocial, antagonistic and thus coercive sociability of abstract wealth, in
which equivalent is exchanged for equivalent on the expectation of a profitable
return, whatever the product. The circumstance that buyer and seller of
labour power meet on the labour market as equal legal subjects masks their
fundamental inequality. Each individual carries the bond with society in her
pocket. The buyer of labour power is the owner of the means of subsistence.
The seller of labour power is free of them and at liberty to satisfy her needs
by trading her capacity to work for a wage. Economic compulsion is a form
of freedom that is experienced in and through a constant struggle to secure
her living existence.
A theory of society is critical on the condition that it conceives of society
from within its mode of subsistence: what constitutes social wealth, why
does the metabolism with nature take the form of money as more money,
how is this wealth produced and by whom, what is the social necessity of
this wealth, what lies within its concept and what does it have in store for
the producers of wealth? There is no profit in equivalence exchange. Profit
expresses a surplus in value that was pumped out of the labourer during the
production process, here the labourer is a mere economic resource human
material for the production of surplus value.33 This valorization of value
manifests its sociability in the civilized forms of equivalence exchange relations
between the sellers and buyers of commodities; here the labourer trades her
labour power for a wage to the owner of the means of production who views

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her as a means for profit. Pace the idea of an analytically precise definition of
the working class or any other social class or sociologically defined group, the
notion of the working class is contradictory. Richard Gunn makes this point
succinctly: the feet of the wage labourer remain mired in exploitation even
while [their heads breathe] in bourgeois ideological clouds. 34 These are the
clouds of what Marx refers to as the very Eden of the innate rights of man
this exclusive realm of Freedom, Equality, Property, Bentham, in which
the economic compulsion appears in the form of a non-coerced equivalent
exchange between equal legal subjects, each responding to price signals to
advance their interests. 35 The labour contract is the expression par excellence
of capitalist freedom: it combines the freedom of trade in labour power with
exploitation.
Class is a living contradiction: Contradictions cannot be classified. Any
such attempt would merely identify the individual as a bearer of this or
that ascribed class characteristic. Class denotes a social relationship that
though independent from the individuals, prevails in and through them as
the dispossessed producers of surplus value whose access to subsistence
depends on the successful sale of their labour power, and the conditions
of trade are regulated by the rate of accumulation, and thus the profitable
employment of their labour power in competition with all other workers. The
category class has thus a double meaning: it entails the notion of class unity
as the manifestation of the class antagonism between the classes, and it
entails class disunity as a competitive relationship between the sellers of
labour power. Unity qua disunity entails coercion as the condition of social
reproduction. In Capital, Marx develops the capitalist class relations from the
sale of the commodity labour power. In truth, however, the sale of labour
power presupposes coercion as the foundation of its sale.36 For the seller of
labour power, the original violence of dispossession appears in the civilized
form of labour-market competition between this seller of labour power
against that seller of labour power. Economic compulsion manifests itself
as both a daily struggle for securing the means of subsistence by means
of wage income and as competition among the sellers of labour power to
achieve and maintain that income. For the seller of labour power, competition
is not some abstract economic law. Rather, it is experienced in the form
of precarious labour markets and pressure to secure the profitability of her
employer as the basis of sustained employment. The class relation does not
just amount to the wage relation; rather, it subsists through the wage relation.
That is, the line of class antagonism falls not merely between but also, and
importantly, through the social individuals. For the sellers of labour power, the
freedom of contract entails the common class experience of labour-market
competition. Competition is not a category of social unity. It is a category of

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disunity. Class society exists in the form of individualized commodity owners,


each seeking to maintain themselves in competitive, gendered and racialized,
and also nationalized labour markets where the term cutthroat competition is
experienced in various forms, from arson attack to class solidarity, and from
destitution to collective bargaining, from gangland thuggery to communal
forms of organizing subsistence-support, from strike-breaking to collective
action.
The critique of political economy does not conceive of the economic
categories as personalized forms of class power. Rather, it conceptualizes
capital as social relationship that manifests itself in the form of seemingly
independent economic forces. Thus, as Marx put it in his short chapter on class,
we have already seen that the continual tendency and law of development
of the capitalist mode of production is more and more to divorce the means
of production from labour, and more and more to concentrate the scattered
means of production into large groups, thereby transforming labour into
wage-labour and the means of production into capital. 37 In Marxs critique,
there is hardly any reference to class consciousness, if any. His notion of the
working class, as that of the capitalist, was objective insofar as both wage
labourer and capitalist are personifications of a social world that subsists,
contradictorily, as a relationship between things. The law of class society is
what remains in disappearance.38 Capitalist social relations are founded on
dispossessed labour and in its appearance, dispossession disappears in the
form of the free labourer who as an equal legal subject is governed by the rule
of law, as a private citizen who is responsible for herself. Personal coercion
and dependency disappears in the appearance of economic compulsion,
which binds the wage labourer . . . to his owner by invisible threads. 39 What
remains in disappearance, too, is the law of accumulation, which entails the
expanded reproduction of social wealth in the form of capital, perpetuating its
constitutive presupposition in dispossessed labour on an expanding scale; in
its own time, says the Communist Manifesto, it penetrates Chinese walls.
What also remains in disappearance is the capitalist form of social labour,
which entails the free labourer as the productive factor of surplus value that
appears in the world-market form of factor competitiveness, measured by the
rate of profit.
Capitalist accumulation in no way alters[s] the fundamental character of
capitalist production. It continuously reproduces the capital relation . . . on
an expanded scale.40 Capital is not a thing and the standpoint of capital and
labour is the same and not the same.41 Both, the labourer and the capitalist are
personifications of the perverted reality of value. The one owns the means of
subsistence and buys the labour power of another Man, transforming it into
labour activity so that his investment may lay golden eggs, which it has to on

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the pain of ruin; the other sells her labour power to the owner of the means
of subsistence to secure access to the means of human subsistence by wage
income, that is, by the continuous sale of her labour power. The one struggles
with great courage and determination to achieve higher wages and lessen
the burden of work. The other tries to pay as little as possible and demands
greater productive effort to make a profit. Class struggle is incessant. It
belongs to the concept of bourgeois society. It characterizes its disunity as
the condition of its perverted unity. For the sake of subsistence the labourer
cannot live without selling her labour power, and thus depends for her life on
the progressive accumulation of capital by which the owner of the means of
production converts the extracted surplus value back into economic activity,
employing the labourer by yesterdays yield of surplus value. Her continuous
access to subsistence rests on the profitability of her labour, that is, on
the effective exploitation of her labouring existence by the buyer of labour
power. Relating to each other as antagonistic members of opposing classes,
each presupposes the other, and each produces the other, not by their own
personal will but by means of an objective social process that prevails not
only over them but also in and through them. Thus, the capitalist and wagelabourer are as such merely embodiments, personifications of capital and
wage-labour; definite social characteristics stamped upon individuals by the
process of social production.42 That is, sensuous activity not only vanishes
in the supersensible world of economic things, it also appears in it with a
price tag; and what appears with a price tag is the dispossessed producer
of surplus value, who makes a living by trading her labour power for a wage.
Society reproduces itself by virtue of struggle, this manifestation of the sheer
unrest of life for access to the means of subsistence and also for life-time
over labour-time. The class struggle is the objective necessity of the false
society. It belongs to its concept.43

Labour and surplus value


The ghost walking of Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre that Marx talks
about in his critique of the classical conception of class, is founded on the
incessant consumption of living labour during the working day.44 For the sake
of bringing the production of surplus value into sharp focus, Marx assumed
that the seller of labour power receives a wage that expresses the value of
her labour power. He developed the concept of surplus value, and with it the
law of value as the law of valorization, on the basis of an equivalent exchange
between two property owners. The value of labour power is determined like

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the value of any other commodity. It is the socially necessary labour time
required for the production and thus reproduction of this specific commodity,
with the one exception of a moral and historical element, which accrues to it
as a consequence of the class struggle in the form of, for example, favourable
wage conditions and systems of welfare support, etc.45 The circumstance that
the labourer depends for her subsistence on the successful sale of her labour
power does not violate the law of equivalent exchange. It merely focuses the
sheer unrest of life in the constituted form of freedom.
Once the labour contract has been signed, the capitalist has acquired the
right to consume the commodity that he has acquired for the duration of
the contract, and the labourer has relinquished her rights to her property.
There is however a distinction between the commodity labour power and the
other commodities. The buying, say, of an apple entails its consumption. The
buying of labour power also entails its consumption. However, the commodity
labour power is inseparable from its seller. The consumption of labour power
is therefore consumption of the labourer. Yet, according to the contract, the
seller of labour power was not bought, only her labour power. According
to the liberal rule of rule of law, subjects of law exchange commodities
by their own free will, and slavery is not permitted. The seller of labour
power does thus not sell herself as a person to the highest bidder. The free
labourer is not obliged to any person in particular. Instead, she is subjected
to the freedom of the labour market. Nevertheless, the working class is
just as much an appendage of capital as the lifeless instruments of labour
are . . . The appearance of independence is maintained by means of a constant
change in the person of the individual employers, and by the legal fiction of
contract.46 As an independent subject of exchange the labourer is entirely
responsible for herself, which includes her right to restrict the expenditure
of her labour power during the working day in order to maintain herself as a
person. The right of the capitalist to consume the acquired commodity labour
power is pitted against the right of the worker to resist the consumption of
her labour power in order to maintain her health, integrity and, indeed, secure
her survival. Since the labourer did not sell herself but only her labour power,
and since the consumption of her labour power entails nevertheless the
consumption of the labourer, class struggle is incessant. Between two equal
rights, Marx writes, force decides, ranging from the force of starvation that
Adam Smith talks about when highlighting the futility of strikes, to the force of
the state that Marx talks about in his analyses of the struggle over the limits
of the working day.47
The class character of the capitalist form of wealth entails distinct
conceptions of social time. On the one hand, there is the socially necessary
labour time, which determines the value of the commodity labour power.

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On the other, there is the time of the labour process as a production


process of capitalist wealth. Here labour power is transformed into actual
labour activity for the duration of the length of the working day. These
two notions of time are distinct. Adornos point that the trading of labour
power amounts fundamentally to a social relationship between the buyers
of labour power and the producers of surplus value says that the working
day is divided into two distinct temporalities.48 During a part of the working
day, the doubly free labourer produces himself as labour capacity, as well
as the capital confronting him and during another part, her labour expands
the existing social wealth in the form of capital, that is, in the form of surplus
value.49 The working day is thus divided into two parts, one in which labour
reproduces the value of her labour power and the other in which she adds to
the existing wealth, essentially working for free. The first part represents the
labour time necessary for reproducing the existing social wealth, the other
the surplus labour time for the creation of surplus value, that is, the labour
time of profit. In order to generate surplus value, the necessary labour time
needs to be a fraction of the total of the working day, positing the surplus
labour time of profit. The time of production is the time of a struggle over the
appropriation of surplus labour time.50 Surplus labour time is the foundation
of capitalist wealth. All surplus value . . . is in substance the materialisation
of unpaid labour.51 In order for the worker to be a producer of surplus value,
the necessary labour time of the worker appears as a limit to the production
of capitalist wealth.
Time, then, really is not only money. It is also more money. The workers
surplus labour time is the foundation of profit, and profits need to be made
to avoid bankruptcy. Labouring for the sake of a surplus in value is innate
to the concept of the worker, who by selling her labour power sold herself
as a living means of greater wealth. From within the concept of capitalist
wealth, the labourer really is the living embodiment of value a living factor
of the economy of time, a times carcass of surplus labour, a means of profit.
From within the concept of capital, the labourer is the agent of unpaid surplus
labour time. She belongs to a system of wealth that posits her necessary
labour time as the contested foundation of surplus labour time. Labour has a
utility only as a means of surplus value. The loss of labour time is a loss for
surplus value. For the sake of profit, time cannot be wasted.
Capitalist wealth depends on the imposition of necessary labour, as the
constituent side of surplus labour, upon the worlds working classes. The
relationship between necessary labour and surplus labour is a relationship
between two mutually dependent and antagonistically related parts of the
working day. Necessary labour is the foundation of surplus labour and the
expansion of surplus labour entails the reduction of necessary labour as a

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portion of the working day. This relationship between the time of necessary
labour and the time of surplus labour expresses the class relationship between
the buyers of labour power and the producers of surplus value. It entails not only
the class struggle over the capitalist attempt at reducing the workers life-time
(Lebenszeit) to labour-time. Fundamentally, it entails the class struggle over
the reduction of the workers life-time to surplus labour time. Within a given
length of the working day, the reduction of necessary labour time relative to
surplus labour time is a function of the increase in labour productivity, which
cheapens the value of labour power by reducing the socially necessary labour
time required for its reproduction. There is thus a relative increase in the time
of surplus value production over the time necessary for the reproduction of
the value of labour power. However, the increase in labour productivity also
means that less and less socially necessary labour time is required to produce
individual use-values. There is thus an increase in material wealth as more usevalues are produced in a given time. However, this increase in material wealth
posits a problem for the capitalist form of wealth. The increase in material
wealth may correspond to a simultaneous fall in the magnitude of its value.52
That is, with the increase in the productivity of labour, the socially necessary
labour time for the production of a commodity declines with potentially
crisis-ridden consequences, in the form, say, of overflowing markets, falling
rates of profit, declining rates of accumulation as less profits are available
for reinvestment into expanded production, leading to the intensification of
competition to secure existing values, and to thus renewed efforts to increase
labour productivity in an attempt at maintaining competitiveness on the pain
of destruction.53
The capitalist does not decide by his own free will to produce surplus value
for the sake of more surplus value. The decision is taken for him by the law of
value that in the form of competition asserts the immanent laws of capitalist
production . . . as external coercive laws.54 In order therefore to preserve
his capital he is compelled to keep on extending his capital and can only
extend . . . by means of progressive accumulation, which in its effect makes
the proletarian merely a machine for the production of surplus value and
the capitalist too is merely a machine for the transformation of this surplus
value into surplus capital.55 For the labourer, the creation of greater social
wealth is contradictory: The law by which a constantly increasing quantity
of means of production may be set in motion by a progressively diminishing
expenditure of labour power, thanks to the advance in the productivity of
social labour, undergoes a complete inversion, and is expressed thus: the
higher the productiveness of labour, the greater the pressure of the workers
on the means of employment, the more precarious, therefore becomes the
condition of their existence, namely the sale of their own labour power.56 That

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is, the increase in the productivity of labour does not entail the shortening of
the working day. It is only the shortening of the necessary labour time that is
aimed for.57 The increase in the productivity of labour and a readily available
reserve army of labour are two sides of the same necessity of curtailing the
necessary labour time of the worker in favour of the surplus labour time that
generates profits. Profit is a vanishing moment of capitalist social wealth.
Sustaining it requires the progressive expansion of capital, that is, the secret
of the self-valorization of capital resolves itself into the fact that it has at its
disposal a definite quantity of the unpaid labour of dispossessed workers.58
In sum, for the worker, the increase in her labour productivity manifests
a great calamity. Every increase in labour productivity shortens the hours
of labour but in its capitalist form, it lengthens them. The introduction of
sophisticated machinery lightens labour but in its capitalist form, heightens
the intensity of labour. Every increase in the productivity of labour increases
the material wealth of the producers but in its capitalist form makes them
paupers. Most important of all, greater labour productivity sets labour free,
makes labour redundant. But rather than shortening the hours of work and
thus absorbing all labour into production on the basis of a shorter working
day, freeing life-time from the realm of necessity, those in employment are
exploited more intensively, while those made redundant find themselves on
the scrap heap of a mode of production that sacrifices human machines on
the pyramids of accumulation.59 That is, the coercive character of society
manifests itself as if by law of nature, which consumes each one of us, skin
and hair.60 However, the circumstance that the capitalist and the labourer are
both personifications of economic categories does not entail that they are
both equally enslaved to an economic logic that asserts itself behind their
backs. For the capitalist, the law of value is a means of great social wealth,
whereas for the labourer it entails not only economic compulsion, labour
market competition for wage-based access to subsistence, but also her
existence as a human resource of surplus value. Although the capitalist is a
mere personification of an economic system that asserts itself on the pain of
bankruptcy, he rules through it.61 Social labour is held by invisible threads to
the capitalist. Indeed, in reality, the worker belongs to capital before he has
sold himself to the capitalist.62 Still, the trade in labour power does not violate
the laws of the equivalent exchange. Equivalent is exchanged for equivalent
and yet, the content is the constant appropriation by the capitalist, without an
equivalence, of a portion of the labour of others, that is, the constant sale and
purchase of labour power is a mere semblance belonging to the process of
circulation. There is then only an apparent exchange. Although the capitalist
is assumed to buy labour power at its value, the capital that is exchanged for
a wage is itself merely a portion of the product of the labour of others which

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has been appropriated without an equivalent and furthermore, the capital that
the worker received as a wage must not only be replaced by its producer, the
worker, but replaced together with an added surplus.63 Capital presupposes
the wage labourer as the producer of surplus value; and the wage labourer
not only presuppose the capitalist as the employer of labour power, she is
also dependent on the capitalist as the buyer of her labour power. She lives
by the sale of her labour power, and is incessantly forced to sell [her] labour
power in order to live, and enables the capitalist to purchase labour-power in
order that he may enrich himself.64 The one seeks to subsist, the other to
make a profit. And this is what is called: creating capital out of capital.65
Adornos point that the capitalist rules through those same perverted
economy categories that control him, is to the point: The separation of labour
from the means of subsistence asserts itself in the form of an equivalent
exchange between the compelled producer of surplus value and the owner
of the means of subsistence. The antagonistic character of this relation
manifests itself in the process of capitalist accumulation, in which the
working class creates by the surplus labour of one year the capital destined
to employ additional labour in the following year.66 The class relationship
comprises not only the social antagonism between those who control the
means of production and those who are divorced from them. It comprises
also the buying of labour power with the money that the unpaid labour of
the previous year made for the owner of the means of subsistence. That is,
capital is essentially command over unpaid labour.67 Bourgeois society does
not include the class antagonism as one of its moments. Rather, it is founded
on it, and reproduces itself through it.68

Conclusion: Class and critique


Class is not primarily a category of consciousness. It is a category of a
perverse form of social objectification. In the person of the worker, capital
encounters the human material for the progressive accumulation of abstract
wealth.69 The worker is the living embodiment of personified labour time
and, in reality, that is the surplus labour time of surplus value production.70
The separation of the labourer from the means of subsistence entails the
common class experience of economic compulsion to sell her labour power
to the commander of unpaid paid labour time, which in time transforms
into the money that buys another Man. Economic compulsion subsists in
the form of the freedom of the labour market, which manifest the common
class experience for class unity and collective action. It also manifests the

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common class experience of labour market disunity as each individual seller


of labour power competes against the other for employment as the condition
of gaining access to the means of life.
Primitive accumulation, this struggle that freed master from serf
and serf from master is constitutive of the relation between capital and
labour. It is therefore not just the case that class practice ensues through
perverted social forms.71 Class struggle is also the fundamental premise
of class.72 Once the separation of labour from the means of production
and subsistence is taken for granted, the capitalist social relations appear
in the form of an abstract market structure whose empirical reality is
mediated by class struggle.73 In this account, social class is condemned
to carry the burden of classification.74 However, economic abstractions as
such do not exist, except as a negative ontology of perverted (verrckte)
social relations. It is only in the last, most derivative forms that the various
aspects of capital appear as the real agencies and direct representatives
of production. Interest-bearing capital is personified in the moneyed
capitalist, industrial capital in the industrial capitalist, rent-bearing capital
in the landlord as the owner of land, and lastly, labour in the wage-worker.
These enter into competition as independent personalities that appear at
the same time to be mere representatives of personified things.75 In the
relationship between things, of one commodity to another, labours social
productive force is invisible. The appearance of the social individuals as
members of distinct social groups that operate within the framework of an
abstract market structure characterizes the bewitched world of capital as
the automatic social subject.76 It is this bewitched world of personified
economic categories that the competing sociologies of system theory and
the theory of social action, or, in the terms of the classical Marxist tradition,
the dialectics of economic structure and human agency, seek to render
intelligible through analytical schemes of classification.
This chapter argued that class is the critical concept of the false society.
Innate to its concept is the dispossessed labourer as a self-responsible
personification of essentially unpaid labour time. Class exists in-itself as
a relationship between antagonistic personifications of the law of value.
It therefore also exists for-itself because the relations between things
presuppose the pre-positing action of separation that is reproduced by active
humanity in and through her class-divided social practice. Neither do things
exchange themselves with themselves, nor do the naturally conceived forces
of production exploit labour. It follows that class does not only exist in-itself
and for-itself. It subsists also against-itself as, on the one hand, a perverted
social category and, on the other, as the living premise of its own reified
world.77

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Notes
1 Theodor Adorno, Seminar Mitschrift of 1962, in Appendix to Hans-Georg
Backhaus, Dialektik der Wertform (Freiburg 1997), p.513.
2 Theodor Adorno, Gesellschaftstheorie und Kulturkritik (Frankfurt 1975), p.15.
3 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.932, see also p.92.
4 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. III (London 1966), p.886.
5 See Jrgen Ritsert, Soziale Klassen (Mnster 1998)for a useful account
of this attempt, and its failure.
6 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.25, 92.
7 Dirk Braunstein, Adornos Kritik der politischen konomie (Bielefeld 2011),
p.338.
8 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.743.
9 Adorno, Mitschrift, p.508.
10 Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, vol. 3 (London 1972), p.492.
11 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of Marxs
Critical Theory (Cambridge 1996), p.153. Postone is right to say that it makes
no sense to derive the value relations from the agents of value. What makes
sense, though, is to comprehend by means of critique the autonomization
of the social relations into seemingly separate forms of systemic structure
and human agency. As I argued in Chapter4, having cut off the genesis of
the class relations from the existing social relations, Postone is left with a
traditional conception of social structure and social action, and the perennial
question of analysis is thus which of these conceptions determines the other.
None is explained, and in line with traditional sociology, Postone opts for the
social structure as the determinate force.
12 Simon Clarke, Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology (London 1991),
p.118.
13 This view is central to Erik O Wrights account in Classes (London 1985)and
ClassCounts (Cambridge 1997).
14 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.644.
15 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.886.
16 On class and class fraction, see Nicos Poulantzas, Political Power and
Social Classes (London 1973) and Classes in Contemporary Capitalism
(London 1975). See Bob Jessop, Nicos Poulantzas: Marxist Theory and
Political Strategy (London 1985) for a political reading of class fractions as
the foundation of distinct hegemonic projects. For a critique along the lines
developed in this book, see Simon Clarke, Capital, Fractions of Capital and
the State, Capital & Class, vol. 2, no.2 (1978), pp.3277.
17 These general classifications are usually called, with Weber, ideal types.
18 Theodor Adorno, Lectures on History and Freedom (Cambridge 2008a),
p.139.

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19 Marx treats productive labour and unproductive labour as critical categories.


They reveal the circumstance that in capitalism only that labour is productive
that produces (surplus) value.
20 See, for example, Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity
(Cambridge 1990), who argues that society comprises distinct institutional
complexes, each of which develops through distinct conflicts that collide
with one another, including the economic complex and the conflict between
capital and labour, the military complex and the peace movement, the
administrative complex and the human rights conflict, the industrial complex
and the ecological conflict, etc. In this account, society comprises the
interests of a multitude of colliding groups.
21 See Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy (New York 1971), pp.1605,
on how distinctive class places might be interpolated.
22 The shift from employment to employability is recent. In social theory,
Anthony Giddens, The Third Way (Cambridge 1998)argued for it most
strongly. Employability entails the disappearance of the idea of the
worker as a proletarian. Instead, the term defines the worker as an
entrepreneur of labour power. Ulrich Beck, Die Seele der Demokratie,
Gewerkschaftliche Monatshefte, no.6/7 (1998), pp.3305, brought this
out neatly when he argued that the worker is a labour-force-employer.
This idea goes back to the tradition of American neoliberalism, which
perceived the worker as an investor into human capital. See, for example,
Journal of Political Economy (vol. 66, no.4, pp.281302 (1958), vol. 68,
no.6, pp.57183 (1960), vol. 70, no.5, Part2, pp.1157 (1962). In this
tradition, capitalist society is a society of investors. Some invest into the
means of production, some invest into financial markets, and others invest
into labour capacity. In either case, each investor seeks a profitable return
in the form of profit, interest and wage income. The term employability
recognizes neither employment nor unemployment. It recognizes the
worker as an entrepreneur of labour power; the worker floats from this
employment to that employment, seeking better investment opportunities
for her human capital, that is, labour power. On this see, Werner Bonefeld,
Human Economy and Social Policy, History of the Human Sciences, vol.
26, no.2 (2013), pp.10625.
23 Ulrich Beck, Risk Society (London 1992), p.100, puts this well when he
argues that class society will pale into insignificance beside an industrialized
society of employees. Beck later clarified his position when he and his
co-author argue that the antagonisms between men and women over
gender roles amount to the status struggle which comes after the class
struggle; Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, The Normal Chaos of
Love (Cambridge 1995), p.2. In seems that in the mind set of the Becks,
their consciousness of gender struggle describes the fundamental character
of the new social relations of status, replacing the relations of production.
Marxs critique of political economy does not derive the existence of
classes from class-consciousness. He analyses the manner in which society
organizes its social reproduction.

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24 On immaterial labour see, Carlo Vercellone, From Formal Subsumption to


General Intellect: Elements for a Marxist Reading of the Thesis of Cognitive
Capitalism, Historical Materialism, vol. 15, no.1 (2007), pp.1336. On the
location, position and fractional differentiation of the working class see, for
example, Poulantzas, Political Power and Wright, Classes. Postone, Time,
Labor, and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of Marxs Critical Theory,
p.316, rightly rejects Wrights class theory as a variegated picture of social
groupings. Yet, he, too, endorses a version of this theory. See Postone,
Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of Marxs Critical
Theory, pp.31416.
25 For a recent account, see Callinicos, Is Leninism finished? Socialist
Review, January 2013; http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.
php?articlenumber=12210 (accessed 28 March 2013). See also Georg
Lukcs, Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought (London 1997).
26 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of Marxs
Critical Theory, pp.153, 314, 153.
27 Terry Eagleton, Why Marx was Right (New Haven 2011), p.43.
28 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.743.
29 The earlier quotation from Marx is relevant here: the separation between
the in-itself and the for-itself, of substance and subject, is abstract
mysticism. Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of
Law, in Collected Works, vol. 1 (London 1975), p.62.
30 See Max Horkheimer, Kritische und Traditionelle Theorie (Frankfurt 1992),
p.246.
31 Max Horkheimer, Zur Kritik der instrumentellen Vernunft (Frankfurt 1985),
p.84.
32 Adorno, Gesellschaftstheorie, chap.6.
33 Marx, Capital, p.740.
34 Richard Gunn, Notes on Class, Common Sense, no.2 (1987), p.18.
35 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.280.
36 Theodor Adorno cited in Braunstein, Adornos Kritik, p.217.
37 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.885.
38 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hegel s Dialectics (New Haven 1982), p.42.
39 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.719.
40 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.763.
41 See Marx, Capital, vol. III, chap.48.
42 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.880.
43 According to Holloway, Change the World without Taking Power (London
2002) and Crack Capitalism (London 2010), the class struggle not only
belongs to bourgeois society, it also points beyond bourgeois society.
I reckon the crux of the matter is what this beyond might be. The class
struggle for subsistence does not foretell the future. It does however
entail a profound judgement on the existing relations of social wealth. See

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Horkheimer, Kritische, p.244, for an argument that the critical theory of


society amounts to an unfolded judgment on existence. The notion sheer
unrest of life is Hegels; see Chapter3, fn. 41. Its employment here does
not contradict the argument about the forces of economic compulsion. It
suggests, on the contrary, that economic compulsion is not some abstract
idea. It is an experienced life-category. On this, see Oskar Negt and
Alexander Kluge, Public Sphere and Experience (Minneapolis, MN 1993).
44 Marx, Capital, vol. III, chap.48.
45 The socialist idea of distributive justice focuses on this moral element as the
basis of achieving a just society. See Gerald A. Cohen, Where the Action
Is: On the Site of Distributive Justice, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 26,
no.1 (1997), pp.330. Affluent workers do not come into possession of the
means of subsistence. In the language of Weber, as traders of their own
labour power, they have achieved a favourable market situation.
46 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.719.
47 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
(Indianapolis 1981), p.91. Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.344.
48 Adorno, Mitschrift.
49 Marx, Grundrisse, p.458.
50 I discuss the time of capitalist wealth in Chapter6.
51 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.672.
52 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.137.
53 On the crisis-ridden character of capitalist reproduction, see Simon Clarke,
Marxs Theory of Crisis (London 1994). Joseph Schumpeters, Capitalism,
Socialism & Democracy (London 1992) notion that the process of capitalist
wealth is one of creative destruction recognizes its crisis-ridden character,
and without further ado defines it as a creative force. See Chapter 7 for an
account of capitalist crisis.
54 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.739, see also p.391.
55 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.739, 742.
56 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.798.
57 See Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.4378.
58 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.672.
59 I owe this expression to Ferruccio Gambino, A Critique of the Fordism of
the Regulation School, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Revolutionary Writing
(New York 2003). On the calamities of greater labour productivity, see
Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.5689.
60 Adorno, Gesellschaftstheorie, p.24.
61 Adorno, Gesellschaftstheorie, p.19.
62 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.723.
63 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.729.
64 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.723.

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65 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.729.


66 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.729.
67 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.672.
68 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.337.
69 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.740.
70 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.3523.
71 Helmut Reichelt, Social Reality as Appearance: Some Notes on Marxs
Concept of Reality, in Human Dignity. Social Autonomy and the Critique
of Capitalism, ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis (Aldershot
2005), p.65.
72 Gunn, Notes on Class, p.16. See also Clarke, Marx, Marginalism.
73 Jacques Bidets structuralist interpretation of Capital develops this view
with great sophistication. Bidet, Exploring Marxs Capital: Philosophical,
Economic and Political Dimensions (Chicago 2009). Postones account
reaches the same conclusion.
74 Louis Althusser, Essays in Self-Criticism (London 1976), pp.129, 2023,
thus identifies the social individuals by their function and fits them into the
economic structure as bearers of structural properties.
75 Marx, Theories, p.514.
76 Marx, Theories, pp.467, 514.
77 In the language of Adornos negative dialectics, the living premise is the
non-conceptual content of the (economic) concept; see Chapter3.

6
Time is money:
On abstract labour
Introduction
Abstract labour is the pivotal concept of the critique of political economy it is
the value-producing labour. Marxs account of abstract labour is ambivalent.1
On the one hand, he conceives of it as a specific social form of labour. 2 Its
reality is purely social and it appears in the social relations of commodity to
commodity. 3 On the other hand, he defines it physiologically as productive
expenditure of human brains, nerves, and muscles.4 Physiologically
conceived, abstract labour is as Makato Itoh put it, a natural property that
comprises the general economic norms or rules common to all the forms
of society. In capitalism, it is embodied in commodities and measured by
labour time.5 In this view, abstract labour denotes the expenditure of human
energy in production. Massimo de Angelis also locates abstract labour in
production.6 Yet, he sees it as a specifically capitalist form of labour that
results from a history of class struggle over the control of the labour process,
leading to the progressive deskilling of labour. He thus conceives of abstract
labour in terms of a general labour that can be applied in every labour process,
whatever the specific product might be. It is an abstract labour because it
abstracts from the specific content of work, and is thus truly general in its
character.7
In distinction to these interpretations, this chapter develops abstract labour
as a socially determined, specifically capitalist form of labour that manifests
itself in exchange and, instead of being the labour of muscles and nerves,
it argues that the materiality that holds sway in its concept is not some
discernible substance. Rather, it comprises the time of value, that is, socially
necessary labour time. This approach to abstract labour goes back to Isaak

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Rubins work on value, which was re-discovered in the early 1970s. Rubin had
argued that
one of two things is possible: if abstract labour is an expenditure of human
energy in physiological form, then value has a reified-material character.
Or value is a social phenomenon, and then abstract labour must also be
understood as a social phenomenon connected with a determined social
form of production. It is not possible to reconcile a physiological concept of
abstract labour with the historical character of the value which it creates.8
For the critical tradition, the determination of abstract labour as a physiological
expenditure of labour-power leads to the crudest understanding of value and
the loss of the socially specific character of value-creating labour.9 De Vroey
thus rejected the physiological definition of abstract labour as a naturalistic
deformation of the social reality of capitalism, one which develops Marxs
theory of value as a refined and improved version of Ricardos labour theory
of value.10
Ricardos labour theory of value did not distinguish between concrete
labour and abstract labour.11 Instead, it treated labour as an undifferentiated
category that holds true for all societies. The capitalist form of labour appears
thus as a manifestation of the labour, that is, as the productive activity
of human being in general, by which they promote the interchange with
nature, divested not only of every social form and determinate character, but
even in its bare natural existence, independent of society, removed from all
societies.12 Capitalist labour appears trans-historical because of its concrete,
use-value producing character. However, this concrete, use-value producing
labour is not the labour that produces capitalist wealth. The labour that
produces the exchange value of commodities is abstract labour. The capitalist
form of labour is a directly social labour in that it produces for exchange, and
the value of this labour is therefore its exchange value. Exchange value is
thus not something that is embodied in individual commodities. It is a social
value. The value-validity of the labour expended in production is therefore
established in exchange.13 In distinction to the physiological definition of
abstract labour as a trans-historical materiality of economic production the
value-producing labour is historically specific. It comprises what Marx calls
the double character of labour as both concrete labour and abstract labour.
This labour contains the whole secret of the critical conception.14 Indeed,
the fetishism of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the
labour which produces them.15 Postone argued, therefore, that the critique
of political economy does not criticize capitalism from the standpoint of
labour. Rather, it amounts to a critique of labour.16 This chapter develops this

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insight towards a critique of the double character of labour. For Marx, all
understanding of the facts depends on it.17
The understanding of the double character of labour rests on the
comprehension of abstract labour. Marx staggers about from naturalized
conceptions of abstract labour to its characterization as a purely capitalist
form of labour. Most recently, Axel Kicillof and Guido Starosta have offered
a vigorous defence of the physiological conception of abstract labour, which
they develop as a trans-historical category that in capitalism is represented
by the value-form. The next section introduces their account and examines
their critique of the contributions by de Angelis and Arthur, who, for different
reasons, see abstract labour as a specifically capitalist category. These
three accounts represent the spectrum of debate about abstract labour.18
Notwithstanding the ambivalence in Marxs own text, the final section
expounds abstract labour as a specifically capitalist form of labour, one that
expresses an entirely invisible substance socially necessary labour time.

Abstract labour and its social form


Axel Kicillof and Guido Starosta see abstract labour as the material foundation
of the human metabolism with nature. Man has to exchange with nature,
and they characterize this exchange as the generic determination of labour.
However, the circumstance that Man has to exchange with nature does not
say anything about the mode of production. Nor is labour in the abstract
possible. The reality of labour is always concrete. They therefore argue that
the trans-historical nature of abstract labour expresses itself differently in
distinct modes of production. Its trans-historical materiality obtains thus
through historically specific social forms. In capitalism, abstract labour entails
therefore both a generic material determination and a historically-specific role
as the substance of value. They thus argue that the real genuine object of
the critique of political economy [is] not the pure realm of social forms, but the
contradictory unity between the materiality of human life and its historicallydetermined social forms. They thus see abstract labour as a general economic
category that manifests itself in capitalism as the historically specific labour of
abstract social wealth, of value.19
Their exposition focuses only on the capitalist form of abstract labour,
which provides the illustration for both its historically specific existence as the
substance of value and its natural, trans-historical materiality of production in
general. This then begs the question whether it reveals the ontology of abstract
labour or whether it naturalizes capitalist economic categories. For Starosta,

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abstract labour comprises an expenditure of bodily energy in production, in


exchange with nature, indifferent to concrete purposes, a mere expenditure
of corporeal power.20 As physiological expenditure of human energy, labour
appears as an enduring economic law regardless of the time and the content
of the labour. Makato Itoh puts this point most clearly when he says that the
recognition of the labour was made possible by the development of modern
capitalist commodity economy. However, once obtained, the recognition
can possibly be applicable to other social formations.21 Thus, akin to the
structuralist account, Marxs analysis of capitalism is said to have led him to
the discovery of general historical laws, which, in the case of abstract labour,
established its ontological significance. Marx, says Itoh, recognized the basic
condition of the metabolism between human beings and nature as general
economic norms in the analysis of the labour-and-production process.22
Since abstract labour is viewed as a natural condition of human existence, its
critique amounts fundamentally to a critique of its capitalist form as an as if
of socialist rationalization.
If abstract labour really is expenditure of bodily energy, then it can indeed
be defined without further ado in precise physiological terms. That is,
muscles burn sugar.23 Muscles have burned sugar since time immemorial
and will continue to do so, indifferent to historical development and in this
way expenditure of bodily energy appears indifferent to concrete purposes
and distinct modes of production, and thus truly abstract. For Kicillof and
Startosta the physiological determination is the
only meaningful definition of abstract labour, which, as much as its concrete
aspect, is a purely material form, bearing no social or historical specificity.
And yet, when performed privately and independently, and once congealed
in the natural materially of the product of labour, that purely material form
acquires the form of value of the commodity, i.e. a purely social form that
embodies not an atom of matter.
Their critique of Rubins form of analysis is thus easily understood. Rubin
did not ask how, in capitalism, labour in the physiological sense becomes
specific in terms of value. His mistake was thus to surrender to the selfevident fact that the identity between different concrete labours contains
a physiological or material determination. 24 There is thus need to trace the
social form of abstract labour back to its natural foundation one that bears
no social and historical specificity.
Kicillof and Starosta maintain that the conception of abstract labour as
substance of value does not answer the question about the specific social
character of the labour which produces commodities. It merely tells us

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about the material determination . . . of that which is socially recognised in


the form of value. In short, the analytical reduction of value to its substance
reveals only the capitalist representation of abstract labour 25 it does not tell
us anything about its generic materiality. 26 In their view, Marx discovered this
materiality in the opening pages of Capital, which, they say, tell us that in any
form of society human beings productively expend their corporeal powers.27
At the start of Capital Marx is therefore not concerned, says Starosta, with
the common property in commodities, nor with the specifically capitalist
form of wealth. Rather, he is searching for (i.e., not yet unfolding) the specific
determination defining the potentiality of the commodity as a historical form
of social wealth.28 That is, rather than conceptualizing the capitalist social
relations, Marx is said to establish the general, trans-historical properties of
labour, and according to Starosta, he discovered them in abstract labour
the workers labour obeys the laws of nature, expenditure of labour is
expenditure of human energy that is expended purposefully in exchange
with nature. Starosta therefore argues that Marx [discovered] abstract labour
as the substance of labour in the first pages of Capital.29 This analytical
discovery of (congealed) abstract labour, he argues, revealed . . . the material
determination of that which in capitalist society is socially represented in the
form of value. In other words, before developing the capitalist categories,
Marx first sought to discover their ontological foundation, which he is said
to have found in the general character of productive labour, that is, abstract
labour.30 Marx is thus said to have discovered the source of capitalist wealth
in something that is not specifically capitalist in character: the apparent
trans-historical materiality of labour, its nature, its general existence as
homogeneous human labour, i.e., human labour expended without regard to
the form of its expenditure. Once Marx had established the trans-historical
materiality of abstract labour, he was able to develop the commodity form as
the capitalist representation of the productive expenditure of human energy.
For Kicillof and Starosta, the development of the commodity form entails the
analysis of the very social determination of the revolutionary action of the
working class seemingly to achieve a socialist substantiation of the manner
in which human energy is expended.31
In distinction, both de Angelis and Arthur argue that abstract labour is a
specific social form of labour that has no trans-historical validity. Massimo
de Angelis emphasizes abstract labour as a form of class struggle. Like
Kicillof and Starosta, he disputes Rubins critical value theory, which argues
that abstract labour is established through exchange. Instead, he holds that
the abstract character of labour is a direct consequence of the character of
labour in capitalism. 32 Abstract labour is expended at the point of production,
and is imposed on workers.33 Class struggle over the imposition of abstract

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labour has led towards an increasing homogeneity of concrete labouring,


by means of deskilling and replacement of living labour by machinery. De
Angelis thus conceives of abstract labour as homogenized expenditure of
labour in production. He also conceives of it as an abstraction from the lived
experience of workers in that it relates to subjective feelings such as boredom
at work. De Angelis confuses a particular form of concrete labour with abstract
labour. Chris Arthur argues similarly in his assessment of Bravermans notion
of abstract labour as monotonous, repetitive, homogenized labour. That is,
boring assembly line work is boring concrete labour, not abstract labour.34
The labour that De Angelis discusses is general labour or labour sans phrase:
this is a labour, which is merely mechanical and thus indifferent whatever its
specific form, merely formal activity that allows the individuals to move from
this labour to that labour with ease.35 Nevertheless, and however indifferent
to concrete purposes, this labour is a use-value producing labour. 36
Kicillof and Starosta agree with de Angelis on the centrality of production,
as opposed to exchange, and commend him for his critique of Rubin. They
criticize him for failing to connect properly abstract labour to class struggle.
Since de Angelis conceives of abstract labour as a result of class struggle, he
is criticized for ontologizing class struggle.37 According to Kicillof and Starosta,
class struggle rests on the fundamental contradiction between transhistorical
materiality and its substantiation in distinct social forms. They thus argue
that class struggle unfolds within the contradictory unity between materiality
and social form.38 Class struggle is thus the movens of the contradictory
relationship between the trans-historical forces of production and the
historically specific social relations of production. Since this approach argues
that the forces of production are not social-form determined but are, rather,
the determinant of the relations of production, the class struggle does not
bring about abstract labour, as de Angelis argues. Rather, the class struggle
is about the capitalist modality of abstract labour and its further development
towards socialism.
Chris Arthur develops abstract labour in the context of debates on the
systematic dialectics. He holds that there is not only a split between
form and content, but the former becomes autonomous and the dialectical
development of the structure is indeed form-determined. He thus sees the
value form as expressing the abstract essence of capitalism, that is, value.
Value is essence and essence appears in the value form. He therefore argues
that the ontological foundation of the capitalist system is the material reality
of abstraction in exchange (value). This process generates an inverted reality
in which commodities simply instantiate their abstract essence as values.39
Kicillof and Starosta dismiss Arthurs account as pure formalism. It overlooks
the materiality of value-producing labour as a historical form of development

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of human productive subjectivity.40 In their view, Arthurs stance is indifferent


to material contents and disconnects abstract labour from the material world
of production, class and struggle. For them, Arthurs conception of abstract
labour as a labour that manifests itself in exchange lacks materiality Arthur,
they suggest, deals with the ideal.
Arthurs ontological conception of value does not interest us here.41 His
delivery of abstract labour as a specific social form reveals important insights.
Especially his point that capitalist production posits living labour processes as
abstract activity, pure motion in time opens up a novel, temporally conceived
conception of abstract labour that overcomes the false dichotomy between
production and exchange.42 Arthur posits the materiality of abstract labour as
a specifically capitalist materiality, a materiality of what Adorno called socially
necessary abstract labour time.43
Marx developed the connection between abstract labour and motion in
time in his Critique of 1859. Capital is not as explicit on this connection, but in
my view presupposes it. He quotes from his Critique in Capital volume one: As
values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour-time.44
In his Critique he argues that [o]n the one hand, commodities must enter the
exchange process as objectified universal labour time, on the other hand, the
labour time of individuals becomes objectified universal labour time only as
a result of the exchange process.45 Time is money, said Benjamin Franklin,
and one might add that therefore money is time. If then, capitalism reduces
everything to time, an abstract time, divisible into equal, homogeneous and
constant units that move on from unit to unit, dissociated from concrete
human circumstances and purposes, then, time really is everything. If time is
everything, [then] man is nothing; he is, at the most, times carcase.46 Marx
expresses the same idea in Capital, arguing that the worker is nothing more
than personified labour-time.47
In short, Arthurs argument points towards a temporal conception of
abstract labour a labour time made abstract and thus a time that manifests
a real abstraction, one that holds sway in the conceptuality of value as the
seemingly self-moving essence of social wealth.48 This time, as Debord
put it, has no reality apart from its exchangeability.49 Abstract labour is
the substance of value not because it has a particular useful content, but
because it lasts for a definite length of time.50 This is not the time of the
concrete expenditure of muscles, brain and nerves. Rather, it is the time
of socially necessary labour, which is a social abstraction. It is expenditure
of muscle within socially necessary labour time and measured by socially
necessary labour time.51 The next section argues that abstract labour is a
temporal category of social labour. Only as socially necessary labour time
does labour expended in production achieve value-validity in exchange. In

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this sense, then, capital posits labour time . . . as sole measure and source
of wealth.52

Value form and abstract labour


About the double character of labour
The distinction made by Kicillof and Starosta between generic materiality and
social form is ordinarily discussed by the classical Marxist tradition in terms
of a separation between first nature and second nature, that is, the historically
specific relations of production and the trans-historical forces of production.
This account presumes that the capitalist social forms can be traced back
to some natural basis, which subsists through distinct modes of production
as the historically overdetermined forms of natural necessity. In distinction,
the critical theory tradition argues that the capitalist economic categories are
socially constituted. They manifest the laws of necessity of the capitalistically
constituted forms of social relations.
What does this hold in relation to labour? In relation to use-value producing
concrete labour, its social constitution is easily understood, despite the fact
that use-values constitute the material content of wealth, whatever its social
form may be. Use-values are the basis of social progress. The increase
in the quantity of use-values constitutes an increase of material wealth.53
Furthermore, although hunger is hunger . . . the hunger gratified by cooked
meat eaten with a knife and a fork is a different hunger from that which bolts
down raw meat with the aid of hand, nail and tooth.54 For the capitalist to
produce commodities, he has to produce use-values for others, social usevalues.55 That is, use-value is historically-specific [in] character.56 Use value
in general cannot be produced, has no material existence and does not satisfy
human needs. Man has needs only as concrete Man, and concrete Man is
Man in her definite social relations. In the actual relations of capitalist life,
concrete use-values are produced to facilitate the valorization of value, that is,
the use-value producing labour creates material wealth that obtains as a mere
depository of exchange value.
Socially necessary labour time and the time it took to produce this or that
commodity do not necessarily coincide. Only socially necessary labour time
counts towards the creation of value.57 Socially necessary labour time thus
determines whether the labour expended on the production of a particular use
value is socially valid, and whether therefore the social use-value represents
value in exchange, and if it does not, it has no value, and what has no value

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is discarded. The point of departure is therefore not individual production and


associated notions of abstract labour as some substance that is embodied
in commodities. Value is a social category and the point of departure is thus
socially determined individual production.58 Marx thus argues that
since the producers do not come into social contact until they exchange the
products of their labour, the specific social characteristics of their private
labours appear only within this exchange. In other words, the labour of
the individual manifests itself as an element of the total labour of society
only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between
the products, and, through their mediation, between producers. To the
producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labours
appear as what they are, i.e. they do appear as direct social relations
between persons in their work, but rather as material [dinglich] relations
between persons and social relations between things.
As use-values, commodities are combinations of two elements, the material
provided by nature and labour. If we subtract the total amount of useful labour
of different kinds which contained in [them] . . . a material substratum is always
left. This substratum is furnished by Nature without human intervention. In
distinction, as exchange values commodities are the products of abstract
labour, which is purely social. Indeed, if we abstract from the useful labour
expended on a product, we do not discover the so-called generic materiality
of abstract labour. What we find is matter, something for use, furnished
by Nature. Labour therefore is not the only source of material wealth. 59
Nature produces use-values, too. However, the labour that is decisive in the
production of capitalist wealth, value, is abstract labour. It does not produce
material wealth in the form of concrete things. It produces value as the socially
constituted force of more value, measured by the rate of return.
The concrete labour that produces social use-values is valid as value in
exchange only as abstract labour, as socially necessary labour measured by
time. Against Adam Smith, Marx emphasizes that this labour is an abstraction
forcibly brought about by exchange.60 What Marx means here by exchange
is not exchange with nature but the exchange of commodities in capitalist
society.61 Abstract labour is the substance of value and this substance is
unlike any other. Fundamentally, it is an invisible substance, one that exists
as the ghostlike objectivity of value, in which all sensuous aspects are
eliminated.62 Value, then, comprises the supersensible existence of the
commodity. It cannot be the substance of a single commodity. Value expresses
a social relationship between commodity and commodity and the labour that
posits this relationship is a specific social form of labour.63 In distinction to

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trans-historical, and in any case ontological definitions of the economic forces,


Marx rejects the idea of production in general as a mere spectre . . ., which is
nothing but an abstraction and taken by itself cannot exist at all.64 The notion
that abstract labour, as the trans-historical materiality of all labour, assumes
different social forms in distinct societies transposes the truth of the law of
appropriation of bourgoies society . . . to a time when this society did not
yet exist.65 What therefore needs analysis is the specific social character of
labour that manifests itself in the value form.
Marx praises classical political economy for its analysis of value and the
magnitude of value, and discovery of the hidden content of forms, however
incompletely. Yet, he continues, it never once asked the question why this
content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed
in value, and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the
magnitude of the value of the product.66 That is to say, labour is the content
of the capitalist social forms, and he thus asks why it assumes that form. This
passage thus suggests that labour has to be analysed as the content of that
form. Furthermore, he charges that political economy, especially Ricardo,
nowhere distinguishes explicitly and with clear awareness between labour
as it appears in the value of a product, and the same labour as it appears
in products use-value. Of course, this distinction is made in practice,
since labour is sometimes treated from its quantitative aspect, and at
other times qualitatively. But it does not occur to the economists that a
purely quantitative distinction between the kinds of labour presupposes
their qualitative unity or equality, and therefore their reduction to abstract
human labour.67
In distinction to the classical notion of an economic nature that expresses
itself in overdetermined social forms, Marx does not differentiate between an
abstract labour that is represented by value and an abstract labour that is the
material content of social forms.68 There is only one abstract labour, that is, the
purely social labour of capitalist wealth. In comparison with Marxs conception
of abstract labour as a specifically capitalist form of labour, his physiological
definition of abstract labour is entirely uncritical and traditional in its conception.

Concrete labour and abstract labour:


On difference and equivalence
There is only one social labour and this labour doubles into concrete labour
and abstract labour. As use-values, products are the natural form of concrete

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labour. As exchange values, commodities are the social form of abstract labour.
Here no trace is left behind that might distinguish one commodity from
the other.69 One commodity is the same as any other. It is this equivalence
between different sorts of commodities which brings to view the specific
character of value-creating labour. Abstract labour comprises relations of
equivalence. It is not some substance that hides in individual commodities. It
comprises an identical social substance, which can be expressed only in the
form of an exchange between one commodity and another. This exchange is
characterised precisely by its total abstraction from their use-values. That is to
say, one sort of wares are as good as another, if the values be equal. Exchange
is a matter of equality in exchange, and equality expresses thus an equivalence
that renders distinct commodities commensurable. Equality, too, becomes
abstract in that it is indifferent to quality, distinction, specificity, purpose and
indeed judgement and reason. There is no difference or distinction in things
of equal value. One hundred pounds worth of lead or iron, is of as great a value
as one hundred pounds worth of silver or gold. This equality is the equality of
labour in the abstract, of a labour that is the same as any other.70
Value equivalence is purely social in character. It manifests nothing
concrete. It cannot be either a geometrical, physical, chemical or other natural
property of commodities. Such properties come into considerations only to
the extent that they make the commodities useful, i.e., turn them into usevalues. What the commodities have in common therefore is human labour in
the abstract, and this labour comprises a purely social reality.
So far no chemist has ever discovered exchange value either in a pearl or
a diamond. The economists who have discovered this chemical element,
and who lay claim to critical acumen, nevertheless find that the usevalue of material objects belongs to them independently of their material
properties, while their value, on the other hand, forms a part of them as
objects. What confirms them in this view is the peculiar circumstance that
the use value of a thing is realised without exchange, i.e. in a direct relation
between the thing and man, while, inversely, its value is realised only in
exchange, i.e. in a social process.71
For example, Smith mistakes the objective equalisation of unequal labours
forcibly brought about by the social process for the subjective equality of
the labours of individuals.72 As values, commodities are all the same,
manifestations of abstract labour. As crystals of this social substance they
are merely congealed quantities of homogeneous human labour. They
comprise thus a phantom-like objectivity in that the materiality of abstract
labour is in fact invisible.73

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The phantom-like objectivity of value has to do with the double character of


labour. The real existence of labour is always concrete. That is, physiological
expenditure of labour entails a specific productive application, and is thus
concrete. Concrete labour is productive labour. Variations of productivity
have no impact whatever on the labour itself represented in the value. As
productivity is an attribute of labour in its concrete useful form, it naturally
ceases to have any bearing on that labour as soon as we abstract from its
concrete useful form.74 Muscles do not burn sugar in the abstract. Labour is
always concrete labour. Labour cannot be performed in the abstract. What,
then, is specific about capitalism is that concrete labour has to take the form
of its opposite, undifferentiated and identical, phantom-like abstract labour, to
count as socially necessary labour, thus achieving value-validity.
Abstract labour is not a substance that one can touch, see, smell or eat.
As exchange values, commodities do not contain an atom of use value.75
As use-values commodities do not contain exchange value. As exchange
values all commodities are merely definite quantities of congealed labour
time and the labour which posits exchange value is a specific social
form of labour.76 Commodities exist in the form of use-values or material
goods . . . This is their plain, homely, natural form. They are commodities
only in so far they possess a double form, i.e. natural form and value form.
Finally, not an atom of matter enters the objectivity of commodities as
values; in this it is the direct opposite of the coarsely sensuous objectivity of
commodities as physical objects. Commodities acquire a purely social reality
insofar as they are expressions of one identical social substance, human
labour . . . it follows self-evidently that it can only appear in the social relation
between commodity and commodity.77 That is to say, no single commodity
has value-objectivity for itself, but each has it only in so far as it is a common
objectivity. Outside their relation to each other outside the relation, in
which they count as equal neither coat nor linen possess value-objectivity
as congealed human labour as such.78 Marx has great trouble in expressing
value-objectivity.79 As a social thing it is a sensuous supersensible thing, a
real abstraction. And he speaks not only of a phantom-like objectivity.80 He
also says that value comprises a purely fantastic objectivity and that it is
invisible in commodities.81 Or as Bellofiore put it, strictly speaking value
is a ghost. 82 It is through money that concrete labour becomes abstract
labour. The money form makes the ghost of value visible.83 It manifests
the continually vanishing realisation of value;84 once value is expressed
in the form of money, it has to be posited again and again to maintain its
occult quality to be unequal to itself, conquering the world of social wealth
by extending its sway over the exploited human material to the detriment of
the two sources of social wealth, the soil and the worker. 85

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Ghost and vampire: On atoms of time


What does it mean to say that value is invisible, like a ghost? What expenditure
of labour are we dealing with? This section argues that abstract labour is a realtime abstraction. This time appears in abstract units that add to themselves,
seemingly from time-immemorial to eternity. Time appears as a force of its
own progress, moving forward relentlessly by adding units of time to itself,
as if it were a force of nature that ticks and tocks dissociated from the time
of actual events. This appearance is real. In capitalism, time is ontologised.86
This ontologized time is the time of value, and the time of value is the time of
abstract labour. The holy trinity of abstract labour, time and value is invisible.
Their objectivity is spectral. Nevertheless, the ghost of value becomes
visible in the money form; back in production the ghost turns into a vampire
that feeds on living labour as a time carcase of value.
Actual labour is always labour in motion, that is, it has in actual fact been
expended.87 Just as motion is measured by time, so is labour by labour time
. . . [it] is the living quantitative reality of labour.88 This is the time of abstract,
constant and equal time units, measured by clock time. Direct labour time
[is the] decisive factor of wealth.89 Each commodity represents a specific
quantity of materialised universal labour-time.90 Clock time is dissociated
from the actual human affairs that it measures in homogenous, equal, divisible,
constant, temporal units how long did it take? Yet, however dissociated, it
appears as the substance of the very same activity that it measures. Thus
time appears simultaneously as a measure of value and as its substance.91
From the tick to the tock, clock time measures human activity regardless of
specific contents. In clock time, the expenditure of labour does not occur in
time. It occurs within time.
Conventionally this notion of time is defined as linear time. Here time
exists as an independent framework for motion, events and activities. As
such a framework it is itself devoid of any specific content. Its content is
merely formal in that it moves forward relentlessly into time.92 Time
measures activities but is dissociated from them. Homogeneous time is
empty time: it measures what it is not, it measures concrete expenditure
whatever its content.93 It is also a reified time in that it appears timeless,
without beginning or end, immanent to itself, purely abstract and irresistible.
As a timeless time it is nothing yet its passing ticks and tocks human labour,
measuring its value. Labour time, which is always concrete as an activity in
time, appears as its opposite as an abstract time that is founded on itself
and passes by itself.94 It is not the individuals who meet their needs in time.
Rather time subsumes them, as if by fate or natural necessity, and organizes

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her labour according to an economy of time that is homogenous as a time


without quality, forever moving forward from time unit to time unit, restless,
in constant motion, encompassing no playfulness and lacking in a federated
present, from the tick to the tock it measures the productive expenditure of
labour time in hours.95 What is not completed within the time of value has
no exchange value. Regardless of the human needs that this or that usevalue might satisfy, things without exchange value have no value-validity.
Valueless things are burned. The identification of use-values as depositories
of objectified social labour time is an abstraction that is made every day in the
social process of production. The conversion of all commodities into labourtime is no greater an abstraction, but is no less real, than the resolution of all
organic bodies into air.96 This identification of use-values as depositories of
valuable social labour time is real on the pain of ruin, concrete labour really
has to be completed within the time of socially necessary abstract labour
time.97 Labour is the existing reality of labour time. That is,
with reference to use-value, the labour contained in a commodity counts
only qualitatively, with reference to value it counts only quantitatively, once
it has been reduced to human labour pure and simple. In the former case, it
was a matter of the how and the what of labour, in the latter of the how
much, of the temporal duration of labour.98
How long, then, did it take? Concrete labour takes place in time, and has a
concrete temporality. For this labour to count as socially necessary labour,
it has to achieve value-validity in exchange. That is, its concrete labour-time
has to occur within the time of a real abstraction. Concrete labour time is
compelled to occur within the time of its abstract measure. There is no time
to waste. Commodities have to be produced within the time of value, and the
time of value is the time of socially necessary labour time. If the expenditure of
labour does not occur within the time of value, it is valueless, with potentially
ruinous consequences.
In sum, expenditure of labour is expenditure of concrete labour. For it to
count as a labour that produces social use-values, it has to occur within a
socially determined time frame, which determines the exchange value of
commodities. The validity of concrete labour manifests itself in its opposite as
abstract labour. That is, it has to be objectified as abstract labour in exchange.
Thus, the value of a commodity is its social value; that is to say, its value is
not measured by the labour-time that the article costs the producer in each
individual case, but by the labour time socially required for its production.99
Whether the expenditure of concrete labour-time has value-validity depends
on whether it is a socially valid labour time and this labour time is distinct

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form the individual production process, which it measures. Marxs familiar


definition of the measure of value socially necessary labour time is the
labour-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of
production normal for a given society and with the average degree of skill and
intensity of labour prevalent in that society expresses the social character
of the capitalist form of labour in the form of a universal commensurability of
a time made abstract.100 Only because the labour time of the spinner and the
labour time of the weaver represent universal labour time and their products
are thus universal equivalents, is the social aspect of the labour of the two
individuals represented for each of them by the labour of the other. In this
sense, the individual characteristics of the labourers are obliterated. As Marx
put it in his Critique, labour, which is thus measured by time, does not seem,
indeed, to be the labour of different subjects, but on the contrary the different
working individuals seem to be mere organs of this labour . . . [of] human
labour in general. Different labours appear thus as different expenditures of
the same social labour time. Objectified social labour is the objectified labour
of a working individual that is indistinguishable from all other individuals.101
Labour time is objectified only once. It is both the substance that turns
them into exchange values and therefore into commodities, and the standard
by which the precise magnitude of their value is measured.102 The circuits
M . . . C . . . M and M . . . P . . . M encompass this reality of labour time. Its
elementary form, M . . . M, encompasses it, too, as a mortgage on the future
appropriation of surplus labour time or, I argue in Chapter 7, as presently
fictitious wealth.
Labour time as the measure of the magnitude of value is not fixed and
given. The labour time that was yesterday undoubtedly socially necessary
for the production of a yard of linen, ceases to be so to-day.103 Whether the
concrete expenditure of time is valid as socially necessary labour time can
only be established post-festum. The expenditure of concrete labour is thus
done in the hope, rather than the assurance, that [it] will turn out to be socially
required.104 Our capitalist, this personification of value in process, money in
process, and as such capital, is thus spurred into action, frantically seeking
to make the expenditure of concrete labour-time under his command count
socially as expenditure of necessary social labour time. There he expropriates
unpaid social labour time, here he seeks to make his fortune as seller of
objectified social labour-time. Socially necessary labour time as the measure
of wealth is also the substance of wealth. That is to say, time as a measure of
its own substance must itself be measured, in the form of profit, the rate of
return on expropriated unpaid labour-time.105
For the labourer, the consequences are formidable. Upon the sale of
labour power, the labourer enters a race for time that expresses itself in the

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demand for increased labour productivity. This is a race without winners. It


is a race for economic progress to avoid economic ruin. That is, labour time
is the living state of existence of labour.106 As the personification of labour
time, she produces social wealth in the form of capital. Wealth manifests
itself as time command. How much labour went in to it? How long did
it take? Time is money. No time to waste, more time to catch. This, then,
is the nibbling and cribbling at meal times as moments are the elements
of profit. Pace de Angelis, abstract labour is imposed: work has to be
performed not in its own good time, but within the time of value-validity, a
validity of socially necessary labour time. Work that is not completed within
this time of value-validity is wasted, valueless, regardless of the labour time
that went into it, the sweat and tears of its productive efforts, the usefulness
of the material wealth that was created, and the needs that it could satisfy.
From the appropriation of unpaid labour time to the endless struggle over the
division between necessary labour time and surplus labour time, from the
imposition of labour-time by time-theft, this petty pilferings of minutes,
snatching a few minutes, to the stealing from the worker of additional timeatoms of unpaid units of labour time by means of greater labour flexibility
and systematic robbery of what is necessary for the life of the worker, the
life-time of the worker is reduced to the relentless tick and tock of the time
of value. The worker then appears as nothing more than personified labourtime a times carcase.107 That is to say, value-validity is the validity of a time
of labour made abstract.

Conclusion
Marxs account on abstract labour is ambivalent. On the one hand he defines
abstract labour in physiological terms, arguing that value is the crystallization
and congealment of the expenditure of human muscles, etc. On the other he
treats it as a specifically capitalist form of labour, arguing that commodities
are such crystallizations only because they objectify socially necessary labour
time. Classical Marxist theory develops the first aspect with great clarity
and, against critical approaches that stress the veracity of the latter, purport
this second aspect to be the capitalist objectification of the former. In this
manner, it conceives of abstract labour as an ontological condition or general
economic law, one that manifests a purely material form, bearing no historical
specificity.108 Critically conceived abstract labour is a specific capitalist form
of labour. Its materiality is a socially constituted real abstraction of socially
necessary labour time. This time is the time of value. It achieves value validity

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in the form of money, in which the materiality of labour becomes visible as


money that chases more money for the sake of maintaining its value-validity.
By defining abstract labour as a trans-historical category, the classical Marxist
tradition fetishizes it.109
The trans-historical treatment of abstract labour turns upside down the
critical insight that the double character of labour is specific to capitalism.
Trans-historically conceived, abstract labour becomes the foundation of
all social life. In this round-about-way, concrete labour would figure as a
specifically capitalist form of labour! Rejecting this absurd notion would
mean that concrete labour, too, is treated as a condition independent of all
forms of society. The double character of labour would thus cease to be
capitalisms determining characteristic, and akin to Ricardos undifferentiated
category of labour, the differences in the modes of production would thus
be reduced to distinctions in the social organization and technical division
of labour, say, from the organization of labours corporeal power in the
society of hunters and fishers via its capitalist organization to its socialist
rationalization. Itoh expresses this view with great clarity: abstract labour
can be expended in various forms of useful labour according to the differing
purposes aimed at, which can themselves be flexibly altered and widened in
scope of coverage on the grounds of human intellectual ability. This holds,
he argues, irrespective of whether . . . abstract and concrete labour are
carried out consciously in socialist planning or unconsciously in a capitalist
commodity economy.110 Kicillof and Starostas trans-historical treatment of
abstract labour leads to similar conclusions, that is, the material specificity
of [capitalism] . . . consists, precisely, in the development of the human
productive capacity to organise social labour in a fully conscious fashion.111
Rubins turn towards a critical theory of value argued against its transhistorical naturalization and in favour of its conceptualization as a specifically
capitalist form of labour.112 Politically, this turn renounced the idea of
socialism as a well-ordered republic of labour, which on closer inspection is
in its entirety tied to capitalist realities, from the materiality of labour to the
philosophy of progress.113
The time of abstract labour is the time of the ghostlike existence of social
labour in the form of value, which, once made visible in the form of money,
reveals its reason as the unreason of more money. Holloways point that the
critique of abstract labour finds its positive resolution only in the abolition
of abstract labour focuses the political implications of the critical theory of
abstract labour with great clarity.114 The time of human emancipation is the
time of human purposes. Freely disposable time is the very content of life.
This time posits a form of human wealth that is entirely at odds with the idea
that time is money.

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Notes
1 On this see, Michael Heinrich, Reconstruction or Deconstruction? in
ed. Riccardo Bellofiore and Roberto Fineschi, Re-reading Marx. New
Perspectives after the Critical Edition (London 2009); Helmut Reichelt,
Neue Marx-Lektre. Zur Kritik sozialwisschenschaftlicher Logik (Hamburg
2008). The new reading recognizes the importance of Marxs social form
analysis of abstract labour and sought to reconcile it with his naturalistic
definition, to the detriment of a critical conception. Postone recognized
the central importance of abstract labour as a socially specific labour, and
analysed it in systemic terms by inserting it into his theory of capitalism as
a labour-mediated system of social reproduction.
2 Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (London
1971), p.36.
3 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.139.
4 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.134.
5 Makato Itoh, The Basic Theory of Capitalism. The Forms and Substance of
the Capitalist Economy (London 1988), pp.116, 114.
6 Massimo de Angelis, Beyond the Technological and the Social Paradigms:
A Political Reading of Abstract Labour as the Substance of Value, Capital
& Class, vol. 19, no.3 (1995), pp.10734. Massimo de Angelis, Social
Relations, Commodity-Fetishism and Marxs Critique of Political Economy,
Review of Radical Political Economics, vol. 28, no.4 (1996), pp.129.
7 De Angelis apart, see also Harry Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capital
(New York 1974). Jean-Marie Vincent, Abstract Labour: A Critique (London
1991). In their Elements of anti-Semitism, Theodor Adorno and Max
Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (London 1979), p.207, conceive
of abstract labour in similar terms, describing it as the universal reduction
of all specific energy to the one, some abstract form of labour, from the
battlefield to the studio.
8 Isaak Rubin, Essays on Marxs Theory of Value (Detroit 1972), p.135.
9 Michael Eldred and Marnie Hanlon, Reconstructing Value-Form Analysis,
Capital & Class, vol. 5, no.1 (1981), p.40.
10 Michel de Vroey, On the Obsolescence of the Marxian Theory of Value,
Capital & Class, vol. 6, no.2 (1982), p.44.
11 On this, in the context of Marxian economics, see Maurice Dobb,
Political Economy and Capitalism (London 1940), and Ernest Mandel,
The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx (New York 1971).
For critique, see Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A
Reinterpretation of Marxs Critical Theory (Cambridge 1996), pp.4358.
12 Marx, Capital, vol. III (London 1966), p.815. Translation altered.
13 On this see, especially, Reichelt, Social Reality as Appearance: Some
Notes on Marxs Concept of Reality, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas
Psychopedis, Human Dignity. Social Autonomy and the Critique of

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Capitalism (Aldershot 2005); Michael Heinrich, An Introduction to the Three


Volumes of Karl Marxs Capital (New York 2012).
14 Karl Marx, Letter to Engels, 8.1.1868, MEW 32 (Berlin 1963), p.11.
15 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.165.
16 Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of Marxs
Critical Theory, see, for example, pp.58ff.
17 Marx, Letter to Engels, 24.8.1867, p.407.
18 For a recent debate about these contrasting accounts, see Werner
Bonefeld, Debating Abstract Labour, Capital & Class, vol. 35, no.2 (2011),
pp.47579, Guglielmo Carchedi, A Comment on Bonefelds Abstract
Labour, Capital & Class, vol. 35, no.2 (2010), pp.3079, and Axel Kicillof
and Guido Starosta, On Value and Abstract Labour, Capital & Class, vol.
35, no.2 (2010), pp.295305. The origin of this chapter goes back to
Werner Bonefeld, Abstract Labour: Against its Nature and on its Time,
Capital & Class, vol. 34, no.2 (2010), pp.25776.
19 Axel Kicillof and Guido Starosta, On Materiality and Social Form, Historical
Materialism, vol. 15, no.3 (2007), pp.23, 24, 345.
20 Guido Starosta, The Commodity-form and the Dialectical Method,
Science and Society, vol. 72, no.3 (2008), p.31.
21 Itoh, Basic Theory, p.114.
22 Itoh, Basic Theory, p.121.
23 Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Vorlesungen zur Einfhrung ins Kapital (Hamburg
2005), p.108. Haugs biological definition of abstract labour as sugarburning is apt, to the point and simple in its nature. See also Guglielmo
Carchedi, The Fallacies of New Dialectics and Value-Form Theory,
Historical Materialism, vol. 17, no.1 (2009), pp.14569, whose robust
assertion of the physiological definition of abstract labour leads him to
argue that the determination of value by abstract labour has to do with
the consumption of calories during the production process, as measured
against labour time how many calories per hour of labour is embodied
in the commodity? The biological fact that muscles burn sugar does not
explain any form of society whatsoever.
24 Axel Kicillof and Guido Starosta, On Materiality and Social Form,
pp.345, 22.
25 Kicillof and Starosta, On Materiality and Social Form, p.22.
26 Kicillof and Starosta, Value Form and Class Struggle, Capital & Class,
vol. 31, no.2 (2007), p.16.
27 Starosta, The Commodity-form and the Dialectical Method, p.31. This is
a trivial discovery, by any standards. Against the abstract materialism of
the general historical laws of nature, the categories of political economy
need to be developed from within the actual relations of life. Historical
materialism is not a metaphysics of society as the being and becoming of
some abstract economic nature.
28 Starosta, The Commodity-form and the Dialectical Method, p.25.

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29 Starosta, The Commodity-form and the Dialectical Method, p.21. Fred


Schrader, Restauration und Revolution (Hildesheim 1980) argues that
Marx developed the category in his critique of Benjamin Franklin. Unlike
the category of labour sans phrase in the Grundrisse, the later category
of abstract labour would thus refer to the equalization of qualitatively
distinct concrete labours in terms of value. This is what Franklin was after,
and following Schrader, it was in this context that Marx left aside his
earlier conception of general labour, or labour sans phrase, and instead
developed the category of abstract labour as a purely social form. See
also Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.142, fn. 18. I owe this reference to Reichelt,
Social Reality. In this same context, Postone, Time, Labor, and Social
Domination. A Reinterpretation of Marxs Critical Theory, p.56, makes
clear that in distinction to Marxian economics, and in any case ontological
conception of economic nature, the first pages of Capital establish the
distinctive character of Marxs critical theory of capitalism.
30 Starosta, The Commodity-form and the Dialectical Method, pp.16, 28.
31 Axel Kicillof and Guido Starosta, On Materiality and Social Form, Historical
Materialism, vol. 15, no.3 (2007b), p.41.
32 de Angelis, Social Relations, Commodity-Fetishism and Marxs Critique
of Political Economy, Review of Radical Political Economics, vol. 28, no.4
(1996), pp.1819.
33 de Angelis, Beyond the Technological and the Social Paradigms: A Political
Reading of Abstract Labour as the Substance of Value, Capital & Class,
vol. 19, no.3 (1995), p.111.
34 Chris Arthur, Value, Labour, and Negativity, Capital & Class, vol. 25, no.1
(2001), pp.1539. Braverman, Labour and Monopoly. See Geoff Kay and
James Mott, Concept and Method in Postones Time Labour and Social
Domination, Historical Materialism, vol. 12, no.3 (2004), pp.16987
for a neat account of the circumstance that abstract labour has no
concrete labouring existence.
35 Karl Marx, konomische Manuskripte 1857/58, MEGA II.1.1 (Berlin 1976),
p.217.
36 See Helmut Reichelt, Die Marxsche Kritik konomischer Kategorien.
berlegungen zum Problem der Geltung in der dialektischen
Darstellungsmethode im Kapital, in ed. Iring Fetscher and Alfred Schmidt,
Emanzipation und Vershnung. Zu Adornos Kritik der WarentauschGesellschaft und Perpektiven der Transformation (Frankfurt 2002), p.173.
In contrast, Backhaus confuses abstract labour with general labour. He
conceives of it as the labour, which is neither that labour nor this labour,
and yet, both at the same time. Abstract labour, he suggests, comprises
the general character of all specific forms of labour. Hans-Georg Backhaus,
Der widersprchliche und monstrse Kern der nationalkonomischen
Begriffsbilding, in ed. Iring Fetscher and Alfred Schmidt, Emanzipation
und Vershnung. Zu Adornos Kritik der Warentausch-Gesellschaft und
Perpektiven der Transformation (Frankfurt 2002), pp.1301. See also
Chapter4, fn. 56.
37 Kicillof and Startosta, Value Form and Class Struggle, p.22.

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38 Kicillof and Startosta, On Materiality, p.34.


39 Chris Arthur, The New Dialectic and Marxs Capital (Leiden 2004a),
pp.81, 80.
40 Kicillof and Startosta, Value Form and Class Struggle, p.17.
41 There is only one reality, not two, and content is the content of forms,
however split reality might seem. There is no two-world distinction
between the sensuous world of contents and the super-sensible world
of value-things. Rather, the sensuous world subsists through the
super-sensible world and belongs to it. Arthurs ontological conception
of value develops aspects of Adornos negative ontology, that is, the
self-moving essence of value is the social necessity of a negative world.
Its necessity appears like a force of nature. Yet, it is a solely social
necessity.
42 Arthur, Value, Labour, and Negativity, p.23. Arthurs process of abstract
activity does not connect with de Angeliss reading of abstract labour. The
former conceptualizes the movement of the world behind the backs of its
producers, the latter describes a specific concrete labour. See also his The
Practical Truth of Abstract Labour, in ed. Ricardo Bellofiore, Guido Starosta
and Peter Thomas, In Marxs Laboratory (Leiden 2013).
43 Theodor Adorno, Seminar Mitschrift of 1962, in Appendix to Hans-Georg
Backhaus, Dialektik der Wertform (Freiburg 1997b), p.507.
44 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.130.
45 Marx, A Contribution, p.45.
46 Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Collected Works, vol. 6 (London
1975), p.127.
47 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.3523.
48 I owe the reference to time as a real abstraction to Reichelt, Zur logischen
Struktur des Kapitalbegriffs bei Marx (Freiburg 2001), p.169.
49 Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (New York 1994), p.87.
50 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p. 308.
51 Daniel Bensaid, Marx for our Time (London 2002) conceives of time as
capitalist matter. See also Eric Alliez, Capital Times (London 1996).
52 Marx, Grundrisse, p.706.
53 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.126, 293, 136.
54 Marx, Grundrisse, p.92.
55 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.131.
56 Marx, Randglossen, p.370.
57 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.296.
58 Marx, Grundrisse, p.83.
59 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.1656, 133, 139, 134.
60 Marx, A Contribution, p.59.
61 Karl Marx, Ergnzungen und Vernderungen, MEGA, II.6 (Berlin 1987),
p.41, states clearly that [t]he reduction of different concrete private

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY


labours to this same abstract labour manifests itself only in exchange,
which renders equivalent distinct products of labour.

62 Marx, Ergnzungen und Vernderungen, p.283.


63 Marx, A Contribution, p.36.
64 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.954.
65 Marx, From the Preparatory Materials, in Marx Engels Collected Works,
vol. 29 (London 1987), p.463. Translation altered.
66 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.1734.
67 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.173, fn. 33.
68 This part draws on Reichelt, Neue Marx-Lektre, pp.978. On the face
of it, the argument seems to clash with Murrays observation that Marx
operates with different concepts of abstract labour. Murray distinguishes
between (1) ahistorical labour akin to conceptions of labour as general
exchange with nature, (2) homogenized general labour, that is, abstractified
concrete labour of the sort discussed by de Angelis and (3) practically
abstract labour. The last one is equivalent to value-producing labour, and
is what Rubin calls abstract labour. For Murray practically abstract labour
is truly social. Patrick Murray, Marxs Truly Social Labour Theory of
Value, Historical Materialism, vol. 6 (Summer 2000), pp.2765.
69 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.187.
70 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.142, 138, 127, 1278, 129.
71 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.139, 127, 177.
72 Marx, A Contribution, p.59, translation amended.
73 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.128.
74 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.137.
75 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.128.
76 Marx, A Contribution, pp.30, 36.
77 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.138, 1389.
78 Marx, Ergnzungen, p.30.
79 For an account see Michael Heinrich Reconstruction or Deconstruction
and Enstehungs- und Auflsungsgeschichte des Marxschen Kapital, in
ed. Werner Bonefeld and Michael Heinrich, Kapital & Kritik (Hamburg 2011).
80 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.128.
81 Marx, Ergnzungen, pp.32, 820.
82 Ricardo Bellofiore, A Ghost Turning into a Vampire, in ed. Riccardo
Bellofiore and Roberty Fineschi, Re-reading Marx. New Perspectives after
the Critical Edition (London 2009), p.185. On the invisibility of value, see
also De Vroey, On the Obsolescence of the Marxian Theory of Value,
p.41.
83 Geoffrey Kay, Why Labour is the Starting Point of Capital , in ed. Diane
Elson, Value. The Representation of Labour in Capitalism (London 1979),
p.58. See also Bellofiore, A Ghost Turning into a Vampire; Reichelt, Zur

TIME IS MONEY

143

Konstitution konomischer Gesellschaftlichkeit; Geoff Kay, Abstract


Labour and Capital, Historical Materialism, vol. 5, no.1 (1999), 25580.
84 Marx, Grundrisse, p.209.
85 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.740, 638.
86 Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London 1990), p.331.
87 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.143.
88 Marx, A Contribution, p.30, translation amended.
89 Marx, Grundrisse, p.704.
90 Marx, A Contribution, p.46.
91 Bensaid, Marx for our Time, p.80.
92 Including the time of history, conceived of as the force of its own being
and becoming. On this, see Chapter10.
93 Bensaid, Marx for our Time, p.82.
94 On this see, Hans-Jrgen Krahl, Vom Ende der abstrakten Arbeit (Frankfurt
1984), p.29.
95 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.129.
96 Marx, A Contribution, p.30.
97 Adorno, Seminar Mitschrift, p.507.
98 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.136.
99 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.434.
100 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.129.
101 Marx, A Contribution, pp.33, 301, 32; translation amended.
102 Marx, A Contribution, p.30.
103 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.202.
104 Tony Smith, The Logic of Marxs Capital (Albany 1990), p.69.
105 Bensaid, Marx for our Time, p.75.
106 Marx, A Contribution, p.30.
107 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.352, 553, 3523.
108 Kicillof and Startosta, On Materiality, pp.345. See also Itoh, Basic
Theory, pp.11321, 363.
109 This formulation draws on Chris Arthur, Arbeit, Zeit und Negativitt, in ed.
Werner Bonefeld and Michael Heinrich, Kapital & Kritik (Hamburg 2011).
110 Itoh, Basic Theory, pp.363, 121.
111 Kicillof and Startosta, On Materiality, p.36.
112 Rubins Essays on Marxs Theory of Value, first appeared in 1924. During
the course of the Great Purge he was executed in 1937.
113 Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Marx Engels Selected
Works, vol. 3 (Moscow 1970); Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy
of History, in Illuminations (London 1999).
114 John Holloway, Crack Capitalism (London 2010), p.143.

Part Three

Capital, world
market and state

7
State, world market
and society
Introduction
The world market is the categorical imperative of capitalist wealth. Valuevalidity entails the world market validity of value. The abstract labour of value
production comprises thus the homogenization of time as a world-market
reality of socially necessary abstract time. The law of value annihilates space
by time. The critical insight that in capitalism the social individuals are controlled
by the products of their own hand asserts itself in the form of the world market
as an objective coercive force Sachzwang Weltmarkt.1 Even Chinese walls
crumble in the face of the heavy artillery of the world market price.2
In contemporary political economy, the world market has since the early
1990s been discussed under the heading globalization. In this discussion,
the world market was viewed as a recent development of capitalism. Until the
late 1980s, the global economy was seen as an interstate system comprising
inter-national trade relations and an inter-national system of the division of
labour, which was organized and held together by the forces of US imperialist
power that organized the international system of the West in its own image.
As a consequence of the ostensibly nationally based neoliberal strategies
associated with Thatcherism and Reaganism, the post-war political economy
underwent an epochal shift3 towards a seemingly new capitalist formation
that replaced the old state-centric system by the creation of the world market
as an independent force over and above the inter-national state system.4 In
this new formation, says Stephen Gill, the power of capital attains hegemonic
status.5 In this account of political economy, discussion of the conceptuality
and dynamic of the capitalist social relations, the specific capitalist form of
wealth and its production, circulation and reproduction, is set aside for an
argument about the relationship between two seemingly distinct structures
of social organization, that is, state and economy. The perennial question of

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analysis is thus whether the state has relative autonomy over the economy,
forcing back the power of capital, or whether the economy has power over
the state, establishing the hegemony of capital. State and economy are seen
as independent structural domains that achieve concrete materiality as a
consequence of the shifts and changes in the balance of the social forces.
Within this analytical frame, the power of the state is the power of the forces
acting in and through the state.6 In the meantime, the crisis of 2008 is said
to have let to the resurgence of the national state in its relationship vis--vis
the economy.7 However, this resurgence is seen to manifest the continued
hegemony of the neo-liberal forces as the financial losses are nationalized and
the costs of the rescue socialized by means of a politics of austerity.8
The chapter argues that Marxs work entails a critique of the world market as
the categorical imperative of the capitalist form of wealth, and its production.
Robert Coxs characterization of the global economy as a nebuleuse serves
as its starting point.9 Cox argued that the competitive logic of capital on a
world scale entails the
subordination of domestic economies to the perceived exigencies of a
global economy. States willy nilly become more effectively accountable to
a nebuleuse personified as the global economy; and they were constrained
to mystify this external accountability in the eyes and ears of their own
publics through the new vocabulary of globalisation, interdependence, and
competitiveness.10
Cox perceives the global relations of trade, production and finance as
constituting a global economy, which he characterizes as something invisible
a nebuleuse to which, he says, national states are accountable. The chapter
explores Coxs intriguing notion of the global economy as a nebuleuse in three
sections. The first introduces Marxs account of the world market and the
second explores the critique of commodity fetishism as a critique of the worldmarket society of capital. The third section examines the relationship between
the world market and crises. The conclusion argues that the world market is not
something extra-national and that the national state subsists through the world
market. The chapter contends that capitalist society is fundamentally a worldmarket society and the national state is the political form of this society.

World market and society


Marx never wrote his planned books on the state and the world market.
Nevertheless, a cursory reading of his writings and a brief look at various

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149

outlines of his work reveal that both the state and the world market are
always present. In his outline of 1857, the world market is posed as the final
and concluding part of his investigation, coming after the international relation
of production and the concentration of bourgeois society in the form of the
state.11 Furthermore, the anticipated examination of crises is associated
with the projected study of the world market. The theme, then, is the world
market and crises. Moreover, according to his outline, the world market is
distinct from the inter-national relations of production. His outline suggests
that capitalist crises can be conceptualized adequately only in a world-market
dimension. The capital relations do therefore not equate with the inter-national
relations between states. Instead, the outline suggests that the world market
is the condition of the inter-national state system. The inter-national relations
subsist in and through the world market. The world market condenses the
distinctive social histories into the one single world-market history. The
history of capitalist society is a world-market history. The world market forms
not only the basis for this mode of production.12 It is also directly given in the
concept of capital itself.13
The conception of the world market as the basis of the capitalist social
relations entails its distinction from the inter-national relations of economic
interdependency. Capitalist production is unthinkable without foreign trade.14
This seems to suggest that the world market is coterminous with the international state system. However, the relations of industry and trade within
every nation are dominated by their intercourse with other nations, and are
conditioned by relations with the world market.15 The world market is therefore
not coterminus with the sum of the many national economies.16 Rather it
comprises the relations of capitalist social reproduction within, between and
beyond national borders. Trade and industry within and between national
borders amount, therefore, to trade and industry at a world-market level. The
productivity, then, of domestic labour acquires its livelihood in and through
the world-market relations of value in process, money in process and as such
capital. Locality is a world-market locality. It is through the world market that
the domestic valorization of social labour is confirmed and contradicted, that
is, it is in and through the world market that expended labour acquires valuevalidity as an expenditure of socially necessary labour time. Therefore, the
entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world market, and, with this, the
international character of the capitalist regime entails that whoever wants to
speak about the division of labour has to speak about the world market.17 The
domestic division of labour entails the world-market division of labour; the
former cannot be conceived of without the latter.
Marxs account of the global division of labour does not develop Ricardos
idea of comparative advantages.18 Ricardo seeks to supply an argument that

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renders the complexity of the inter-national relations of production coherent


and capable of rational organization. Marx does not focus on inter-national
comparative advantages as the basis of a system of mutually beneficial trade
relations. Rather, he expounds the conceptuality of value. Value-validity is
the validity of more value, measured by the rate of return in the form of
profit. The rate of profit obtains as the world market rate of profit. Similarly,
the productivity of labour is a world-market productivity of labour, which
appears in the form of world-market price movements. This then entails
the unleashing of the heavy artillery of cheaper prices upon national states
should the valorization of value, that is, the extraction of surplus value within
their jurisdiction, fall below the average world-market rate of profit, which
asserts the need for greater labour productivity to withstand competitive
pressures.19 This heavy artillery that demands the surrender of additional
atoms of surplus labour time makes itself felt through pressures on the
exchange rate, the accumulation of balance of payments deficits and drains
on national reserves. It is through the movement of money as capital that the
global conditions of accumulation impinge on national economies, asserting
pressure to force down wages and transform the forces of production in
order to survive.20 World money is not just a means of exchange or a means
of payment; it obtains, fundamentally, as the world-market form of value.
That is to say, for world money to assert itself as capital, it has to possess
the occult quality to add value to itself. It must lay golden eggs and it does
so by diminishing the necessary labour time of the worker as the condition of
increasing the surplus labour time for the production of surplus value. 21 That
is, the everyday struggle over the production and appropriation of surplus
value in every individual workplace manifests itself in the world-market form
as price competitiveness, (dis)investment and (un)employment. 22
The circumstance that the equalization of the rate of profit obtains as a
world-market equalization transforms the apparently local conditions into
world-market conditions. The validity of the national industry, national
employment and national wealth belongs to the world market. Whatever
its specific concrete character and wherever it occurred, social labour is
productive of capitalist wealth only on the conditions that it produces not only
value but, fundamentally, surplus value in the form of profit at a global scale.23
Within this context, world trade is exclusively driven by the satisfaction of
needs, that is, the need of the seemingly transcendental power of money to
add value to itself.24 Bourgeois society is governed by the law of the constant
expansion of abstract wealth, of money chasing more money. For money to
assert itself as capital, it has to beget more money, and it begets more money
by valorizing the life-time of the worker as a human resource of essentially
surplus labour time. Money is the universal form of labour.25 It transcends

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151

national boundaries and asserts itself upon territorialized labour relations as


the force of abstract wealth, requiring greater labour productivity as a means
of preventing competitive erosion. The cheapness of provision is a necessity
of global wealth.26
In and for itself, the commodity therefore exists beyond every religious,
political, national and linguistic barrier. It speaks the language of profit,
and its community is the community of abstract wealth, and its common
good comprises the progressive accumulation of capital for its own sake.
Thus, capital, whether in the form of commodity capital, money capital or
productive capital, has neither a national character nor a patriotic affiliation.
Its patriotism is money, that is, the private interest within each nation divides
itself into as many nations as it has fully grown individuals.27 Therefore, the
term bourgeois society does not stand, and has never stood, for a national
society. The attribute national indicates some sort of homogeneity of interest
and shared values, which is neatly summoned by the metaphor of the one
national boat that Robert Reich refers to in his attempt at defining the cohesion
and equality of the national societies before the onset of globalization. In this
view, globalization forced the one-national boat apart, leading, as Joachim
Hirsch argued, to a society increasingly fractured on socio-economic lines.28
On the contrary, the term bourgeois society stands, from its inception, not
only for a class-divided society, it stands also for the global freemasonry of
capital. Just as money, general exchange, subsists as world money, as global
exchange, so the owner of commodities, the bourgeois, is a cosmopolitan. 29
In the Communist Manifesto, the life of the bourgeoisie is portrayed in terms
of the global existence of capital: old industries are destroyed and replaced by
new industries whose introduction is a question of survival within the global
system of production and division of labour, giving a cosmopolitan character
to production and consumption in every country.30 The notion, then, of a
national economy makes little sense; it is a regressive concept that lends
itself, at best, to ideas of national developmental methods associated with the
theory and practice of economic nationalism31 or, at worst, and as Chapter9
sets out, to the reactionary ideas and practices of nationalism that in reaction
to world-market disturbances assert the regressive equality of the imagined
national community as the rallying cry against the external enemy within. Of
course, protectionism remains a very powerful device to protect a national
economy. However, the national economy is neither independent from the
world market nor does it merely exist in relation to the world market. Rather,
the national economy subsists in and through the world market. Protectionism,
then, amounts to a measure of defence within free trade.32
In distinction to the debate on globalization, capital is not some domestic
economic force that responded to national constraints by globalizing itself.

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Rather, the world market, international capitalism, the global system of social
relations that has grown up for the first time in history emerged at the same
time as the national state.33 In this way, then, the question of the national
integration of the state could not be divorced from that of the integration
of the international state system.34 This system of inter-state relations is
founded on the international relations of production. International division of
labour. International exchange and import. Rate of exchange.35 Furthermore,
from its inception this inter-state system has been embedded within the
global context of production and exchange in which capital is in the process
of constituting itself as historical real world capital. In other words, the world
market is integrated into the national economy. 36 The world market, then, is
not the sum of distinct national economies or national capitalisms. Rather, the
world market is the premise and condition of the capitalist form of wealth, and
its production. Its conceptuality holds sway in and through the national states
that form the inter-national state system, which comprises the relations of
political competition and mutual dependency, rivalry and dependency, national
assertion and imperial power, war and trade. The notion of the national state
entails the inter-national relations, and these inter-national relations are
founded on the world-market relations of price and profit. That is to say, the
global flow of capital prevails over, and also in and through, the national state
and the inter-national state systems, and conversely, the national state and
the inter-national state systems manifest the nodal point of the global flow
of capital.37

World market and fetishism


I have argued that social labour manifests itself in exchange as abstract labour
in the form of money. Human cooperation subsists in the form of a monetary
relationship that establishes and disrupts the interconnection between
the individual with all other individuals on the basis of a constant effort at
achieving greater social wealth in the form of value. 38 The world market is the
most developed form of this abstract interconnectedness. It does therefore
not only include the activity of each individual it is, also, independent of
this connection from the individual. The concept of capital entails, therefore,
not only the complete independence of the individuals from one another but
also their complete dependence on the seemingly impersonal relations of the
world market. Thus, the independence of the individual is an illusion, and so
more accurately called indifference. Their independence is that of atomized
market agents who are free to collide with one another and to engage in

STATE, WORLD MARKET AND SOCIETY

153

exchange within this freedom; and their indifference to each other is one
of human factors of production inasmuch as their continuous ability to sell
their labour power for a wage depends on the profitable realization of their
surplus labour-time in the form of profit on the markets of the world.39 The
workers dependency on continuous employment, which is the condition of
her sustained access to the means of subsistence, is a matter of the profitable
expenditure of her labour in competition with her fellow producers of surplus
value on a global scale. This, then, is the invisible thread by which the social
individual is entangled in the world market, this real abstraction of capitalist
society that asserts itself behind the backs of those same social individuals
who produce and sustain it with their own hands.
The impersonal relations of world-market dependency appear as a
spontaneous interconnection, a material and mental metabolism which is
independent of the knowing and willing of individuals, and which presupposes
their reciprocal independence and indifference.40 The validation of value in the
form of money acquires a livelihood in the apparent autonomisation of the
world market as the objective coercive force of the capitalist social relations.
The individuals are now ruled by abstractions and these abstractions subsist
in the form of world-market conditions that are independent of the individual
and, although created by society, appear as if they were natural conditions,
not controllable by individuals. There is thus a constant pressure to secure
the value-validity of committed labour, and yet this pressure is brought out of
him by his labour. It is therefore an insipid notion to conceive of this merely
objective bond as a spontaneous, natural attribute inherent in individuals and
inseparable from their nature . . . This bond is their product. It is a historic
product.41 Thus, to conceive of the world market as an objective force that
compels the individuals to adjust to its movement is both perceptive of the
existing conditions and misleading. The constituted world is indeed hostile
to the individuals. However, to conceive the world market as an objective
coercive force alone, as a Sachzwang, is to derive human social practice from
hypothesized social structures whose social constitution remains a mystery
a nbuleuse. That is, the world of invisible principles gives back to Man what
Man has put into them.42
Taken by itself, the understanding of world market as an objective coercive
force obscures rather than reveals its social constitution. It does not include
human natural force.43 This force is the productive power of labour. Labour
is value creating44 and the specific social character of . . . labour [appears]
only within . . . exchange.45 Capital, as Marx insists, only appears afterwards,
after already having been presupposed as capital a vicious circle as
command over alien labour.46 Capital appears only afterwards because
it is through exchange that concrete labour is validated; it achieves value-

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

validity as the abstract labour of socially necessary labour time. Capital is


neither an economic thing, nor can it be identified with individual companies
that represent this fraction or that fraction of capital, nor does it result from
the wishes of capitalists, however multinational or powerful they might
be. Capital is a definite social production relation. Its concept contains its
presupposition in social labour as the disappeared premise of its constituted
economic identity. Every capital is therefore the capital, and the capital is a
perennial pumping-machine of surplus labour.47 Value is a product of living
labour and living labour vanishes in the form of the money-subject. This
subject pulls the national ground from the foundation of every industry and
transfers the conditions of production outside itself, into a general context of
exchange. That is, the general foundation of all industry comes to be general
exchange itself, the world market, and hence the totality of all activities
. . . of which it is made up. The value-validity of expended labour is a worldmarket validity. That is, the devaluation, liquidation or realization of value is a
world-market reality. This, then, establishes a vicious circle of command
over living labour, which is founded on the practical understanding that the
extraction of additional atoms of surplus labour-time is not only the basis of
the elements of profit but also the difference between value devaluation and
value realization, bankruptcy and economic success, redundant labour and
employment of labour.48
For the sake of achieving value-validity, labour has to appear in the form of
value. Value becomes visible in the form of money and in this appearance the
value creating labour disappears.49 Exploitation is not visible in the form of
an equivalence exchange. Exchange takes the form of a relationship between
coins, in which the manner of its coinage disappears, by which, say, the
circumstance that a great deal of capital, which appears today in the United
States without birth-certificate, was yesterday, in England, the capitalist
blood of children appears therefore as more money, more commerce, greater
national wealth, more civilization, etc. It appears, in short, as economic
growth.50 The disappearance of labour and the appearance of money as a selfexpanding value (M . . . M) are two sides of the same process that validates
social labour by converting it into a social hieroglyphic. This conversion is a
world-market conversion. It is in the markets of the world that money first
functions to its full extent as . . . the directly social form of realization of
human labour in the abstract.51 Value is a social relationship between people
appearing in the form of things. As such a thing, its movement manifests
itself as an automatic subject that acts with the force of an elemental
natural process.52 Its world-market movement is adequate to its concept it
identifies space as a category of the time of value, and it thus asserts itself
essentially as a coercive force of unpaid labour time.53

STATE, WORLD MARKET AND SOCIETY

155

In conclusion, the world market is not just the most spacious expansion
of capitalist society but, also and importantly so, the categorical imperative
of capitalist wealth. It comprises the totality of the activities, intercourse,
needs, etc., of which it is made up.54 The category of the world market is,
thus, not a category among others. It is at once the pre-condition and the
result of capitalist production.55 It is thus the conclusion in which production
is posited as a totality together with all its moments, but within which, at the
same time, all contradictions come into play. The world market, then, forms
the presupposition of the whole as well as its substratum.56 It manifests the
substratum of a topsy-turvy world in which Monsieur le Capital and Madame
la Terre do their ghostwalking for the sake not just of profit but, fundamentally,
for more profit, restlessly accumulating the extracted surplus value for the
sake of progressive accumulation. The risk is bankruptcy and bloodshed.

World market and crises


Every individual capitalist always has the world-market before him, compares,
and must constantly compare, his own cost-prices with the market-prices at
home, and throughout the world.57 This constant comparing and continual
search for cheaper, more effective means of valorizing value is inherently
crisis-ridden. Capitalist crisis is not some extraordinary thing, however painful
its consequences for the sellers of labour power. Crisis is a necessary form of
capitalist social reproduction. It belongs to its conceptuality and holds sway
in its reality. On the pain of ruin, each individual capitalist has constantly to
expand his capital, so as to preserve it, but he can only extend by means
of progressive accumulation.58 Thus each individual capitalist is spurred into
action to maintain his connection to abstract wealth by means of greater
surplus-value extraction, on the pain of avoiding the competitive erosion and
liquidation of existing values. Each individual capitalist is therefore compelled
to compress necessary labour so as to increase the surplus labour time of
surplus value production by means of multiplying the productive power of
labour. The cheapening of the products of labour thus goes hand in hand with
the progressive accumulation of capital. A crisis of capitalist reproduction is
not simply a crisis of overproduction or underconsumption. Fundamentally,
it expresses an over-accumulation of abstract wealth that fails to retain the
value validity of money as more money, depressing the rate of accumulation,
or in the parlance of economic theory, the rate of economic growth.
The incessant effort of increasing the productivity of labour leads to a
relative decline of living labour in relation to the means of production, which

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

concentrates a growing outlay of capital. Less living labour thus produces a


greater amount of material wealth in the form of use-values within a given
time. At the same time as the accumulation of capital expands progressively,
the value of a commodity declines as the socially necessary labour time for
its production falls.59 Crisis, then, expresses the contradiction between the
capitalist tendency to develop the forces of production without limits, and
the need to confine accumulation within the limits of the social relations of
production.60 There is thus an increase in material wealth in the form of usevalues, each of which represents a diminishing depository of value in exchange.
That is, too much capital has been accumulated as each capitalist tries to
preserve capital personified by forcing the producers of surplus value towards
greater productive effort, converting realized profits back into production
to extract surplus value on an expanding scale in an effort at withstanding
competitive pressures. Each individual capitalist seeks to prevent devaluation
by extracting more surplus value, each trying to realize the products of labour
as a value-valid expenditure of social labour, and attempts to do so in the face
of diminishing rates of profitability as the extraction of surplus value becomes
more costly with the increase in labour productivity.61 The importance of the
fall in the rate of profit is that it decreases the rate of accumulation. That
is, less surplus value is realized in exchange relative to the reproductive
requirements of progressive accumulation, and capital has to accumulate in
order to preserve existing values from competitive erosion.
Capitalist society is a living contradiction.62 Although living labour
disappears in the form of money as more money (M . . . M), it remains the
presupposition of the whole system of capitalist wealth. In other words, the
validity of capitalist wealth expresses itself in the form of money, and money
is capital only as the manifestation of coined unpaid labour in the form of
profit. Personified capital thus
forces the workers beyond necessary labour to surplus labour. Only in this
way does it realise itself, and create surplus value. But on the other, it
posits necessary labour only to the extent and in so far as it is surplus
labour and the latter realizable as surplus labour. It posits surplus labour,
then, as the condition of the necessary, and surplus value as the limit of
objectified labour, of value as such. As soon as it cannot posit value, it
does not posit necessary labour; and, given its foundation, it cannot be
otherwise.
The attempt to ward off the threat of bankruptcy compels the capitalist, this
personified existence of capital, to make human labour (relatively) superfluous,
so as to drive it, as human labour, towards infinity.63 Capital, then, exists in

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antithesis to necessary labour and at the same time only in and through the
imposition of necessary labour, which it has to posit for the sake of surplus
labour. On the pain of ruin, it has to extract surplus value by diminishing the
necessary labour of social reproduction, and yet it cannot accumulate surplus
value without positing necessary labour. Capitalist reproduction entails
crisis not just in the form of capital devaluation and liquidation of existing
values, bankruptcy and liquidation. Most importantly, it manifests itself as
a crisis of social reproduction, in which it appears as if the producers of
surplus value are suddenly cut off from the means of subsistence. The rate
of employment is regulated by the rate of capitalist accumulation, and its
decline entails downward pressure on the general movement of wages and
the intensification of labour for those in work, and enforced idleness and
collapse of wage income for others.
Capitalisms development of human productive forces, i.e. of wealth . . .
proceeds in a contradictory way.64 It revolutionizes the forces of production
in a crisis-ridden manner throwing workers out of work and depressing their
access to the means of subsistence as money defaults and companies go
bust. That is, it restricts labour and the creation of value . . . and it does so on
the same grounds as and to the same extent that it posits surplus labour and
surplus value. By its nature, therefore, it posits a barrier to labour and valuecreation, in contradistinction to its tendency to expand them boundlessly.65
The real barrier, then, to capital is capital itself: by forcing the workers beyond
necessary labour to surplus labour it tends to produce much more material
wealth than can be realized with rates of profit adequate to the further
valorization of value by means of progressive accumulation.66 Money has to
beget more money to preserve the relations of abstract wealth, and crisis
manifests the difficulty of bringing this about. There is then a crisis of the
valorisation of value, as rates of accumulation dip, and rates of bankruptcy
and unemployment increase, competition intensifies and the effort at
increasing labour productivity strengthens how quickly can things be done
at less cost?67
Capitalist crises assert themselves in the form of unemployed workers
and in the form of unemployed capital. Unemployed capital is one that has
become divorced from direct productive engagement, and that has therefore
spilled over into speculative channels seeking profitable returns by making
money out of money, literally hedging its bets on how things might unfold,
then and now.68
The so-called plethora of capital always applies essentially to a plethora
of the capital for which the fall in the rate of profit is not compensated
through the mass of profit this is always true of newly developing fresh

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offshoots of capital or to a plethora which places capitals incapable of


action on their own at the disposal of the managers of large enterprises in
the form of credit.69
It is this plethora of capital that asserts itself in the form of financial capital,
which for Susan Strange and others established the new capitalism of
globalization.70 Financial capital is one that searches for near-instantaneous
self-expansion, placing bets on a dazzling future that seems as certain as
the promises of a Ponzi scheme. In the form of finance, money appears
as the mystification of capital in its most flagrant form in that it seems to
posit an increase in wealth by investing into itself, eliminating the relation to
labour.71 However, the so-called predominance of finance capital represents
an accumulation of capital that could not be converted directly into direct
productive activity. Hence unemployed capital at one pole and unemployed
workers at the other essentially redundant human material.72 The sustaining
of over-accumulation through credit-expansion and an accumulation of debt
entails a potentially disastrous speculative deferral of economic crisis. This
is because money capital accumulates in the form of a potentially worthless
claim on future surplus value. The solidity and very existence of money
capital is endangered insofar as capital, in its elementary form of money,
becomes potentially meaningless inasmuch as it appears as an irredeemable
accumulation of claims on the future extraction of surplus value.73 That is,
the divorce of monetary accumulation from productive accumulation entails a
mortgage, and thus a gamble, on the future exploitation of labour. It indicates
that the strength of the tie between capital and labour is loosening: the
less credit-expansion is supported by the generation of surplus value in the
present, the more the superstructure of credit is at risk of losing its grip on
the very source upon which its promise of wealth depends.74
There is, then, no doubt that capital can divorce itself from labour,
positing itself as a saleable thing for profit.75 In the form of financial capital,
wealth appears in the form M . . . M the meaningless form of capital, the
perversion and objectification of production relations in their highest degree,
the interest-bearing form, the simple form of capital, in which it antecedes
its own process of reproduction. It appears, then, as if the social relation is
consummated in the relation of a thing, of money, to itself. Although we see,
in interest-bearing capital, only form without content, it is only a portion of
the profit, i.e. of the surplus-value, which the functioning capitalist squeezes
out of the labourer. Therefore, in finance capital, the relationship of capital to
labour is only seemingly eliminated inasmuch as the expansion of monetary
accumulation asserts itself as a claim of ownership upon labour, that is, as
a claim on a portion of future surplus value. What Susan Strange dupped

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casino capitalism amounts therefore to a capitalism that accumulates wealth


by mortgaging the future extraction of surplus value.76 Without the valorizing
of living labour, the accumulation of money amounts to an accumulation of
fictitious wealth. Financial panic and economic recession are two sides of
the same coin of the crisis of valorizing living labour, which is the premise of
money as more money.

Conclusion
The national and the global are not externally related things. Of course, the
national and the global are not identical but neither are they related to each other
as merely external entities that happen to collide with one another from time
to time. The global and the national are different-in-unity: they are moments
of the social relations of production, which constitute their distinct forms of
existence, suffuse their interrelation and contradict their differentiation. The
global dimension of the capital relation, its aspatial character, is thus not
without space. The aspatial exists contradictorily through nationally divided
spaces of political sovereignty.77
The relation of the national state to the world market of capitalist society
appears as a relation of a nationally fixed state to a globally mobile capital.
However, and as Clarke puts it, although the state is constituted politically
on a national basis, its class character is not defined in national terms, the
capitalist law of property and contract transcending national legal systems, and
world money transcending national currencies. Nation states are not only in
competition with each other, as each tries to divert the flow of capital into its
particular territory, they exist also as particular nodes within the global flow of
capital. The nation state exists through the world-market society of capital and
is confined within limits imposed by the contradictory form of the accumulation
of capital on a world scale.78 In this context, the notion of the national economy
is misleading. First, it is premised on the idea that capitalist utility of labour
within a nationally defined space is, as implied by the use of the metaphor of
the one national boat, based on some sort of national harmony of interest: the
national interest. Second, it is premised on the idea that the limits to national
harmony, to national wealth, do not hold sway in the conceptuality of capitalist
wealth. Rather, national wealth is seen constrained by external forces, which
are said to disrupt the integrity of national economies and national labour
markets. Thus, disharmony seems to be imported from the outside, as if it
derived from some intangible world-market forces, from the sudden collapse
of world market prices to global recession and crisis. In his critique of Careys

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economic nationalist ideas, Marx argues forcefully that these world-market


disharmonies are merely the ultimate adequate expressions of the disharmonies
which have become fixed as abstract relations within the economic categories,
or which have a local existence on the smallest scale.79 In other words, global
disharmony exists in and through the domestic relations and vice versa. In
this context, Marx argued that the state is the harmonies last refuge the
harmonies of the law of value posit the state as political force of value.80 As
the following chapter argues, it concentrates the political force of bourgeois
society and establishes a law-governed social order to secure the fundamental
sociability of the unsocial interests of competitive society, and to keep the
social antagonism in check on the basis of the rule of law and by means of the
force of law-making violence. The economy of free labour entails the state as
the political form of that freedom.81
In conclusion, the capitalist social relations do not exist in terms of two sets
of relations, that is, as relations of national harmony and, distinct from these, as
relations of world-market disharmony. The national relations subsist through
the world-market society of capital, and the world market is the condition of
capitalist wealth. Coxs view that the state is accountable to a nebuleuse
personified as the global economy needs to be demystified.82 The view that
capital is an intangible global thing and that the state is accountable to this
thing is uncritical. The state is not accountable to capital. It is the political form
of the capitalist social relations. Coxs notion, then, of the global economy as
an abstract intangible force, a nebuleuse, reinforces the fetishism of capital.
Yet, it goes a long way towards what this chapter has argued.

Notes
1 This term is Elmar Altvaters, Sachzwang Weltmarkt (Hamburg 1987).
2 See Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London
1997), p.17.
3 William I. Robinson, A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class and
State in a Transnational World (Baltimore, MD 2004), p.2. Leo Panitch and
Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Capitalism (London 2012), argue that
globalization is an outcome of US imperialism.
4 Stephen Gill, Power and Resistance in the New World Order (London 2003),
p. xii.
5 Gill, Power and Resistance, p.105.
6 Bob Jessop, State Power: A Strategic-Relational Approach (Cambridge
2008), p.270. See Chapter II for a critique of the theoretical premises of this
point of view.

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161

7 See, for example, Elmar Altvater, Die Rckkehr des Staates? Nach der
Finanzkrise (Hamburg 2010). Bob Jessop, The Return of the National State
in the Current Crisis of the World Market, Capital & Class, vol. 34, no.1
(2010), pp.3843.
8 Alex Callinicos, Contradictions of Austerity, Cambridge Journal of
Economics, vol. 36, no.1 (2012), pp.6577.
9 Coxs work has been pivotal for the development of critical International
Political Economy (IPE). His Global Perestroika, The Social Register 1992
(London 1992), offers a succinct analytical statement of his approach, and
that of critical IPE in general. On Coxs work, see Adrian Budd, Class, States
and International Relations (London 2013). Peter Burnham, Open Marxism
and Vulgar International Political Economy, Review of International Political
Economy, vol. 1, no.2 (1994), pp.12132, offered an early, incisive critique.
10 Cox, Global Perestroika, p.27.
11 Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London 1973), p.108.
12 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. III (London 1966), p.333, also p.110.
13 Marx, Grundrisse, p.163.
14 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. II (London 1978), p.456.
15 Karl Marx, Die revolutionre Bewegung, MEW 6 (Berlin 1968), p.149.
16 Claudia von Braunmhl, On the Analysis of the Bourgeois Nation State
within the World Market Context, in ed. John Holloway and Sol Picciotto,
State and Capital (London 1978), made this insightful point in the context
of the German state derivation debate. On this debate see Chapter8,
Introduction.
17 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.929. See also Karl Marx, Brief an
P. W. Annenkow vom 28.12.1846, MEW 4 (Berlin 1977), p.550.
18 David Ricardo, Principles of the Political Economy of Taxation (Cambridge
1995).
19 On the state as the concentrated force of competitive adjustment to worldmarket conditions, see Chapter8.
20 Simon Clarke, Class Struggle and the Gobal Overaccumulation of Capital, in
ed. Robert Albritton, Makato Itoh, Richard Westra and Alan Zeuge, Phases
of Capitalist Development. Booms, Crisis and Globalizations (London 2001),
p.90.
21 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.255.
22 Clarke, Class Struggle, pp.901. See also John Holloway, Zapata in Wall
Street, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis, The Politics of
Change (London 2000).
23 See Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (London
1971), pp.1523.
24 Marx, Grundrisse, p.146.
25 Marx, A Contribution, p.98.

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26 Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence (Oxford 1978), p.6. For Smith, the
cheapness of provision entails the state as the political force of wealth; see
Chapter8.
27 Marx, Grundrisse, p.159.
28 Robert Reich, The Work of Nations (New York 1991). Joachim Hirsch,
Globalisation of Capital, Nation-States and Democracy, Studies in Political
Economy, 54 (1997), p.46.
29 See Marx, A Contribution, p.152. Marxs point is succinct in its summary
of Smiths remark that the proprietor of stock is properly a citizen of the
world. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of
Nations (Indianapolis 1981), p.848.
30 Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p.16.
31 See, for example, Friedrich List, The National System of Political Economy
(New York 1904).
32 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, Collected Works,
vol. 5 (London 1976), p.73.
33 Colin Barker, A Note on the Theory of the Capitalist State, in ed. Simon
Clarke, The State Debate (London 1991), p.205.
34 Clarke, The State Debate, p.179.
35 Marx, Grundrisse, p.108.
36 Claudia von Braunmhl, On the Analysis, pp.163, 168.
37 On this, see Clarke, Class Struggle; John Holloway, Global Capital and
the National State and Peter Burnham, Capital, Crisis and the International
State System both in ed. Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway, Global
Capital, National Sate and the Politics of Money (London 1995).
38 Marx, Grundrisse, p.161.
39 Marx, Grundrisse, pp.160, 161, 162, 1634.
40 Marx, Grundrisse, p.161.
41 Marx, Grundrisse, pp.164, 541, 162.
42 Man is not abstract Man. Man is the social individual in her social relations.
43 Marx, Grundrisse, p.330.
44 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.823.
45 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.165.
46 Marx, Grundrisse, p.330.
47 Marx, Capital, vol. III, pp.814, 822.
48 Marx, Grundrisse, pp.144, 528, 330, and Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.352.
49 Marx, From the Preparatory Materials, in Marx Engels Collected Works,
vol. 29 (London 1987), p.497.
50 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.920. Or as Jeremy Bentham, the father of
utilitarianism, put it when recommending that children be put to work at
four rather than 14years of age: ten precious years in which nothing is

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163

done! Nothing for industry! Nothing for improvement, moral or intellectual!


Bentham, quoted in Michael Perelman, The Invention of Capitalism (Durham,
NC 2000), p.22. Ten lost years for progress, for civilization, for profit!
51 Marx, Capital, vol. I, pp.167, 2401.
52 Marx, Capital, vol. II, p.185.
53 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.672.
54 Marx, Grundrisse, pp.2278.
55 Marx, Theories, p.253.
56 Marx, Grundrisse, p.426.
57 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.336.
58 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.739.
59 For Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination. A Reinterpretation of
Marxs Critical Theory (Cambridge 1996) this contradiction between greater
material wealth and a diminishing, socially necessary labour time per unit of
use-value is the fundamental condition of capitalist crisis.
60 Simon Clarke, M. Itohs Basic Understanding of Capitalism, Capital &
Class, vol. 13, no.1 (1989), p.142.
61 On this, see Simon Clarke, Marxs Theory of Crisis (London 1994).
62 Marx, Grundrisse, p.421.
63 Marx, Grundrisse, pp.399, 421.
64 Marx, Grundrisse, pp.540, 541.
65 Marx, Grundrisse, p.421.
66 Marx, Grundrisse, p.421.
67 Marx, Grundrisse, p.739.
68 See Paul Mattick Jr., Business as Usual (London 2011)and Sergio Bologna,
Money and Crisis, Common Sense, no.14 (1993), pp.6389, also available
at: http://commonsensejournal.org.uk/issue-14/
69 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.251.
70 Strange provided the paradigmatic term for the analysis of financial
globalization, casino capitalism. Susanne Strange, Casino Capitalism
(Manchester 1997). See also John Bellamy Foster and Robert W.
McChesney, The Endless Crisis (New York 2012).
71 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.392.
72 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.251.
73 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.393. In the German original, Marx uses the
term begriffslose form. In the English edition begriffslos is translated as
meaningless. This translation is misleading. I use the term in the sense
of losing its grip on labour a loss that renders money as a form of value
fictitious. On this see Werner Bonefeld, Money, Equality and Exploitation:
An Interpretation of Marxs Treatment of Money, in ed. Werner Bonefeld
and John Holloway, Global Capital, National State and the Politics of Money
(London 1995).

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74 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.439.


75 Marx, Capital, vol. III, p.393.
76 Marx, Capital, vol. III, pp.393, 476.
77 For a critical theory of space as a social form, see Greig Charnock,
Challenging New State Spatialities: The Open Marxism of Henri Lefebvre,
Antipode, vol. 42, no.5 (2010), pp.1279303, and Lost in Space? Lefebvre,
Harvey and the Spatiality of Negation, forthcoming in South Atlantic
Quarterly, vol. 113, no.2.
78 Simon Clarke, The Global Accumulation of Capital and the Periodisation
of the Capitalist State, in ed. Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas
Psychopedis, Open Marxism, vol. I (London 1992), p.136. Holloway, Global
Capital and the National State.
79 Marx, Grundrisse, p.887.
80 Marx, Grundrisse, p.886.
81 On the meaning of economy of free labour, see Chapter4.
82 Cox, Global Perestroika, p.27.

8
On the state of political
economy: Political form
and the force of law
Introduction
Within traditional Marxist scholarship the state is usually seen as either an
economically determined entity or a power that governs in the interests of the
dominant social forces that assert themselves through the state as the public
authority of their interests. In the latter perspective, the state appears as a
strategic arena for the advancement of hegemonic projects.1 In the former,
the state appears as an economically determined superstructure.2 Neither
develops the state as the political form of bourgeois society. Following
Braunstein, Adornos critical theory contains few if any argument about the
conceptuality of the state.3 The new reading of Marx overlapped with the
so-called German state derivation debate of the 1970s but Reichelt apart,
the one discussed the conceptuality of value, the other sought to derive the
role and function of the state from the movement of the capitalist economic
categories.4 The term derivation summarizes the dominant account of this
debate succinctly. Instead of establishing the conceptuality of the state as the
political form of society, it derived the state as the political complement of the
capitalist accumulation process.5 None of these accounts develops the state
from the actual, given relations of life, and none therefore offers a critique of
the state as the apotheosized form of definite social relations.6
Marxs critique of state, which exists only in fragments, suggests that
apart from his argument about economic base and political superstructure
he also conceives of the state as the political form of the capitalist social
relations. Indeed, and as I argue below, the notion that the state is a political
superstructure that arises from the economic base of society derives from

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classical political economy.7 In the context of his critique of political economy,


this is a paradoxical idea. His work is intended as a critique of the relations
of economic objectivity, which, if taken seriously, cuts down on the very
economic base from which the state is said to arise. There is only one social
reality and this is the reality of the capitalistically organized social relations of
production. There is no other world than the one in which we live.8 Instead,
then, of deriving the state as an extra-economic force from some presupposed
socio-economic categories, be it from a plurality of competing hegemonic
strategies, an irresistible economic logic or as a functional requirement of the
capitalist processes of accumulation, this chapter argues that the state is best
conceptualized as the political form of capitalist society.
The approach that this chapter takes represents a gear change. Rather than
working through the fragments of Marxs own writing about the state and
the established elements of a critique of the state in the Marxist literature, it
develops its argument by exploring Hegels political philosophy, Smiths political
economy and finally the neoliberal theory of the state, particularly of German
neoliberal thought, which establishes a coherent account of capitalist economy
as a practice of government. The final section discusses neoliberalism as the
political theology of the state, which provides for a theoretical exposition of
modern Bonapartism.9 I reckon that this change in approach establishes the
contention of this chapter in a straightforward manner, that is, the political
world is the social world in political form. I return to Marxs account in the
conclusion to demonstrate the critical force of his conception of the state as
the concentration of bourgeois society in the form of the state.10 In this view,
society doubles itself up into society and state, that is, the state is the political
form of society viewed in relation to itself.11 I therefore hold that the institutional
separation of state and society does not confer on the state an independent
political logic of constitution and development. Rather, the political state is
the premise of the non-coerced, depoliticized exchange relations between the
buyers of labour power and the producer of surplus value who in spite of their
manifest inequality pursue their interests in liberty as equal legal subjects,
based on the rule of law. This pursuit expresses a history of class struggle. The
chapter thus argues that the state is not some extra-economic force. Rather it
is the concentrated and organized force of society.12

On the political form of society


Hegel conceived of bourgeois society as antagonistic in character.13 It was
because of its antagonistic character that it required a political form. He

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167

develops the necessity of the state from the innate character of bourgeois
society. In his Philosophy of Right, he first introduces the notion of
general dependency: the particular person is essentially related to other
particular persons, each finds satisfaction by means of the others, and their
reciprocal relationship means that the satisfaction of needs comprises a
universal system of mutual dependency. There is thus a division of labour
and satisfaction of needs by means of exchange. Concerning the state,
its purpose here is the protection of property through the administration
of justice. However, and importantly, the infinitely complex, criss-cross,
movement of reciprocal production and exchange, and the equally infinite
multiplicity of means therein employed goes beyond the division of society
into individualized individuals, or in todays language, the so-called market
individuals. He then argues that the division of labour crystallizes into
systems, to one or another of which individuals are assigned in other
words, into class divisions. These divisions are antagonistic in character
as the development of bourgeois society leads to its polarization into
antagonistic class relations. According to Hegel, the polarization of society
into two opposing classes is an innate necessity of bourgeois society. It
belongs to its constituted dynamic. As he sees it, bourgeois society results
in the dependence and distress of the class tied to [work]. Dependence
and distress are also entailed in the inability to feel and enjoy the broader
freedoms and especially the intellectual benefits of civil society.14 Moreover,
the expanded reproduction of bourgeois society results in the creation of
a rabble of paupers and the concentration of disproportionate wealth in a
few hands. What to do when the masses begin to decline into poverty
and start to rebel? He rejects redistribution of wealth as this would violate
the principle of civil society. He also rejects what today is called a policy of
full-employment as contrary to its logic. Rather than solving the problem, it
would intensify it. Thus, despite an excess in wealth, civil society is not rich
enough, i.e. its own resources are insufficient to check excessive poverty
and the creation of a penurious rabble. There is no economic answer to the
polarization of society. Economy does not provide order, nor does it curb
the rabble. In fact, the inner dialectic of civil society . . . drives it . . . to
push beyond its own limits. How to keep the class antagonism within the
limits of its bourgeois form? For Hegel, there is only a political answer. He
saw the state as the political force of bourgeois society and charged it with
containing the class antagonism.15
Hegel conceives of bourgeois society as entirely uncivilized in its social
nature. He portrays it as selfish, competitive and antagonistic in character.
It allows for the accumulation of great wealth by the few at the expense of

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the many, condemning the masses to poverty. Hegel describes bourgeois


society in the following way:
[the individual] is subject to the complete confusion and hazard of the
whole. A mass of the population is condemned to the stupefying, unhealthy,
and insecure labour of factories, manufactures, mines, and so on. Whole
branches of industry, which support a large bulk of the population,
suddenly fold up because the mode changes or because the values of
their products fall on account of new inventions in other countries, or for
other reasons. Whole masses are thus abandoned to helpless poverty.
The conflict between vast wealth and vast poverty steps forth, a poverty
unable to improve its conditions. Wealth . . . becomes a predominant
power [, fostering resentment and hatred].16
He thus characterizes bourgeois society as a moving life of the dead. This
system moves hither and yon in a blind and elementary way, and like a wild
animal calls for strong permanent control and curbing.17 It requires, in short,
the authority of the state to render its conduct civil by containing the class
tied to work within the boundaries of bourgeois society. Indeed, maintaining
the cohesion of society might well be advanced by successful wars that
have checked domestic unrest and consolidated the power of the state at
home.18 Without the political state, bourgeois society will implode under its
own weight. The security of its existence, its social order and civil conduct,
is a matter of state.

The state of political economy: On police,


justice and moral sentiments
Marx introduces his base/superstructure metaphor arguing that his
investigation led him to the conclusion that the relations of production
constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which
arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite
forms of social consciousness.19 Leaving aside Marxs own understanding
of his work as a critique of economic categories, and therewith of the very
economic objectivity from which the superstructure is supposed to arise, his
metaphor says that the political form of bourgeois society, the state, belongs
to the society from which it springs. 20 Crudely put, the purpose of capital is
to accumulate extracted surplus value, and the state is the political form of
that purpose. The origin of the base/superstructure metaphor lies in classical

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169

political economy. William Robertson summarized the classical position well:


in every inquiry concerning the operation of men when united together in
society, the first object of attention should be their mode of subsistence.
Accordingly as that varies their laws and policy must be different.21 Adam
Smith provided the classical exposition. His theory of history is remarkable
for the emphasis it gives to economic forces that work their way through
history towards commercial society. He argues that in each historical
stage, the political form of society, be it conceived in terms of authority or
jurisdiction, necessarily flows from the forms of property. For Smith, private
property is the consequence of the development in the division of labour,
which, he argues, is not the effect of human wisdom but the slow and
gradual consequence of the propensity to truck and barter. 22 By force of its
innate dynamic, the propensity to exchange leads to an ever greater division
of labour, the extension of which increases the social surplus and gives rise
to the growing social differentiation of society into distinct social classes,
leading to the establishment of private property and the separation of society
into civil society and political state in commercial society.
For Adam Smith political economy is not an economic science. Rather, it is
a branch of the science of the statesman or legislator. 23 He, too, conceived
of what he called commercial society as class ridden, and held the state
indispensable for maintaining the system of perfect liberty. It maintains this
system by means not only of law but also by ordering the conduct of society,
restraining the passions of competition within the framework of the moral
sentiments and law, and containing the class antagonism. The invisible hand
is incapable of integrating and maintaining society. It does not remove the
social impediments to its operation, nor does it create the moral sentiments
upon which the conduct between the private interests depends, and nor does
it resolve the clashes of interest between the classes. That is, the invisible
hand has no independent reality. Fundamentally, it is a practice of government.
Economy is political economy.
According to Smith, production and distribution are regulated through
competitive exchanges, mediated by money. This regulation is achieved
where there is perfect liberty. The price mechanism that allows prices to
rise and fall above and below the natural prices is governed by the invisible
hand, which informs individuals where to invest and what to sell. The invisible
hand is a depoliticized devise of economic adjustment. Individuals follow
price signals in a manner of their own choosing and in pursuit of their own
interests. Government or persons do not tell anybody what to do, when and
where. Nevertheless, its magic requires government. Impediments to its
operation have to be removed by means of state, and economic freedom
requires the order of freedom to sustain its sociability, preventing disorder.

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The Smithean state is therefore not a weak state. It is a strong state. It


does not yield to the social interests. It governs over them, and as I argue
below, also through them to secure the perfect liberty of the system as a
whole. That is, for Smith the state does not compete with the invisible hand
as if it were some alternative source of economic regulation. Rather, it is to
facilitate its unimpeded operation, and it therefore governs for the sake of
the system of perfect liberty. Its purpose is to protect, maintain and facilitate
the law of private property to secure the further development of commercial
society. Smith specifies a number of indispensable state functions. Apart
from defending the country against external threats, it has to provide for an
exact administration of justice in order to resolve clashes of interest between
property owners. The state is indispensable also for the provision of public
goods that are essential for the operation of the market, but which cannot be
provided for by the market itself for lack of profitability.24 This responsibility
for commercial society also entails that the state make efforts to help achieve
the cheapness of provision, facilitating the progressive development of the
wealth of nations on the basis of increased labour productivity. 25 The state,
then, is responsible for facilitating the law of private property, or as Marx called
it, the law of value, by removing various institutional and legal impediments,
and by confronting those private interests that impede the perfect liberty of
the market by advancing their egoistic interests or indeed class interests.
For Smith, justice . . . is the main pillar that holds up the whole edifice of
commercial society.26 Justice is a matter not only of law and the rule of law,
which is the regulative force of the freedom of contract between ostensibly
equal exchange subjects,27 fundamentally, justice is a matter of the wellordered common wealth. Order is the precondition of law. The rule of law does
not apply to social disorder and bloodshed, and law does not enforce order.
Police is responsible for the establishment of order and police is therefore the
premise of the rule of law. Police enforces order and in this manner renders
the rule of law effective. Further, the system of justice is dependent upon a
moral code that commits individuals to the rules of justice, and therewith to
the laws of private property. The removal of impediments to market freedom
thus also entails the provision of morally committed participants in market
freedom. That is, the system of perfect liberty amounts to a constant effort of
restraining the passions of competition and profit-making by the rules of justice.
It amounts also to a constant effort of facilitating the will for competition and
enterprise on the part of the class divided social individuals. There is thus need
to facilitate the moral sentiments of the system of perfect liberty in the will of
the individuals, contain the passions of self-love, curb the rebellious character
of the poor and facilitate the further improvements in the productive power of
labour to sustain the progress of the common wealth.

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According to Smith, the moral sentiments of commercial society are


based on the sense of the propriety of the beauty of a well-ordered whole.
This whole gives purpose and benefit to the private individuals who are
both interested only in themselves and obliged to each other. The moral
sentiments therefore express a moral sociability, which for Smith is based
on sympathy. Sympathy is the ability of individuals to adopt the position
of the impartial and well-informed spectator. However, sympathy is not a
sufficient condition for containing the fundamental character of commercial
society, that is, self-love. A society based on the pursuit of self-interest
requires a moral foundation, a moral social fabric and an ethical framework, to
sustain it. On the part of the self-interested individuals, the moral sentiments
express, first, the charitable side of commercial society, or as Marx put it in
the Holy Family, its sentimentality.28 Inasmuch as the concept of free labour
contains the pauper, the character trait of private property combines free
competition and robust enforcement of labour discipline on the factory floor,
stealing atoms of additional labour time, with an impulse to charity for the
poor and downtrodden.29 Second, for Smith, the moral sentiments manifest
the mentality of the system of liberty. Their provision belongs therefore to
the state, which renders the moral sentiments as the well-informed power
of commercial society. That is, for Smith the political state is not really an
impartial and well-informed spectator. Rather, it is charged with making
the system of perfect liberty valid in the mentality of society.30 In short,
the Smithean state is charged with rendering the system of perfect liberty
effective. For Smith, the state governs in the true interests of the common
wealth, appealing to and connecting with the sociable core of self-interested
individuals, restraining their immediate individual interests and class interests
within a moral framework that both legitimizes the system of justice and
embeds the morality of private property, sympathy and competitiveness
into the inner recess of the acting individuals, securing the physiognomy of
bourgeois society.
For the sake of liberty it is thus necessary to employ the power of the
commonwealth, that is, the state, to enforce the practice of justice. Without
this precaution, commercial society will descend into bloodshed and disorder,
every man revenging himself at his own hand whenever he fancied he is
injured. Punishment is the condition of justice. All men delight to see injustice
punished, and injustice needs to be punished . . . on account of the order of
society.31 Only those who do not violate the laws of justice are left perfectly
free to pursue [their] own interests [their] own way, and to bring both [their]
industry and capital into competition with any other man, or order of man. 32
He thus suggests that the state is responsible for securing the proper use of
freedom by means of police: it punishes the misuse of freedom and thus

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enforces the order of freedom, securing the law of private property. That is,
the affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often
both driven by want, and promoted by envy to invade his possessions. The
freedom of private property therefore necessarily requires the establishment
of civil government to contain the indignance of the many. That is, civil
government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality
instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have
some property against those who have none at all. 33 However, for Smith the
defence of private property against the poor is ostensibly undertaken in the
interest of the poor as it is only by means of the system of perfect liberty that
the poor will benefit from the law of private property as wealth will eventually
trickle down.
Smith introduces the class struggle between capital and labour arguing
that wages depend upon contract between two parties whose interests are
not the same. That is, the workmen desire to get a lot, the master to give
as little as possible. The former are disposed to combine to raise, the latter
to lower the wages of labour. In this struggle, the masters have the upper
hand because they are fewer in number, and combine much more easily;
they can live for longer without getting their profits, the workers are starved.
That workers rebel is understandable given their desperate conditions. Yet,
their action is foolish because the masters react with purpose and force the
worker back and that is, the workmen very seldom derive any advantage
from the violence of those tumultuous combinations.34 The only way to raise
wages and improve conditions is by sustained accumulation, which increases
the demand for labour and thus improves the market position of the worker.
Resolution of the workers desperate conditions and quarrelsome nature
does not lie in the admittedly unequal exchange relation between capital and
labour. Resolution lies in the dynamic increase in wages that depend on the
most rapid growth possible in the demand for labour, which results from the
growth of the market, increase in trade and commerce, which is based on
the division of labour, which in turn is fed by greater labour productivity.
Therefore, workers do well not to struggle, because with the increase of
surplus, stock accumulates, increasing the number of workers, and the
increase of revenue and stock is the increase of national wealth. The demand
for those who live by wages . . . increases with the increase in national wealth.
This, then, is the famous trickle-down effect accumulation, he argues,
increases national wealth and occasions a rise in the wage of labour. Smith
calls this the liberal reward for labour, and one consequence of his argument
is, of course, that if there are poor, then this is an indication that things are
at a stand, requiring state action to facilitate the cheapness of goods of all
sorts by means of increased labour productivity as the foundation of the

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profitability of stock, ensuring the price competitiveness of the products of


labour in a world governed by the harsh reality of the invisible hand. 35
The owners of stock in some countries might achieve higher rates of
return on their investment than owners in some other countries, which
no doubt demonstrate[s] the redundancy of their stock. For their stock to
be maintained, competitive adjustment is required. Adjustment is neither
automatic nor assured. It requires facilitation, which belongs to the state.
The state is responsible for the progress of the common wealth. Indeed,
police is needed to secure the system of perfect liberty in the face of ignorant
and quarrelsome workers and the profit-seeking owners of stock. For Smith,
while national wealth and workers benefit from progressive accumulation,
the owners of stock might not because the increase in stock, which raises
wage, tends to lower profit. 36 Capitalists, he suggests, pursue their own
narrow class interests and might therefore seek to maintain the rate of profit
artificially, impeding the natural liberty of the market, for example, by means
of monopoly, price fixing or protectionism. In this context, too, the state acts
to enforce the system of perfect liberty. That is, whatever regulations are
made with respect to the trade, commerce, agriculture, manufactures of the
country are considered as belonging to the police.37 Effective policing entails
a strong state, a state where it belongs: over and above the egoistic interests
and class struggles, ostensibly not governing in the interest of either but in
the interest of the beauty of the well-ordered whole of the system of liberty,
securing its propriety. The state thus governs in the interests of the bonum
comune of commercial society. It intervenes in the behaviour of individuals
to restrain their passions that are governed by self-love and short-term class
interests to secure its further development. Concerning the poor, police is
needed to make the worker accept that if he is frugal and industrious, [he]
may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniences of life than it is
possible for any savage to acquire. There is thus need, also, for the instruction
of the people chiefly by means of education and public diversions. 38 For
Smith, then, government should take pains to offset the socially and morally
destructive effects of accumulation, by assuming responsibility for cultural
activities to render society, in its moral sentiments, economic behaviour and
social relations.
The administration of justice, which secures the law of private property and
gives the inhabitants of a country liberty and security, describes, in Smiths
words, an order of good government that enforces the system of perfect
liberty upon the owners of stock to contain their passion within the framework
of law, order, morality and sociability. For the benefit of everybody in society,
including the poor who depend for the improvement of their circumstances
on the increase in wealth, the political state enforces the discipline of a

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rules-based competitive system to secure the further division of labour based


on improved labour productivity. The purpose of the state is thus to secure for
the invisible hand that perfect order upon which the progress of commercial
society depends. For the sake of progress, the dynamic of commercial society
needs to be sustained, and in this context, the inequality in the fortunes of
mankind is in fact useful.39
In conclusion, the state maintains the rich in the possession of their wealth
against the violence and rapacity of the poor and it does so in the interest of
the poor themselves.40 Wealth will eventually trickle down to allow for that
improvement of conditions which only economic growth can furnish. He thus
conceives of the state unashamedly as a class state that, ostensibly, operates
in the true interest of workers for economic growth, security of employment
and wage income and conditions. For Smith, the workers do well not to resist
the progressive accumulation of capital inasmuch as their very existence
depends on it. The base superstructure metaphor that Marx derived from
classical political economy focuses the state as the political force of the law
of value.41 As a tax state, it depends entirely on the progressive accumulation
of the wealth of the nation, and thus on the international competitiveness of
stock. However, the class character of the state is not defined in national
terms. It subsists through world-market relations. As Smith put it,
the proprietor of stock is properly a citizen of the world, and is not
necessarily attached to any particular country. He would be apt to abandon
the country in which he was exposed to a vexatious inquisition, in order to
be assessed to a burdensome tax, and would remove his stock to some
other country where he could either carry on his business, or enjoy his
fortune more at his ease.42
In the well-ordered common wealth, the law of private property manifests
itself in the form of the heavy artillery of the price mechanism, which feeds
on the cheapness of provision and which thus entails constant pressure to
achieve greater labour productivity, the facilitation of which produces what
we call police.43

Neoliberalism and the theory of the state:


On free economy and market police
The conventional view that neoliberalism has to do with the weakening of
the state has little, if anything, to do with the neoliberal conception of the

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free economy. For the neoliberals, too, the state is the indispensable political
force of the society of free labour.44 Laissez-faire is no answer to riots.45
For the neoliberals the issue is not whether the state should or should not
intervene. Rather, the issue is the purpose and method, the objective and
aim of state intervention. Regulation by the invisible hand is indispensable
in the economic sphere. Left to its own devices, market freedom will
degenerate into a vulgar brawl (Rpke) between the greedy self-seekers
and implode in the face of the destructive forces of the proletariat (Rstow).46
It does not breed social integration nor does it create the moral sentiment
and entrepreneurial commitments that sustain bourgeois society.47 The free
economy is a practice of government. In the words of Hayek, the state
is indispensable as the economic planner for competition.48 It facilitates
(free) economy as a politically ordered freedom, which extends beyond the
system of justice and the rule of law. Fundamentally economic freedom
depends on the will (Bhm) for economic freedom, which requires the
incorporation [of competition] into a total life-style relieving, says MllerArmack, workers from the fear of capitalist freedom and making them
accept self-responsibility for that freedom. 49 The state is thus required to
secure the psycho-moral forces at the disposal of a capitalist society,
transforming rebellious proletarians into self-responsible entrepreneurs of
labour power.50
Neoliberalism recognizes that free economy is not some automatic
process, which unfolds or asserts itself objectively over the acting individuals.
Capitalist economy does not comprise unconditionally valid economic laws
nor is capitalism governed by the theological quirks of the invisible hand, nor
do the dependent masses accept their existence as propertyless producers
of surplus value without a fight.51 The circumstance that the labourers are
governed by the dull compulsion of economic need does neither come
about just like that, nor does it maintain itself just like that. Its reality is
neither given nor assured. It is made. That is, the magic of the invisible
hand depends on uninhibited market forces, which in turn depend on the
successful removal of impediments to free economy by the order-making
and preserving state. Laissez-faire describes the wished-for economic
conditions. It does not extend to the political sphere. In fact, Hayek argues
that laissez-faire is a highly ambiguous and misleading description of the
principles on which a liberal policy is based.52 Prevention of the coercion
and violence by private powers, principally by organized labour and selforganization of quarrelsome proletarians, is a political task. 53 It aims at the
complete eradication of all orderlessness from markets and the elimination
of private power from the economy, 54 securing the social individuals as
rational actors of economic value, mere human material for the valorization

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of value. The institutional separation of the state from the economy is not
just a condition of economic liberty and social freedom, of the depoliticized
exchange relations between the commodity owners. Rather, economic
liberty is a practice of government. The depoliticization of the social relations
is not a product of economic liberty. In its entirety it amounts to a practice of
government. Free economy presupposes the absence of direct coercion; the
buyers of labour power and producers of surplus value make contracts as
free and equal citizens. Thus the free economy entails depoliticized relations
based on a contract between self-responsible economic agents. Direct
coercion and violence is replaced by economic preferences, that is, in reality,
the silent force of economic compulsion. This organization of the exchange
relations requires the power of the state as the force of socio-economic
depoliticization. The trade relations in labour power and its effective utility
as a means of greater wealth amounts to a political practice of depoliticized
socio-economic relations. That is, free economy is an eminently political
decision, which needs to be made time and time again to contain the
illiberal use of freedom and prevent the politicization of the social labour
relations.55 The Smithean notion that the political state is innate to the
concept of the invisible hand is fundamental to neoliberal thought. It sees
the state as the public authority of the invisible hand, which is the regulative
means of the depoliticized relations of factor competiveness and labour
utility. Concentrated and organized coercive force is thus the precondition
of free economy. The laws of equivalent exchange are premised on order,
and the establishment of order is a political matter. That is, the invisible
hand is neither an answer to the hungry hordes of vested interests, nor
is it an answer to the rapacity of the poor, as Smith put it.56 The invisible
hand is premised on the state as market police. 57 Market police amounts
to a constant effort at securing the social and moral preconditions for free
economy. That is, in its entirety economic regulation by the invisible hand is
a political practice.
Liberalism therefore does not demand weakness from the state, but only
freedom for economic development under state protection.58 In this sense,
the state of the free economy does not really govern over society. Rather,
it governs through the individuals. There is no freedom without the order of
freedom, and order is not only a matter of law. It is also a matter of morality.
The order of freedom entails surveillance as a means of freedom. The premise
of government is that economic security is only to be had at a price of constant
watchfulness and adaptability and the preparedness of each individual to live
courageously and put up with lifes insecurities.59 There really is only one
freedom, and that is the freedom of the self-responsible economic agents

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who adjust to the price signals with the will of and for enterprise, the one
buying labour power with the expectation of making a profit, the other selling
labour power as the dispossessed producer of surplus value, seeking to make
ends meet. That is, poverty is neither unfreedom nor is it primarily material
in character.60 Rather, poverty expresses a moral form of deprivation that is
characterized by a poverty of aspiration, requiring state action to transform the
sellers of labour power from quarrelsome proletarians into citizens of private
property. As such a citizen the worker personifies labour power, which she
takes to the market to trade for a wage. She appears thus as an entrepreneur
of labour power, always ready to compete for a contract of employment. She
thus perceives poverty as an incentive to do better, sees unemployment as
an opportunity for employment, prices herself into jobs willingly and on her
own initiative and takes her life into her own hands, gets on with things, lives
courageously and puts up with lifes insecurities and risks. For the neoliberals,
unemployed workers are fundamentally entrepreneurs of labour power in transit,
floating from one form of employment to another. However, the sociological
condition of the worker is based on the transformation of labour power into a
commodity, which results from the separation of the worker from the means
of production.61 There is thus a natural tendency towards proletarianisation,
and government is therefore required to counteract this tendency, time and
time again, to secure the order of freedom.62 Government over society is
government in and through society to ensure the will for enterprise and labour
market competition, integrating the free labourer into the capitalist relations of
coined freedom as a willing employer of labour power.63
In sum, the neoliberal conception of political economy develops Smiths
insight that the veracity of economic categories is a political one. That is,
the players in the game need to accept free economy, especially those
who might systematically do poorly64 and who therefore struggle against
a conceptuality of freedom that for them entails a double freedom: they
are free from the means of subsistence and therefore free to produce
surplus value in exchange for a wage to meet their subsistence needs. For
the neoliberals, there is an innate connection between the law of private
property and the order-making and order-preserving force of the state.
Indeed, the organizational centre of political economy is the state, it is the
guardian of enterprise,65 setting and enforcing the rules of the free and
equal exchange relations between the sellers and buyers of commodities,
comprising on the one side the owner of the means of production as the
buyer of labour power, and on the other the producer of surplus value as the
seller of labour power. Economy has no independent reality. It is a political
economy.66

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Political theology: Freedom and dictatorship


According to Carl Friedrich, the purpose of military government is to protect
the welfare of the governed it is inspired by humanitarian consideration.67
However cynical, his take on the humanitarian character of military government
expresses the obvious truth that, as the political form of bourgeois society,
the state is responsible for maintaining the existing social relations. Friedrich
recognizes that the institutional independence of the state from society is
crucial to this task. It allows the state to function as a strong and neutral
guardian of the public interest asserting its authority vis--vis the interest
groups that press upon the government and clamour for recognition of their
particular needs and wants.68 His argument illustrates well Marxs critique of
the state as the executive committee of bourgeois society.
In our time, Milton Friedman has provided its cogent definition:
[T]he organisation of economic activity through voluntary exchange
presumes that we have provided, through government, for the maintenance
of law and order to prevent coercion of one individual by another, the
enforcement of contracts voluntarily entered into, the definition of the
meaning of property rights, the interpretation and enforcement of such
rights, and the provision of a monetary framework.
The state has to promote competition and do for the market what the
market cannot do for itself. The state, then, is essential both as a forum
for determining the rules of the game and as an umpire to interpret and
enforce the rules decided upon and enforcement is necessary on the part
of those few who would otherwise not play the game. The state, he says,
is the means through which we set and modify the rules.69 However, what
happens when they fail to adjust to the demands of the market and instead
start to rebel? Rebellions cannot be suppressed by juridical injunction.70
Suppression requires the employment of concentrated force that in the name
of freedom is said to protect the welfare of the governed. At a time of liberal
emergency, the occasion might thus arise when the law needs to be broken
in order to preserve it.71 The law does not suspend itself. Suspension is an
eminently political decision.
In Carl Schmitts definition of the political as the relationship between enemy
and foe the state is properly a state on the condition that it recognizes the class
enemy and formulates and conducts its policies on the basis of this recognition.
He sees the state as the monopolist of the ultimate decision as to whether the
containment of the enemy on the basis of the rule of law is effective or whether

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its temporary suspension is required so that order can be restored for the sake
of sound economy under the rule of law.72 He argued that there is no legal
norm that can be applied to chaos. Order has to be established for the legal
norms to be effective.73 Whether there is order or disorder, whether the rule of
law applies or whether the force of law (making violence) is needed to reassert
the rule of law is a question of judgement not of law but of a sovereign
decision. The decision is valid because it has been made. For the decision to be
valid there is thus need to eliminate any doubt in the veracity of the action. All
law, as Schmitt put it, is situational not as an expression of a shifting balance
of the social forces that in the view of Jessop act through the state, defining
its character and purpose.74 Here the rule of law reflects the situation of the
balance of class forces. For Schmitt, the rule of law is situational in character
because its veracity is a matter of authoritative judgement about the conditions
of social order. Society is either governed by the rule of law or it is not, in which
case government by the force of law-making violence becomes necessary to
restore the liberal veracity of the rule of law. The rule of law is thus situational
because it depends on the sovereign decision as to whether it applies or not.
Schmitt thus denounces the tradition of political pluralism and legal positivism
as doctrines based on the idea of relative truth. Normative values, he argues,
are either absolute or they posit nothing at all. Thus, relative truth never gives
one the courage to use force and to spill blood.75 Whether the rule of law
applies or whether it needs to be suspended is thus a question, not of law, but
of sovereign decision and judgement in the face of the (class) enemy. Necessity
knows no law. The law of necessity is the law of violence. Sovereign is who
decides on the state of emergency.76
Long before Schmitt, Rosa Luxemburgs critique of the state saw clearly
what Schmitt affirms. In the context of the debate between the revolutionary
and reformist wings of German social democracy, she declared that the
state is itself the representative of capitalist society. It is a class state.77
It recognizes bourgeois class interests as universal-human interests, and
governs accordingly.
In this society, the representative institutions, democratic in form, are in
content the instrument of the interests of the ruling class. This manifests
itself in a tangible fashion in the fact that as soon as democracy shows the
tendency to negate its class character and become transformed into an
instrument of the real interests of the population, the democratic forms are
sacrificed by the bourgeoisie and by its state representatives.78
Schumpeter thus argued that at its best liberal democracy is a most effective
form of government because it allows for the peaceful circulation of elites

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by means of competitive elections.79 The great danger for the democratic


state is the democratization of society.80 By recognizing and organizing its
own powers directly as social powers, the democratization of the society
challenges the distinction between society and state by politicizing the social
relations, leading to conditions of ungovernability, if unchecked. For the sake
of liberty, the state needs thus to be rolled back from society, reinforcing the
distinction between state and society and thus securing the political state as
the presupposition of a depoliticized society, one that as a consequence of
the political effort of socio-economic depoliticization, is solely governed by the
liberal rule of law and the moral sentiments of enterprise and competition.
Reasserting the distinction between state and society is an eminently
political decision with potentially far-reaching consequences.81 Rossiter
therefore argues that for the sake of liberal democracy no sacrifice is too
great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of democracy
itself.82 Rossiters point focuses the raison dtre of Bonapartism succinctly.
Bonapartism is the theology of political reaction. It asks what is necessary
to secure bourgeois interests as the universal interests of society at a time
of manifest political crisis. Its political force comes to the fore when the
constitutional government must be temporarily altered to whatever degree
is necessary to overcome the peril and restore normal conditions.83 That
is, the democratization of society creates, as Friedrich put it, the states of
emergency which call for the establishment of constitutional dictatorship. 84
Necessity knows no law. It demands the use of force to restore the order of
the common wealth. For Schmitt, therefore, an effective democracy depends
on the fundamental homogeneity between rulers and ruled. It is, as it were,
possible only on the condition that it is a democracy of friends.85
Schmitts programme of sound economy and the strong state is the
demand of neoliberalism.86 For the sake of an economy of free labour,
liberalism has to put itself at the forefront of the fight for the state because
it is only the state that can guarantee the common wealth, and liberalism
should not involve itself with defending particular interests. It should
always focus on the whole, and this whole is the state. 87 The purpose of
dictatorship within the bounds of democracy is innately social and moral
as social disorder can only be resolved by a strong state that suppresses
the class struggle.88 Rpke defines this dictatorship within the bounds
of democracy correctly as a commissarial dictatorship.89 It temporarily
suspends the rule of law to restore legitimate authority in the face of an
extreme emergency, for which he holds responsible those who lack the
moral stamina to absorb economic shocks. 90 The neoliberal demand for
the strong state is a demand for the limited state, one that limits itself to
the task of making the economy of free labour effective. In the face of

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disorder and politicized labour relations, the state has to act and when it has
to act the most fundamental principles of a free society . . . may have to be
temporarily sacrificed . . . [to preserve] liberty in the long run.91 According
to Hayek, dictatorship may impose limits on itself, and a dictatorship that
imposes such limits may be more liberal in its policies than a democratic
assembly that knows of no such limits.92 Unsurprisingly, Hayek accepts
Schmitts conception of sovereignty sovereign is the one who decides on
the exception.93 A dictatorship that imposes limits on itself, and that thereby
governs for the sake of the free economy, is a dictatorship that should be no
cause for alarm because it is constitutional.94 That is to say, a constitutional
dictatorship is not a contradiction in terms but rather the litmus test of
constitutionalism. In the face of liberal emergency, it preserves the rule of
law by means of the force of law. 95 Rossiter puts this point succinctly when
he argues that law is made for the state, not the state for the law. In case
circumstances are such that a choice must be made between the two, it is
the law which needs be sacrificed to the state.96
The use of organised force, which according to Friedrich is employed for
the welfare of the governed, does not entail less liberty. On the contrary, it
is the condition of liberty. It preserves and sustains the prospects of liberty
by means of executive action. The extraordinary means for maintaining the
state97 from martial law to a state of emergency, from restraint of civil
liberties to a full-blown constitutional or commissarial dictatorship entail not
just a temporary strengthening of the state where government will have more
power, the people fewer rights.98 Fundamentally, it is a means of freedom.99
Nevertheless, there is the danger that dictatorship becomes totalitarian, or
in the words of Schmitt, instead of the desired commissarial dictatorship, it
assumes the character of a sovereign dictatorship. What to do? As Friedrich
put it, how are we to get effective, vigorous governmental action and yet
limit the power of governmental bodies so as to forestall the rise of a despotic
concentration of power?100 For Friedrich this is a logical paradox that can
only be resolved in practice, that is, whatever forbidden fields of freedom the
necessities of crisis may force the leaders of a constitutional government to
go, go they must.101
In sum, the point of political theology is not to provide a political theory
of the state, letalone a critique of the state as the political form of capitalist
social relations. The point of political theology is to ask what is necessary to
sustain the existent social relations. It moves, as it were, from the lectern to
the barracks, seeking to maintain the economy of free labour in the face of a
manifest social crisis, class conflict and political strife. It is premised on the
understanding that economic liberty amounts to a political practice of market
police.

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Conclusion: On the critique of


political economy
The tradition of political economy establishes the state as the political form
of free economy. It conceives of the state as the political force of the invisible
hand. Without government, society descends into disorder and bloodshed.
Government is the condition and premise of bourgeois society, civilizing its
antagonistic character. It maintains the unity of the disunited social relations,
and contains class antagonism on the basis of law and morality, and by means
of force. The political state is the forceful premise of the relations of liberty,
equality and utility. The difference between the neoliberals and Smith is that
unlike Smith, they do not provide a social theory of capitalist social relations.
They demand strong state action as the means of preserving and sustaining
free economy. Economic regulation by the free price mechanism manifests
a constant political effort of facilitating economic freedom in the social
structure and moral fabric of society. A free labour economy presupposes
the state as the political authority of that freedom. In its role as market police,
the state is fundamentally a security state, ever vigilant in its surveillance of
society to secure the proper use of freedom, policing not only compliance
with the rule of law but also the will for enterprise. Whether there is disorder
or order is a matter, not of law but political decision. Their political stance
expresses the Bonapartist theology of state power, according to which the
veracity of the strong state is not relative. It is absolute in its pursuit of a
free economy of labour. Smith, in contrast, does not even utter the word
liberalism. There was no such system to defend. Smith wrote his work as a
critique of mercantilism. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, liberalism
had become the ideological orthodoxy of a liberalizing state.102 It was in this
context that Marx writes (with Engels) in the Communist Manifesto about the
cosmopolitan character of the bourgeoisie, and defines the national state as
the executive committee of the bourgeoisie.
The idea that the economy comprises an independent reality expresses
a theological conviction. The capitalist state is neither independent from
the economy nor does it derive from it, nor does the economy comprise a
structured system of independent economic laws. Capitalist economy is a
socially constituted system of human reproduction that is antagonistic from
the outset. Its cohesion, organization, integration and reproduction are matters
of state. It provides for the organisation of economy activity.103 The tradition
of political economy does not therefore define the state by its relationship
to the market, nor does it define the economic in relationship to the state, a
view which implies a conception of market and state as two distinct modes

ON THE STATE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

183

of social organization, and the perennial question about such a conception is


whether the market has autonomy vis--vis the state or conversely whether
the state has autonomy vis--vis the maket, characterizing its retreat or
resurgence as a power vis--vis the economic. For political economy the
relationship between the economy and state is an innate one, and within their
inner connection, the state is fundamental. It manifests the free economy of
labour as a practice of government.
There can thus be no economic crisis. Economic crises are crises of
political economy. In Rpkes view one should therefore not speak of a crisis
of capitalism but of a crisis of interventionism.104 That is, the state is the
mistress of the economy in its totality as in its parts . . . and the state must
master the whole of economic development both intellectually and materially;
it must plan for liberty and competition.105 Economic crises therefore manifest
a failure of government, which turned a blind eye to the problems of economy,
society and morality. The state failed either in removing impediments to
market freedom or in restraining the passions of competition or greed, or in
securing the cheapness of provision, or in facilitating the requisite psychomoral forces of enterprise, or in embedding the spirit of enterprise into society
at large, or compounded the poverty of aspirations by a permissive welfare
state, or turned a blind eye to the rapacity of the poor, which could have been
curbed by means of welfare concessions, employment programmes, etc. The
failure of the state is the failure of the executive committee of bourgeois
society. Marxs conception of the state as the concentrated and organized
force of society of society viewed in relationship to itself focuses political
economy as a political practice. As the organized force of the system of wealth
based on free labour the state facilitates the order of economic freedom,
sustains the capitalist relations of production and exchange, and seeks the
further progress of the system of free labour by facilitating the cheapness of
provision.106
Marxs stance elucidates the liberal paradox that the state always governs
too much and too little, commits too much welfare support or too little,
regulates too much or too little. The market liberal idea that uninhibited
market forces are the only remedy to resolving economic crisis is deceitful.
Uninhibited markets describe a political practice of eliminating impediments to
free economy. Similarly, the idea that market failure is a consequence of too
little or too much regulation is deceitful in that it identifies the cause of crises
in the adopted means of economic regulation, as if crisis resolution is a matter
of technical fine-tuning. Nevertheless, in either case, the state is endorsed as
the indispensable force of capitalist social reproduction. For the sake of the
capitalist form of wealth, of value in process, money in process, and as such
capital, the state cannot have enough power the law of value presupposes

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the political state (Marx) as the concentrated force of the relations of


bourgeois freedom. In the German Ideology, Marx sketches the character of
the bourgeois relations of reproduction as follows: everyone is dependent on
everyone else, and each person can only reproduce himself inasmuch as all
others become means for him. Furthermore, each individual can only pursue
and realize his own particular interests when his conditions of reproduction,
which are identical to those of everyone else, are accepted, respected and
recognized by everyone else. The particular will of the individual obtains thus
through a will in which all individuals are united, which is common to all, that is,
is universal as the bonum commune of their sociability as personifications of
value. The attitude of the bourgeois to the conditions of his existence acquires
one of its universal forms in bourgeois morality and these forms must assume
the form of the state and must gain expression as the will of the state, as
law. That is to say, it is precisely because individuals who are independent of
one another assert themselves and their own will, and because on this basis
their attitude to one another is bound to be egotistical, that self-denial is made
necessary in law and right and assumes the form of the state.107
The rule of law treats the owners of the means of production and the free
labourer as identical subjects, as citizens endowed with the same legal rights
and obligations. The law is blind to privileges. It is a law of equality. Contractual
relations represent the form in which, according to law, freedom obtains in the
form of a legally bound recognition of private individuals in their relationship to
one another. The labour contract is the juridical form of the bourgeois freedom
of labour it combines the freedom of exchange on the labour market with
the acquired right to compel the worker beyond the necessary labour time and
appropriate her unpaid labour time in the form of profit. This then characterizes
the form of the state as an illusory community.108 In this community of
equals each pays heed to himself only, and no one worries about the rest.
And precisely for that reason, either in accordance with the pre-established
harmony of things, or under the auspices of an omniscient providence, they
all work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the
common interest.109 Marxs ironic take on the magic of the invisible hand
as the regulative principle of bourgeois freedom, entails the understanding
that in this society the individuals are indeed governed by real economic
abstractions. However, these abstractions have no independent reality, they
are socially constituted abstractions. Similarly the state is not an independent
power. Rather it is societys [independent] power.110 The state, then, does not
possesses its own intellectual, ethical and libertarian bases.111 Rather, society
doubles itself up into society and state. Instead of despotism, the state of
capitalist society imposes law on the basis of order; it is the concentrated force
of social order. It makes order by means of the force of law-making violence.

ON THE STATE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

185

It depoliticizes the socio-economic relations and so guarantees contractual


relations of social interaction, secures the free and equal market relations and
maintains the social relations founded on equality, freedom and utility.
The depoliticization of society entails the concentrating of the political
character of society in the form of the state, this independent institutional
form that is the concentrated force of society. The political form does not
derive from bourgeois society. Rather it is immanent to its concept. For
the sake of liberty, it forbids the dependent sellers of labour power and the
owners of the means of subsistence equally to steal bread. The political state
is the state of bourgeois society.

Notes
1 See, for example, Bob Jessop, State Power: A Strategic-Relational
Approach (Cambridge 2008). The seminal work is Nicos Poulantzas,
Political Power and Social Classes (London 1973). For a succinct critique
of Poulantzass account, see Simon Clarke, Marxism, Sociology and
Poulantzas Theory of the State, Capital & Class, vol. 1, no.2 (1977),
pp.131.
2 Ernest Mandel, The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx
(London 1971).
3 Dirk Braunstein, Adornos Kritik der politischen konomie (Bielefeld 2011).
Horkheimer and Marcuse did write about the authoritarian transformation
of the Weimar state, but these efforts, too, remained rudimentary. Max
Horkheimer, Authoritarian State, Telos, no.15 (Spring 1973), pp.320.
Herbert Marcuse, The Struggle Against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View
of the State, in Negations (London 1988). Franz Neumann, Behemoth
(New York 2009)and Alfred Sohn Rethel, Economy and Class Structrure
of German Fascism (London 1978)published insightful analyses about the
Nazi state but did not develop a critical theory of the state as the political
form of society.
4 The German state derivation debate of the 1970s sought to derive
the category state from the economic categories of Marxs Capital.
The main contributions to this debate, including Reichelts, have been
collected by John Holloway and Sol Picciotto in State and Capital
(London 1978). The derivation debate was the German trajectory of the
more general trend in the 1970s at breaking the economic determinism
of Marxist state theory, from Italian Autonomism, see Steve Wright,
Storming Heaven (London 2002), to the state debate within the
Conference of Socialist Economists in Britain, see Simon Clarke (ed.),
The State Debate (London 1991) and also Poulantzass early state theory,
which set out to complement Marxian economic theory with a Marxist
political theory. His final work on the state, State, Power, Socialism

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY


(London 1978)was closer to the German state debate in its attempt at
deriving the state from the capitalist social relations.

5 Elmar Altvater, Some Problems of State Intervention, and Joachim Hirsch


The State Apparatus and Social Reproduction, both in John Holloway and
Sol Picciotto, State and Capital. A Marxist Debate (London 1978). Hirschs
contribution overlaps with Poulantzass account.
6 See, however, Bernhard Blanke, Ulrich Jrgens and Hans Kastendiek,
On the Current Marxist Discussion on the Analysis of Form and Function
of the Bourgeoise State, in John Holloway and Sol Picciotto, State and
Capital. A Marxist Debate (London 1978), for an attempt at deriving the
necessity of the state from the exchange relations between sellers and
buyers of labour power. See also Robert Fine, Democracy and the Rule of
Law (Caldwell, NJ 2002). Evgeny Pashukaniss Law and Marxism (London
1987) work was instrumental for this line of argument. In distinction,
Johannes Agnoli, Der Staat des Kapitals (Freiburg 1995) and Faschismus
ohne Revision (1997), rather the deriving the political form from the
socio-economic forms, recognized the political character of political
economy, which he developed in the context of his analysis of fascism
and post-war developments. See also Johannes Agnoli, The Market,
the State, and the End of History, in ed. Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas
Psychopedis, The Politics of Change (London 2000). Simon Clarke,
Keynesianism, Monetarism and the Crisis of the State (Cheltenham 1988).
John Holloway, The State and Everyday Struggle, in ed. Simon Clarke,
The State Debate (London 1991), conceived of the state as the form
assumed by the capitalist class relations and class struggle. See also John
Holloway and Sol Picciotto, Introduction, in State and Capital: A Marxist
Debate (London 1978).
7 Marxs claim that his study let him to the discovery of this notion is
misleading. See Werner Bonefeld, Free economy and strong state, Capital
& Class, vol. 34, no.1 (2010), pp.1524.
8 Theodor Adorno, Lectures on History and Freedom (Cambridge 2008a),
p.47.
9 The term Bonapartism refers to Marxs account of Napoleon Bonapartes
coup dtat that established a populist military dictatorship to safeguard
the existing social relations in the face of mass revolt and revolution.
Essentially, it amounts to a military counterrevolution, which uses
selective reforms to co-opt the radicalism of the depended masses. In
the modern era the term refers to Fascist and other authoritarian regimes
that replace the liberal rule of law by the force of law-making violence,
ostensibly safeguarding the rule of law by suspending it at a time of liberal
emergency. Karl Marx, The Eigtheenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (New
York 1963).
10 Marx, Grundrisse (London 1973), p.108.
11 Marx, Grundrisse, p.108.
12 Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.915.

ON THE STATE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

187

13 Some might object to the use of bourgeois society in this context and
insist on the use of civil society. But recall Hegels dictum: In this society,
the individuals are not citoyens, they are bourgeois. Georg W. F. Hegel,
Die Philosophie des Rechts 1817/18 (Stuttgart 1983), art. 89. The German
for civil society is Zivilgesellschaft or zivile Gesellschaft, not brgerliche
Gesellschaft, which translates as bourgeois society.
14 Georg W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford 1967),
pp.126. 1301, 150, 14950.
15 Hegel, Philosophy of Right, pp.150, 151.
16 Georg W. F. Hegel, Jenenser Realphilosophie (Leipzig 1932), p.232.
17 Hegel, Jenenser Realphilosophie, p.240.
18 Hegel, Philosophy of Right, p.210.
19 Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (London 1971),
p.20. The German original says Basis. The English edition says foundation.
20 The metaphor says that the superstructure is the expression of the
substructure. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen Werk (Frankfurt 1983),
pp.4956. See also Werner Bonefeld, Adam Smith and Ordoliberalism:
On the Political Form of Market Freedom, Review of International Studies,
vol. 39, no.2 (2013), pp.23350.
21 William Robertson, A General History of North and South America (London
1834), p.79.
22 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of
Nations (Indianapolis 1981), p.25.
23 Smith, Inquiry, p.428.
24 See Smith, Inquiry, p.723.
25 Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence (Indianapolis 1978), p.6.
26 Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Oxford 1976), p.86.
27 On this see Pashukanis, Law and Marxism.
28 Karl Marx, The Holy Family, Collected Works, vol. 4 (London 1975).
29 Marx, Grundrisse, p.604.
30 Michel Foucault, Governmentality, in ed. Graham Burchell, Colin
Gordon and Peter Miller, The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality
(Chicago 1991), captures this inhabitation of the moral sentiments
well. Governmentality focuses on the internalization of the function of
government into the mentality of the acting subjects.
31 Smith, Moral Sentiments, pp.340, 89, 91.
32 Smith, Inquiry, p.687.
33 Smith, Inquiry, pp.710, 715.
34 Smith, Inquiry, pp.83, 84, 85.
35 Smith, Inquiry, pp.867, 87, 91, 333.
36 Smith, Inquiry, pp.109, 105.

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

37 Smith, Lectures, p.5.


38 Smith, Inquiry, pp.10, 723.
39 Smith, Lectures, p.338.
40 Smith, Lectures, p.338.
41 In distinction to Backhaus, Between Philosophy and Science, in ed.
Werner Bonefeld, Richard Gunn and Kosmas Psychopedis, Open Marxism,
vol. I (London 1992), Marxs metaphor does not surpass classical political
economy. Werner Bonefeld, The Capitalist State: Illusion and Critique, in
Revolutionary Writing (New York 2003).
42 Smith, Inquiry, pp.8489.
43 Smith, Lectures, p.5.
44 The term neoliberalism was coined by Alexander Rstow at the Walter
Lippmann Colloquium in 1938. For the market liberals, it summarized the
political experiences of the late 1920s and early 1930s. They asked what
needs to be done to make capitalism work, and how to define or redefine
capitalist economic rationality. They identified neoliberalism with a strong
state a state that governs for the free economy. The term was coined
in critical distinction to laissez-faire liberalism, which at that time was the
cause clbre of the Austrian school of economics, von Mises in particular.
The distinction between laissez-faire liberalism and neoliberalism though
analytically sharp, is of less importance in the context of Realpolitik. For
example, von Mises asserts that uninhibited market forces are the only
remedy to resolving economic crisis, and then argues that fascism and
similar movements have . . . saved European civilization. Ludwig von Mises,
The Free and Prosperous Commonwealth (Irvington, NY 2000), p.51. I owe
the reference to Rstows elucidation of neoliberalism as a rejection of
(Austrian) laissez-faire to Ralf Ptak, Neoliberalism in Germany, in ed. Philip
Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, The Road from Mont Pelerin (Cambridge, MA
2009). For Michel Foucault, Biopolitics (London 2008), German neoliberalism
is the foundation of neoliberal thought. For an introduction to the main
tenants of German neoliberalism see, Werner Bonefeld, Freedom and the
Strong State, New Political Economy, vol. 17, no.5 (2012), pp.63356.
45 Hans Willgerodt and Alan Peacock, German Liberalism and Economic
Revival, in ed. Alan Peacock and Hans Willgerodt, German Neo-Liberals
and the Social Market Economy (London 1989), p.6.
46 Wilhelm Rpke, The Guiding Principles of the Liberal Programme, in
ed. Friedrich Wnsche, Standard Texts on the Social Market Economy
(Stuttgart 1982), p.188. Alexander Rstow, Die Staatspolitischen
Vorraussetzngen des wirtschaftspolitischen Liberalismus, in Rede und
Antwort (Ludwigsburg 1963), p.255.
47 Werner Eucken, Grundstze der Wirtschaftspolitik (Tbingen 2004), p.360.
48 Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (London 1944), p.31.
49 Franz Bhm, Ordnung der Wirtschaft (Berlin 1937), p.52. Alfred MllerArmack, The Social Market Economy as an Economic and Social Order,

ON THE STATE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

189

Review of Social Economy, vol. 36, no.3 (1978), p.328. Alfred Mller
Armack, Genealogie der Sozialen Marktwirtschaft (Stuttgart 1981), p.92.
50 Wilhelm Rpke, International Economic Disintegration (London 1942),
p.68.
51 Alexander Rstow, General Social Laws of the Economic Disintegration
and Possibilities of Reconstruction, Afterword to Wilhelm Rpke,
International Economic Disintegration (London 1942), pp.2723, 270.
52 Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, p.84.
53 Friedrich Hayek, A Tiger by the Tail (London 1972), pp.66, 87.
54 Bhm, Ordnung der Wirtschaft, p.150.
55 Franz Bhm, Die Kampfansage an Ordnungstheorie und Ordnungspolitik,
Ordo, no.2 (1973), p.39.
56 Wilhelm Rpke, The Social Crisis of Our Time (New Brunswick, NJ 2009),
p.181.
57 Rstow, General Social Laws, p.289.
58 Hayek, A Tiger by the Tail, p.66.
59 Wilhelm Rpke, The Moral Foundation of Civil Society (New Brunswick, NJ
2002), p.198.
60 See, Sir Keith Joseph and Jonathan Sumption, Equality (London 1979).
61 Alexander Rstow, Freiheit und Herrschaft (Mnster 2005), p.365. Rstow
develops the purposes of the liberal state based on a clear understanding
of the doubly free labourer as the condition of free economy. See chapter4
for an exposition.
62 Rpke, The Social Crisis, p.128.
63 Wilhelm Rpke, Ma und Mitte (Zrich 1950), p.252.
64 Victor Vanberg, Ordnungstheorie as Constitutional Economics. The
German Conception of a Social Market Economy, Ordo, vol. 39 (1988),
p.26.
65 Victor Vanberg, The Constitution of Markets (London 2001), p.50.
66 Michel Foucault disagrees with this point. He develops his argument on
the basis of two distinct, though interdependent logics, the logic of the
market and the logic against the market. He identifies the logic for the
market as a competitive market economy that is ruled by the laws of
perfect liberty free competition, pursuit of economic value and regulation
of entrepreneurial preferences and innovation by the free-price mechanism.
He conceives of the logic against the market as comprising the principle
of a biopolitical social policy, which for Foucault somewhat compensates
for the heartless logic of economic value. Foucault, Biopolitics, p.242. In
distinction, political economy focuses the state as market-facilitating and
market-embedding, which includes the relentless attempt at sustaining
and maintaining the moral sentiments and sociological preconditions of
economic liberty to secure the free economy of labour. On this see also
Keith Tribe, The Political Economy of Modernity: Foucaults Collge de

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY


France Lectures of 1978 and 1979, Economy and Society, vol. 38, no.4
(2009), pp.67998.

67 Carl Friedrich, Constitutional Government and Democracy; Theory and


Practice in Europe and America (London 1968), p.547.
68 Carl Friedrich, The Political Thought of Neo-Liberalism, The American
Political Science Review, vol. 49, no.2 (1955), p.512.
69 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago 1962), pp.27, 34, 15,
25, 23.
70 Clinton L. Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship. Crisis Government in the
Modern Democracies (Princeton, NJ 1948), p.303.
71 Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship, pp.7, 12.
72 On this see, Carl Schmitt, Sound Economy Strong State, Appendix to
Renato Cristi, Carl Schmitt and Authoritarian Liberalism (Cardiff 1998).
73 Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie (Berlin 1990), p.20.
74 Jessop, State Power.
75 Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (Cambridge, MA
1988), p.64.
76 Schmitt, Politische Theologie, p.11.
77 Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution (London 1989), p.41. Some
commentators have rejected the New Lefts critique of the state, Johannes
Agnoli, Die Transformation der Demokratie (Freiburg 1990), in particular, as
adopting a left Schmittean perspective because of its anti-parliamentarian
political stance. See, for example, Die Zeits commentary on the occasion
of Schmitts ninety-fifth birthday in 1983, in http://www.zeit.de/1983/28/
carl-schmitt-und-die-linke/seite-3 (accessed 1 February 2013). If there is
a Schmittean left, it is the one that affirms the state as an instrument of
violence, which needs to be seized and wielded on behalf of the identified
class friend. The Schmittean left is the Leninist left. For a critique of
Leninism, see the contributions to Werner Bonefeld and Sergio Tischler,
What Needs to be Done? (Aldershot 2002).
78 Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution, p.47.
79 See Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism & Democracy (London
1992), p.246.
80 See, for example, Wilhelm Hennis, Die missverstandene Demokratie
(Freiburg 1973), for an argument that the democratic self-determination of
society is the biggest threat to democratic government.
81 In our time, the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile is the most emblematic. For
Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, it was a force of and for liberty. See
Renato Cristi, Carl Schmitt and Authoritarian Liberalism (Cardiff 1998).
82 Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship, p.314.
83 Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship, p.5.
84 Friedrich, Constitutional Government, p.580.

ON THE STATE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

191

85 In the late 1920 and early 1930s, Schmitt and the German neoliberals fed
on each others analyses; their vocabulary and concepts were
interchangeable. After the Second World War, there was great ambiguity
towards Schmitt, and efforts of cutting the connection are legion. Hayek,
for example, rejected Schmitt in toto, denouncing him, rigthly, as the
leading Nazi theoretician of totalitarianism only to acknowledge that
Schmitt probably understood the character of the developing form of
government better than most people. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom,
p.187; and Friedrich Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty (London 1979),
p.194. Hayek also accepted Schmitts distinction between democracy
and liberalism and argued that Schmitts analysis was most learned and
perceptive. Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (London 1960),
p.485. On the connection between Schmitt and Hayek, see Cristi, Carl
Schmitt and William E. Scheuermann, Carl Schmitt. The End of Law
(Boulder, CO 1999).
86 Schmitt, Sound Economy. Rstow, Die Staatspolitischen
Vorraussetzungen. Rstows paper was originally published in 1932. The
legal philosopher Herman Heller, Autoritrer Liberalismus? Die Neue
Rundschau, vol. 44, no.1 (1933), pp.28998, characterized this demand
for strong state authority as an authoritarian liberalism, which he saw
manifested in the political programme of the conservative von Papen
government (1 June 1932 to 17 November 1932). On this, see Dieter
Haselbach, Autoritrer Liberalismus und Soziale Marktwirtschaft (BadenBaden 1991).
87 Wilhelm Rpke, International Order and Economic Integration (Dodrecht
1959), pp.44, 45.
88 Alexander Rstow, Diktatur innerhalb der Grenzen der Demokratie,
Vierteljahreshefte fr Zeitgeschichte, vol. 7 (1959), pp.11011. Rstows
article first appeared in 1932.
89 Rpke, International Economic Disintegration, pp.246, 247.
90 Rpke, The Social Crisis, p.52.
91 Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, p.217.
92 Friedrich Hayek, cited in Cristi, Carl Schmitt, p.168. Hayeks musing about
the liberalizing character of dictatorship came about in the context of the
coup dtat in Chile in 1973.
93 Friedrich Hayek, Wissenschaft und Sozialismus (Tbingen 1978), p.125.
94 Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship, p.4.
95 Friedrich, Constitutional Government, pp.580, see also p.581.
96 Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship, p.11.
97 Friedrich, Constitutional Government, pp.563, 560.
98 Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship, p.5.
99 Friedrich, Constitutional Government, p.581.
100 Friedrich, Constitutional Government, p.581.

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101 Rossiter, Constitutional Dictatorship, p.290.


102 See Clarke, Keynesianism, chap.1.
103 Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, p.15.
104 Wilhelm Rpke, Crisis and Cycles (London 1936), p.160.
105 Bhm, Ordnung, p.10. Hayek, The Road, p.31.
106 Marx, Grundrisse, p.108. Cheapness of provision is Smiths term. Smith,
Lectures on Jurisprudence, p.6.
107 Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, The German Ideology, Collected Works,
vol. 5 (London 1976), pp.180, 329.
108 Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, p.78.
109 Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.280.
110 Marx, From the Preparatory Materials, in Marx Engels Collected Works,
vol. 29 (London 1987), p.439.
111 Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Marx Engels Selected
Works, vol. 3 (Moscow 1970), p.28.

Part Four

Anti-capitalism:
Theology and
negative practice

9
Anti-capitalism and the
elements of antisemitism: On
theology and real abstractions
On the critique of the
personifications of capital
This book started with the argument that the sensuous social practice
subsists in and through the movement of supersensible economic things.
The supersensible world is the world of sensuous human practice in inverted
form. According to Marx the point of critique can therefore not be to make
the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains,
however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.1 It is not
sufficient to criticize capitalists for their seemingly excessive addiction to
profit, nor is it sufficient to criticize bankers for pursuing money for the sake
of more money. On the pain of ruin, these behaviours manifest the objective
necessity of the capitalistically constituted social relations. Neither the
capitalist nor the banker, nor indeed the worker can extricate themselves
from the reality in which they live and which asserts itself not only over them
but also through them, and by means of them.
In this context, the question what is criticized? becomes an important
one. As I put it in the Introduction, how does one oppose the fateful
movement of coins? Clearly, the critique of the banker, or any other socioeconomic operative of a system that asserts itself as an independent force
over and through the social individuals, misses the object of critique. As a
critical theory, the critique of political economy is therefore not a critique
of the personifications of economic categories. It does not argue that the
economy of labour is corrupted by the private interests of the capitalist and

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his political friends, from which derives the demand for political action to
set things right, ostensibly in the interest of humanity and for the sake of
a rationalized labour economy. Instead, it is a critique of the capitalistically
organized social relations of human reproduction that assume the form of a
movement of economic things, which objectify themselves in the person.
Nevertheless, while every individual is ruled by abstractions, the owners
of great wealth experience this rule as a source of much enrichment and
power. In this context Horkheimer and Adorno have argued that the rulers
are safe for as long as the ruled struggle under the spell of the inverted
world, in which, say, the cause of financial crisis, economic downturn and
conditions of austerity are attributed to the greedy behaviour of identifiable
individuals.2 A spellbound critique of capitalism demands more of this and less
of that. It apportions blame and proclaims to know how to set things right.
Rather than the capitalistically organized relations of social reproduction, it is,
say, the profit-making consciousness of the capitalist and the greed of the
speculator that is criticized, rejected and condemned. That is, the critique of
the capitalist manifests itself as a demand for a better capitalism, one that
works in the interests of the workers. Marxs critique of Proudhon focused
on this simple point.3 Proudhon substituted the critique of capitalism for a
critique of the capitalist, seeking to free capital from the capitalist so as to
utilize its economic force for the benefit of a well-ordered society, investing
in society.
The critique of the capitalist leaves the category of capital not only entirely
untouched, it also elevates capital as a thing beyond critique. Instead of a
critique of the capitalist social relations, it identifies the guilty party, condemns
it and demands state action to sort things out. It thus attributes capitalist
conditions to the conscious activity of some identifiable individuals, who no
longer appear as the personification of economic categories but, rather, as the
personalized subject of misery. This personalization of the economic categories
entails a number of differentiations, most importantly between the productive
or indeed creative capitalist as a producer of real wealth employing a hardworking and creative people, and the financial or indeed parasitic capitalist
who makes his fortune by speculating in money to the detriment of industry
and workers. Here the distinction between use-value and concrete labour,
on the one hand, and exchange value and abstract labour, including the
manifestation of value in the form of money, on the other, appears in the form
of distinct personalities pitting the creative industrialist against the parasitic
banker-cum-speculator. There emerges, then, the idea of a capitalism that
is corrupted by the financial interests. Finance turns capitalism into a casino
that spins the fortune wheel of the world at the expense of national industry,
national wealth, national workers and national harmony.

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In this view the capital fetish, which manifests itself in the form of money
as the most senseless, incomprehensible form of wealth, expresses the
conscious activity and the will of bankers, financiers and speculators.4 That is,
a definite form of social relations manifests itself in the form of a movement
of coins and then, under the spell of this coined movement, rebels against
the personifications of a world governed by coins. The personalized critique
of capital identifies the wrongdoer of the wronged society and calls him
a merchant of greed. For the sake of employment and industry, something
needs to be. Something can be done! The personalized critique of capitalist
social relations is open to abuse from the outset. It thinks akin to a register of
blame, and condemns the identified party as a power that hides behind the
economic phenomena, sucking the living life out of the national community of
hard-working people. This identification of the subject of misery leads to the
condemnation of the world-market society of capital as a network of money
and power that imposes itself with destructive force on a national people
who appear thus as victims of the cosmopolitan peddlers. The contemporary
idea that so-called neoliberal capitalism resulted from a Washington-based
agreement between money and power, the so-called Washington consensus,
purports the idea, at least by implications, of a conspiratorial construction of
a finance-driven world economy that, buttressed by the political and military
might of the United States, exploits the nations of the world.5
The critique of financial imperialism entails the idea of anti-imperialism
as a progressive, liberating force. The reverse of anti-imperialism is national
liberation, by which the dominated national communities defend their identity
in opposition to the disintegrating forces of financial globalization and imperial
power. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri thus claim that the anti-modern thrust
that defines fundamentalism might be better understood not as a premodern
but as a postmodern project. What they endorse as a progressive form of
nationalism is entirely regressive.6 It is pure ideology to distinguish
healthy national sentiment from pathological nationalism . . . The dynamic
that leads from the supposedly healthy national sentiment into its overvalued
excess is unstoppable, because its untruth is rooted in the persons act of
identifying himself with the irrational nexus of nature and society in which
he by chance finds himself.7
The idea of the nation as a subject of liberation is as irrational as the belief in
a national destiny and a national homogeneity of purposes, from the national
industry via the national interest to the national history. The idea of the nation as
the foundation of being and becoming recognizes the term cosmopolitanism
as a term of abuse. In its stead, it puts its faith in the imagined nation as some

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naturally rooted and active thing, which it idolizes as the spirit of the people.
If indeed it is permissible at all to speak about the national spirit of the people,
it is a national spirit not by nature, but by history. By reducing history to nature
or by reading nature into history, the struggle for national liberation becomes
delusional inasmuch as a people are forced to act as if they really are natural
forces that have a national history and destiny. The imagined nature of a
people depends on the existence of some indefinable Other as the abstract
focal point of the pseudo concreteness of the wronged nation.8
The identification of the guilty parties, speculator, banker and US
imperialism personalizes the world of economic objectivity, and points an
accusing finger at the identified foe of the national harmony of interests.
According to Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, this personalization
of the movement of real economic abstractions entails the elements of
antisemitism.9 The personalized critique of capitalism is not a critique of
capitalism, it identifies the hated forms of capitalism in the guilty party. It thus
denounces identifiable wrongdoers under the spell of identification, which
once radicalized into blind resentment becomes demagogic in its demand for
salvation. What is the name of the speculator, what is the character of the
banker and where does the wrongdoer live, how to make her visible? The
wrongdoer can be named and identified, and yet appears intangible. She is
everywhere, rumoured to stand behind the phenomena of a world that imposes
itself upon the relations of national harmony with devastating force. The Nazi
ideologue Alfred Rosenberg formulated the essence of modern antisemitism
succinctly when he portrayed it as an attack on Communism, Bolshevism and
Jewish capitalism, that is, a capitalism not of productive labour and industry,
but of parasites money and finance, speculators and bankers.10 Antisemitism
articulates a senseless and barbaric discontent with conditions, which by
leaving capitalism entirely untouched, is totalitarian in its manifestation. It is
totalitarian in that it seeks to make the rebellion of suppressed nature against
domination directly useful to domination to the point of utter destruction.11
Auschwitz is the name of this destruction.12 For Adorno, Auschwitz not only
manifested the violence that resides in the bourgeois relations of abstract
equality and abstract identity but also confirmed the bourgeois relations of
pure identity as death.13 That is, everyone can be numbered and become a
number, and what is numbered is added up with mathematical precision to
allow for the best possible calculation of given quantities of human material.
The image of a Man is a metaphysical distraction. There are no subjects.
Every number is a resource. Those deemed valueless human material are
gassed without delay. Time is of the essence. There is no time to waste.
This chapter argues that modern antisemitism is the rumour about the
Jews as incarnation of hated forms of capitalism.14 This rumour implies that

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antisemitism expresses resistance to capitalism. The chapter expounds this


deadly notion. The next section, introduces the elements of antisemitism,
presents their contemporary context in anti-imperialism and argues that the
anti-imperialist idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend is entirely
regressive. The final two sections explore Adorno and Horkheimers
conception of Nazi antisemitism.15 The conclusion argues that antisemitism
expresses the theology of anti-capitalism.

On the elements of antisemitism:


On parasites and national liberation
Racism and antisemitism are different-in-unity. All forms of racism project
some Other as a disintegrating force of some assumed national homogeneity
of purposes. Racism projects the Other as inferior or sub-human. This Other
can be exploited economically and used as a political scapegoat. In contrast
to antisemitism, this racialized Other is perceived as a rooted power she
has her own national roots and traditions. She belongs to a different national
community. Racism demands that this Other should accept her position of
inferiority without question. Its objective is not to exclude people but to keep
them within the system as inferiors (Untermenschen).16 For the racist this
Other is a potential slave, who needs to be kept in check for the sake of a
society that demands to be served. This Other is regulated through institutional
racism, threat of expulsion, segregation, racial profiling, slander, arson, murder
and forced removal to indicate the precarious nature of her immigrant status.
Racism transposes feudal relations of social hierarchy, position and privilege on
to bourgeois society modernizing, as it were, the relations between master and
slave as relations of an organic society where everybody knows their place in
the social hierarchy, and where the Other provides the excuse for a damaged
life and becomes the object of hatred and ridicule, and is accepted, however
precariously, for as long as she does her work quietly, without being seen.
Antisemitism, in contrast, projects the Other as rootless and all-powerful.
For the antisemite, the Jew comes from nowhere and, as a rootless
cosmopolitan, is depicted as eternally wandering restlessly from place to
place, peddling in money and misery. As a revenge the wandering Jew
is therefore not allowed, even in death, to rest. Desecration of Jewish
cemeteries is the epitome of antisemitic behaviour.17 For the antisemite the
Jews have no concrete roots, and the attempt to find roots, even in death,
is a provocation and an incitement for action. That is, the Jews are deemed
rootless and thus unnatural: they have their roots in a book, in reason,

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cunning, argument, ideas, abstract thought and they personify abstract


wealth money and finance. Reason is a powerfully destructive force that
belongs to the dissenter, heretic and subversive thinker. The antisemite
attributes this power of reason to the cunning Jew.18 The Jew is possessed
by a rootless intelligence that is destructive of organic social matter. Their
power however cannot be defined concretely; it is an abstract, intangible,
invisible power. Antisemitism has nothing to do with concrete people. It is
the rumour about Jews,19 all of them without exception since nobody in
particular can be named as the responsible agent of evil, everybody is guilty.
Everybody can therefore be a Jew. The Jew is seen as the one who stands
behind phenomena. Racisms treatment of the Other as a real or potential
slave contrasts with antisemitisms projection of the rootless and invisible
power of the destructive Jew, this projected incarnation of evil. Evil cannot be
enslaved for were it possible to enslave evil, it would no longer be evil. Evil
needs to be eliminated. The rumoured Jew personifies an invisible power, and
this power needs to be made visible through dehumanization; once reduced
to a cipher it can be treated as if it really were invisible the projected foe of
the relations of national harmony is disappeared without trace.20
Modern antisemitism summons the idea of finance and speculators
as merchants of greed and, counterpoised to this, espouses the idea of a
national community based on some assumed linearity of ancestral traditions
and associated costumes of imagined forms of national morality and integrity.
The national character is deemed to derive from the supposedly natural
bonds of the nation that, as an organic community of equals, is based on
blood and the ancestral possession of soil. The nation is subject to blood,
it arises from the soil, it furnishes the homeland with indestructible force
and permanence, it is united by characteristics of race, the preservation
of whose purity is the condition of the [nations] health.21 Antisemitism
asserts the idea of the ancestral nation as the imaged counterpoint to a world
governed by fateful abstractions, especially money and finance, which are the
forms of capitalist wealth par excellence. Money for the sake of more money
includes the freedom to wealth and ruin, it entails wealth as an independent
force that makes itself manifest behind the backs of the producers, as if
directed by invisible forces. Antisemitism translates the discontent with the
conditions of wealth into the collective approval of anger and resentment
about the Jewish capitalism of money. The depiction of the Jew as the
external enemy within, who speculates for the sake of more money on
the nations industry, is premised on the existence of the national state as
the gatekeeper of the one-national boat, defined by the virtues of national
solidarity, national struggle, national homogeneity of purpose and national
industry and economy.

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This national definition of solidarity and economic effort attributes the


production of material wealth to the concrete labour of the nation, in distinction
to the abstract conceptuality of capitalist wealth as a world-market condition,
which, in the form of money and finance, accumulates in a few hands.
Whereas the nation produces the material wealth with sweat and tears, the
wealth of money and finance seems effortless. It results from the dealing
and wheeling with money, speculating on the national wealth of a hardworking people with fateful consequences. Instead of the capitalist social
relations of production, there are the hard-working nations, and instead of the
class division of society, there is a division between subordinate nations and
imperial nations, and then there is the Jew this personalized embodiment
of abstract wealth that asserts its intangible but no less destructive power
over the nations of the world in cohort with the system of imperialism and
monopoly capitalism.
Wallerstein has argued convincingly that orthodox Marxism was originally
hostile to the concept of national liberation and quite suspicious of all
talk about the rights of peoples, which they associated with middle-class
nationalist movements. It was only at the Baku congress in 1920 that the
emphasis on class struggle was quietly shelved in favour of the tactical
priority of anti-imperialism, a theme around which the 3rd International
hoped to build a political alliance between largely European Communist
parties and at least those of the national liberation movement . . . that were
more radical.22 After Baku, anti-imperialist struggles were given the label
of revolutionary activity.23 The seminal text that informed this shift from
the class struggle for general human emancipation to the anti-imperialist
struggle for national liberation is Stalins Marxism and the National Question,
written in 1913. Defining a nation as a historically evolved, stable community
of language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested
in a community of culture, he declared that it is sufficient for a single one
of these characteristics to be absent and the nation ceases to be a nation. 24
The Great Purges, as Leon Trotsky commented as early as 1937, espoused
antisemitic demagogy to such an extent against the Marxists of internationalist
persuasion that it almost amounted to a science. In the Soviet understanding
of class struggle as anti-imperialist national liberation, the Jew appeared in
many disguises liberal, freemason, Social-Democrat, Trotskyist, fascist or
Zionist but regardless of its projected image, he embodied everything that
was defined as capitalist, imperialist, Western and above all non-Russian.25
The critique of imperialism entails the demand for national self-determination
as a liberating revolutionary practice. The abandonment of class as the critical
category of revolutionary thought and its replacement by the category of
the dominated nation remains particularly strong in relationship with Israel.

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According to Perry Anderson who is one of the more critical and distinctive
thinkers of the anti-imperialist left, entrenched in business, government and
media, American Zionism has since the sixties acquired a firm grip on the
levers of public opinion and official policy towards Israel, that has weakened
only on the rarest of occasions. 26 For Anderson, Israel is a Jewish state,
its nationalist triumphs are Jewish triumphs and its economy is a Jewish
economy, making Israel a rentier state that is kept by the United States as
its imperialist bridgehead in the Middle East. The Jews, then, have not only
conquered Palestine but they have also taken control of America, or as James
Petras sees it, the current effort of US empire building is shaped by Zionist
empire builders.27 For Petras, Zionism is the ideology and the far-reaching
organizational system and political practice of modern US imperialism that
safeguards capitalist profits and wealth, its power and parasitic prosperity. 28
Under the banner of anti-imperialist solidarity alliances with most unsavoury
political forces can be reached in the pursuit of seemingly progressive
ends, which on closer inspection are entirely regressive. According to Alex
Callinicos anti-capitalism has to meet the requirements of (at least) justice,
efficiency, democracy, and sustainability. 29 In order to radicalize the anticapitalist movement, he demands that moral support is given to anti-imperial
resistance groups that are openly hostile to the anti-capitalist ends that he
advocates.30 He urges the left to work in alliance with the respectable Islamic
clergy in order to radicalise the anti-capitalist movement by giving it an antiimperialist edge.31 That is, [w]e have to work with the Muslim Brotherhood
over specific issues [Palestine or Iraq].32 Judith Butler argues with a similar
abandonment of thought that anti-imperialist resistance is a good thing in
itself. When asked by Online Magazin fr Frauen to clarify her statement that
Hamas and the Hezbollah are progressive social movements she remarks that
groups like Hamas and Hezbollah should be described as left movements
. . . They are left in the sense that they oppose colonialism and imperialism.33
Since she does not condone the use of violence she rejects their tactics,
but accepts them nevertheless as members of the global left because they
reject imperialism and demand national liberation. Her definition of the left
is indifferent to social ends and purposes, and includes most unsavoury
bedfellows, historical as well as contemporary. Besides the imagined and
romanticized qualities of the national being, what really does it mean to say
that the nation is liberated?
Slavoj iek provides a more circumspect argument. He says that in
the face of antisemitism one should not preach liberal tolerance but try
to express the underlying anti-capitalist motive in a direct, non-displaced
way.34 However, anti-capitalism does not necessarily entail the struggle
for the classless society of human purposes. ieks observation about the

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203

underlying anti-capitalist motives seems to subscribe to a teleological view


of history that believes in capitalism as a stage of transition to communism,
as if by necessity. What if it does not? What other forms of anti-capitalism
are possible, and what would it mean to express them in a direct, nondisplaced way? The support of anti-capitalism for the sake of anti-capitalism
is entirely misconceived. Alex Callinicoss robust defence of Al Qaeda against
its description as fascist is a case in point. He rejects this description as an
extraordinary assertion, and then goes on to say that the Muslim concept
of the ummah the community of the faithful is precisely a transnational
one, something that the Al Qaeda network has strictly observed (whatever
respects in which its interpretations of Muslim doctrine may differ from those
of others), incorporating as it does activists from many different national
backgrounds.35 For Callinicos, Al Qaeda is transnational by virtue of its strict
observance of the ummah, and therefore it cannot be described as fascist. 36
Whether the fascist label is appropriate or not is beside the point. What is
concerning is the ticket mentality that attaches labels to social things without
further thought as to what these things might be.
Anti-capitalism is not a singular form of opposition to the prevailing mode
of social labour, and between that non-displaced anti-capitalism and this
anti-capitalism there is a world of difference.37 At best, solidarity with false
friends self-affirms a posture of radicalism in conformist rebellion; at worst,
maddened by resentment and blinded by its desire for action, it starts to kick
with the pricks instead of against them. 38 The anti-imperialist view that the
enemy of my enemy is my friend is devoid of redeeming social contents. It
buys into the regressive egality of some imagined national or transnational
we.39 In this context, the demand that nobody should be stoned to death
becomes a relative one because anti-imperialism requires solidarity with
supposedly anti-imperialist clerics who really believe that a woman who wants
to be free from the traditional fetters of patriarchy should be stoned to death.
If differance has become the hallmark of theoretical anti-reason, the
Other has become the hallmark of practical anti-reason.40 iek is therefore
right to argue that there should be no attempt to understand Arab antiSemitism . . . as a natural reaction to the sad plight of the Palestinians. It
has to be resisted unconditionally. To understand Islamic antisemitism as a
justified expression of anger against imperialism is to claim, by implication,
that antisemitism articulates a worthwhile resistance to capitalism. Similarly,
there should be no attempt to understand the measures of the state of Israel
as a natural reaction against the background of the Holocaust.41 Such
understanding accepts the utilization of Nazi barbarism as a legitimation for
militarized state action. Every state is an entrepreneur of memory to legitimize
itself and justify its policies in the name of the nation and the national interest.

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Such utilization of the past does not redeem the dead. Following Benjamin,
redemption entails the recovery of the past in contemporary struggles for
human emancipation, which is both singular and universal, indivisible and
priceless.42 It is associated with refuseniks, heretics, dissenters and dissidents,
not the good offices of the state. If therefore the critique of Israel wants
to be more than just a deceitful publicity about nationalized abstractions, it
has to summon the courage of the refusenik and dissenter and think against
the grain of the national mist. It thus has to recognize the social distinctions
that disappear in the political form of a homogenized national people. The
abject violence used by the state of Israel in its dealings with the Palestinians
has nothing to with Jewishness. State violence is not Jewish in character.
Violence holds sway in the conceptuality of the capitalist social relations and
it characterizes the state as the concentrated force of that society.
What does the attribute Jewish refer to? What is a Jewish state? The
great theorist of the autonomy of the state, Thomas Hobbes, conceived of it
as the result of a social contract that allowed the warring social interests to
flourish on the basis of mutual protection. His state appeared akin to a mortal
God. Adam Smith defined the state as a market enabling power it polices
the law-abiding conduct between the private interests to secure the relations
of perfect liberty. For the economy to be free, the state needs to be strong, as
market police. Karl Marx conceived of the state as the concentrated force of
bourgeois society, and saw it as the political form of capitalist social relations.
Max Weber argued that the state cannot be defined by its functions, letalone
imagined national characteristics, but solely by its means: the legitimate use
of violence. He conceived of the modern state as a machine. Lenin depicted
the state as the instrument of class rule, and demanded the dictatorship of
the proletariat. None of these accounts defines the state in terms of the
supposed or imagined national characteristics of a homogenized people. Such
forging of national identity is a political task, and Perry Anderson is therefore
absolutely right when he argues that the potential of violence against the
Other is intrinsic to nationalism, whichever.43
The attribute Jewish does not refer to concrete human beings in their social
relations, not does it refer to concrete individuals, be it Ariel Sharon or Karl
Marx, Albert Einstein or Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg or Leon Trotsky,
Michael Neumann or Esther Rosenberg. It disregards human distinctions
and rejects the notion that capitalist society comprises antagonistically
constituted social relations for an argument about the Jewish character of
capitalism. Its denunciation is total in that it treats everybody as an agent of
the same invariant type, whether they are anarchists, communists, refuseniks,
capitalists or workers, conservatives, religious fanatics, war mongers, peacelovers, beggars or just plain and boring average Joes.44 Instead of recognizing

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205

contradictions, distinctions, antagonisms, struggles and conflicts, it projects


those abstract, reason-defying, imagined qualities upon which antisemitism
rests onto a nationalized people, substituting the critique of the form of the
state as the concentrated force of the existing social relations for totalitarian
conceptions of the national friend and the national foe. Within this relationship,
reason is suspended and thought is led to the further, equally irrational belief
that the enemy of my enemy is my friend from Hamas and the Hezbollah
to the Muslim Brotherhood. That however also means that the only way to
confront resurgent antisemitism is not to preach liberal tolerance which, say,
accepts that nobody, neither woman nor man, should be stoned to death but
represses this principle in relation to the anti-imperialist Other because its
civilized humanity is in fact inhuman towards a people it secretly regards as
uncivilized. Anti-capitalist tolerance of death by stoning because it was the
anti-imperialist friends who did it has no values to defend and no principles
to call upon.
Antisemitism does not articulate anti-capitalism in a displaced manner. It
criticizes capitalism as a system of Jewish power. Ulrike Meinhof, the late
co-founder of the German Red Army Faction, succinctly articulated this
rationalization of antisemitism as a hatred of capitalism when she said,
Auschwitz meant that six million Jews were killed, and thrown on the
waste-heap of Europe, for what they were: money Jews. Finance capital
and the banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism,
had turned the hatred of men against money and exploitation, and against
the Jews . . . Anti-Semitism is really a hatred of capitalism.45
What is Jewish about capitalism? What do antisemites attack when they
attack capitalism? What is the measure of success? The following sections
explore this topic with reference to Nazi antisemitism.

On the time of abstraction


Antisemitism does not need Jews. The Jew has powers attributed to it
that cannot be defined concretely. It is an abstraction that excludes nobody.
Anyone can be considered a Jew. The concept Jew knows no individuality,
cannot be a man or a woman and cannot be seen as a worker or beggar; the
word Jew relates to a non-person, an abstraction. The Jew is one whom
other men consider a Jew.46 In their Dialectic of the Enlightenment, Max
Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno emphasize that Enlightenments reason

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obtains fundamentally as instrumental rationality. Instrumental rationality


is reasons false friend. Reason demands to know what the human purpose
of something is; while instrumental rationality is interested in essentially two
things: how long did it take? and how much did it cost? It thus focuses
on the functionality of things, whatever they might be, and seeks to dispose
of them as efficiently, effectively and economically as possible. In a world
governed by real abstractions and measured by abstract social time, the
mere existence of difference, this fleeting glimpse of a life beyond economic
compulsion, is an intolerable provocation. It fosters the blind resentment and
anger which antisemitism focuses and exploits but does not itself produce.
The thought of happiness without power is unbearable because it would
then be true happiness.47
Antisemitism differentiates between society and national community.
Society is identified as Jewish, whereas community is modelled as a
counter-world to society. Community is seen as natural and its natural
character is seen to be at risk because of some evil abstract social forces.
The attributes given by the antisemite to the Jew include mobility, intangibility,
rootlessness and conspiracy against the mythical and mythologized
values of the imagined community of an honest and hard-working people.
Reason stands rejected because of its infectious desire to go to the root of
things, and the root of things can only be Man in her social relations. Reason
is the weapon of critique. It challenges conditions where Man is degraded to
a mere economic resource. For antisemitism independence of thought and
the ability to think freely without fear is abhorrent. It detests the idea that
Man is the highest being for Man.48 Instead, it seeks deliverance through
the furious affirmation of its own maddening reality, one that is governed by
real economic abstractions. It asserts its own subjectivity under the spell of
perverted economic forms. Madness is the substitute for the dream that
humanity could organize its world humanely, a dream that a man-made world
is stubbornly rejecting.49
For the apologists of the economy of free labour, the reference to the
invisible hand operates like an explanatory refuge.50 It explains everything
with reference to the Invisible. Starvation is Gods way of punishing those
who have too little faith in capitalism.51 For the antisemites, however, the
power of the invisible can be explained the imagined Jew is its personalized
existence. The Jew is the branded social parasite that is said to oppress,
undermine and pervert the natural community of a rooted homogenous
people. The category Jew is said to be the irresistible, abstract and intangible
force of bourgeois civilization, from the invisible hand of the market to the
relations of abstract equality before money and law. It personifies abstract
thought, abstract equality and abstract wealth.

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Against this, the antisemite elevates the regressive equality of some


assumed ancestral community of Volksgenossen, which derives not only
from some mythical property of the land but also from some imagined bond
of blood. In distinction to the parasitic wealth of money and finance, they
claim to be creative producers of concrete things. The myth of the Jew as
the incarnation of abstract equality is confronted with the myth of the original
possession of soil and productive endeavour. The Volksgenosse sees himself
as a son of nature and thus as a natural being. He sees his natural destiny in
the liberation of the national community from the allegedly rootless, abstract
values of capitalist civilization, demanding their naturalization so that everything
is returned to nature. In short, the Volksgenosse portrays himself as rooted in
blood and ancestral tradition to defend his own faith in the collective approval
of anger. This anger is directed towards civilizations supposed victory over
nature, a victory that is seen as condemning the Volksgenossen to sweat,
toil and physical effort, whereas the Other is seen to live a life as banker and
speculator, living in splendour and with ease. The Volksgenosse aspires that
life for himself. The Volksgenosse thus speculates in death and banks the
extracted gold teeth.
For the Volksgenossen, the Jews are the scapegoats not only for
individual manoeuvres and machinations but in a broader sense, inasmuch as
the economic injustice of the whole class is attributed to them.52 Pogroms
are not only conceived as a liberating action but also as a moral obligation:
Antisemitism calls for a just revenge on the part of the victimized national
community against the powers of rootless society. Community is seen to
be both victimized and strong. Strength is derived from the mythical-natural
conception of the national being. This naturalization of community finds
legitimation for murder in the naturalization of the action: nature is conceived
as a destiny.
Antisemitisms stigmatization of reason and money as evil not only
mythologizes reason and money as forces that come, like their projected
personification, the Jew, from nowhere, it also produces the legend that
those with a home, tradition, roots and soil are the victims of some
abstract, intangible economic forces. The insight that the constitution of the
world occurs behind the backs of the individuals, yet it is their work is turned
against itself: antisemites agree that the world makes itself manifest behind
the backs of what they consider as the folk.53 Yet, they deny that it is their work.
Instead, it is a world of evil global forces conspiring to undermine the relations
of national harmony, based on ancestry, tradition and blood, and industry. The
evil force is personified in the category Jew. In the struggle between good
and evil reconciliation appears neither possible nor desirable. Evil needs to
be eradicated in order for the good to be set free, and in this effort of national

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liberation from the global disharmonies of finance and money, and perceived
imperial dictate, the fury of resentment unfetters all irrational powers a
movement that ends with the total functionalization of the mind.54
Kants notion that reason was to lead mankind to maturity formulated
reasons claim to think beyond itself in order to find deliverance in significance
and meaning, in humanity. This is reasons revolutionary imperative. Reason
entails critical thought and judgement, intelligence and cunning, reflection
and subversion. Reason has no price and cannot be priced. It is therefore
rightly viewed with suspicion. It asks about the social purposes of a world
governed by the movement of economic quantities and the microeconomic
organization of living labour as an economic resource without discernible
qualities, that is, a standardized and yet flexible human factor of production
that is entirely employable whatever the product. Under the spell of a time
made abstract, difference manifests a difference in quantity only and it is
because of this measure of success that reason appears as the unreason
[Unwesen] of a world that is hostile to the subject.55 All social labour-time
is identical in the form of money for as long as it is performed within the
time of profit, and if it is not, then it has no value, and the labour put into
it is invalid. The time of profit is the time of economic success, measured
by the rate of return. Effort counts as quantifiable effort only. Everything is
assessed for use, what remains is burned. The efficient organization and the
cold, dispassionate execution of the deed the cruelty of silence in the house
of the hangman is mirrored by its disregard for individuality: corpses all look
the same when counting the results and they have become truly equal to
each other; and nothing distinguishes a number from a number except the
difference in quantity the measure of success. How long did it take? What
did it cost? The morbid aspect of anti-Semitism is not projective behaviour
as such, but the absence from it of reflection.56 In a world governed by the
movement of economic quantities, quantitative expansion is the measure of
success. In terms of quality, one quantity is the same as any other quantity,
except that one is greater than the other. In this context, Adorno has argued
that Auschwitz confirmed the philosopheme of pure identity as death.57
What remained was burned.
Auschwitz, then, confirms the stubbornness of the principle of abstraction
not only through extermination for exterminations sake but also, and because
of it, through abstractification. The naturalization of the abstract as Jew
denied not only humanity, as the Jew stands expelled from the imagined
national community. The abstract is also made abstract: all that can be used
is used like teeth, hair, skin; labour-power and, finally, the abstract is made
abstract and thus invisible. The invisible hand of the market, identified as the
personalized power of the Jew, is transformed into smoke-filled air.

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209

On antisemitism, finance and industry


Nazi antisemitism is different from the antisemitism of the old Christian
world. This does not mean that it did not exploit Christian antisemitism, which
accused the Jew as the assassin of Jesus and as a trafficker in money.
Modern antisemitism uses and exploits these historical constructions and
transforms them: The Jew stands accused and is persecuted for following
unproductive activities. His image is that of an intellectual and banker. Bankers
and intellectuals, money and mind, the exponents of circulation, form the
impossible ideal of those who have been maimed by domination, an image
used by domination to perpetuate itself.58 The terms abstract, rationalist,
intellectual . . . take a pejorative sense; it could not be otherwise, since the
anti-Semite lays claim to a concrete and irrational possession of the values of
the nation.59 The abstract values themselves are naturalized and identified as
Jew. Both, thus, the concrete and the abstract are naturalized: one through
the possession of land (the concrete as rooted in nature, blood and tradition)
and the other through the possession of poison (the abstract as the rootless
and thus uprooting power of intelligence and money). The myth of the national
unity of a frugal and industrious people is counterpoised to the myth of a Jewish
capitalism of money making.
The elements of antisemitism comprise, on the one hand, the condemnation
of financial capitalism as a world-market reality of effortless wealth. Here
speculators reign supreme in reckless pursuit of more money; and money
chases money in a manner akin to incest: money invests into itself seeking
to make more money out of money whatever the cost to national industry
and national employment. In the borderless world of price and profit, the
national economy is under the compulsion of the ruthless forces of money
and finance. On the other hand, the elements of antisemitism comprise
the endorsement of productive capital as a material force and foundation of
national wealth, which characterizes the creative and industrious traditions of
a national people. Capitalism is thus rejected as a Jewish rentier capitalism
that akin to a parasite, lives by coining the productive effort of a hard-working
people, on the pain of national ruin. The elements of modern antisemitism
distinguish between a natural form of capitalism, in which labour produces
material wealth, and an abstract form of capitalism, in which money
instantiates its own expansion ostensibly by betting on the creative power of
national industry and national wealth, seemingly gambling it away.
Nothing stands to reason. The muck of ages is turned into resentment, and
is thus affirmed as the national destiny that is ready for action.60 In response
to the merciless Jew, it shows no mercy, and seeks deliverance. Tradition,
soil and blood is counterpoised to reasoning, intelligence, self-reflection; and

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in the nationalist view, national economy and the industrious labour of a hard
working, creative people are counterpoised to the abstract forces of international
finance and imperialism. The Volksgenossen are thus equal in blindness. AntiSemitic behaviour is generated in situations where blinded men robbed of their
subjectivity are set loose as subjects.61 While reason subsists in and through
the critique of social relations, the Volksgenosse has faith only in the efficiently
unleashed terror that robs the identified subject of the hated forms of capitalism
of everything they have cloth, shoes, teeth, hair, skin, life. The collection of
gold teeth from those murdered, the collection of hair from those to be killed
and the overseeing of the slave labour of those allowed to walk on their knees
for no more than another day, only requires effective organization. Time is of
the essence and there is thus no time to waste.
Antisemitism articulates a senseless, barbaric rejection of capitalism that
makes anti-capitalism useful for capitalism. It holds the Jew responsible for the
fateful movements of economic things, and attacks the identified culprit. The
antisemitic fury against (Jewish) capitalism leaves the established economy
of labour entirely untouched. In fact, it demands its efficient and effective
employment so as to liberate the world from the perceived wrongdoers who
hide behind the abstract phenomena of money, finance and thought. Nazi
antisemitism demands a well-organized rebellion of suppressed nature. It
maims and kills with a cool head and stubborn effort. Its denunciation of
capitalism as Jewish capitalism allowed, indeed demands, the relentless
development of capitalist enterprise as a national good while seemingly
rejecting capitalism as a system of finance, money-grabbing speculation
and accumulation of parasitic wealth. The critique of capitalism as Jewish
capitalism views capitalism as in fact nothing more than an unproductive
money-making system a rentier economy that lives off and thereby
undermines the presumed national harmony of a community of natural people.
The rebellion against capitalism asserts itself thus as a rebellion for a greater
productive effort in the name of national economy and national wealth.
Marxs critique of commodity fetishism is robust in its critique of this
dualist conception of labour and money. Labour produces value and value
becomes visible in the money form; and labour is either productive of
exchange value or it is not; and if it is not, the consequences are devastating.
The seeming dualism between labour and money is the objective delusion of
the commodity form.62 On the one hand, there is the fetish-like endorsement
of concrete labour, creative enterprise and industry, producing the material
wealth that satisfies human needs. On the other hand, there is the abstract
sphere of reified economic things that seemingly move on their own volition,
according to some innate economic logic that asserts itself beyond human
control. Between the concrete labour of industry and the movement of
abstract economic forces, the global power of finance calls the shots. The

ON THEOLOGY AND REAL ABSTRACTIONS

211

celebration of the concrete goes hand-in-hand with the rejection of the


mobility, universality and intangibility of finance capital, of the parasitic
wealth of speculators. The vampire-like figure of capital sucking labour in the
quest for more surplus value, portrayed by Marx in Capital, is thus displaced:
capitalist production is deemed intrinsically good as a creative industrial
endeavour of the concrete labour of the nation, and it is the power of money
alone, in and of itself, that corrupts and degrades this labour for the sake of
money-making. Money threatens the viability of this labour and money is thus
conceived as the root of all evil and the cause of all perversion. That is, the
dualist conception of money and labour fetishizes enterprise and industry as
the embodiment of a concrete national community, which is threatened with
destruction by the rootless power of money. In sum, modern antisemitism
is the barbaric ideology of what Marx described in his analysis of the role of
credit as the abolition of the capitalist mode of production within the capitalist
mode of production itself.63 National Socialism focused the resolution of this
perverted abolition on the national state as the harmonies last refuge that
restored the imagined natural order of society by terrorist means.64
For the antisemites, then, the world appears to be divided between hated
forms of capitalism, especially finance and money capital, and concrete nature.
The concrete is conceived as immediate, direct, matter for use and rooted
in industry and productive activity. Money, on the other hand, is not only
conceived as the root of all evil, it is also judged as rootless and of existing
not only independently of industrial capital but also over and against it: all
enterprise is seen to be perverted in the name of moneys destructive quest
for self-expansion. In this way, money and financial capital are identified with
capitalism while industry and productive labour are perceived as constituting
the concrete and creative enterprise of a national community. Thus, industry
and enterprise are made capitalist by (Jewish) money: money penetrates all
expressions of industry and thus perverts and disintegrates the community
of the people in the name of finance capitals abstract values. The force and
power of money is seen to undermine the individual as entrepreneur; the
creative in terms of national industry; the rooted in terms of the imagined
traditions of blood and soil; the community in terms of a paternalist direction
of use-value production. For the antisemites, then, it is possible not only to
embrace capitalism but also to declare that labour creates freedom. They
declared that work was not degrading, so as to control the others more
rationally. They claimed to be creative workers, but in reality they were still
the grasping overlords of former times.65 By separating what fundamentally
belongs together, that is production and money, the differentiation between
money, on the one hand, and industry and enterprise, on the other, amounts
to a fetish critique of capital that, by attacking the projected personifications
of capital, seeks its unfettered expansion by any means.

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The approval of the Volksgenosse as the personification of concrete nature,


blood, soil and industry, goes hand in hand with the denunciation of the Jew
as the personalized power of economic abstractions. In this way, the ideology
of blood and soil, on the one hand, and machinery and unfettered industrial
expansion, on the other, are projected as images of a healthy nation that stands
ready to purge itself from the perceived enemies of the national economy, that
is, the abstract, universal, rootless, mobile, intangible, international vampire
of Jewish capitalism. Extermination is itself an effort of concrete nature,
and thus industrialized. Extermination manifests the stubbornness of the life
to which one has to conform, and to resign oneself.66 As Volksgenossen
they have all committed the same deed and have thus become truly equal to
each other: their efficiently discharged occupation only confirmed what they
already knew, they had lost their individuality and had instead been set loose
as a hard working subject of extermination.
Everything is thus changed into pure nature. The abstract was not
only personified, it was also abstractified. At the gate of Auschwitz, the
Volksgenossen made clear that money does not liberate anybody from
concrete nature. Labour is liberating. It makes you free Arbeit macht frei.
That is, Auschwitz was a factory
to destroy the personification of the abstract. Its organization was that of a
fiendish industrial process, the aim of which was to liberate the concrete
from the abstract. The first step was to dehumanize, that is, to strip away
the mask of humanity, of qualitative specificity, and reveal the Jews for
what they really are shadows, ciphers, numbered abstraction.
Then followed the process to eradicate that abstractness, to transform it into
smoke, trying in the process to wrest away the last remnants of the concrete
material use-values: clothes, gold, hair, soap.67

Conclusion: Society in critical and


theological perspectives
Adam Smith was certain in his own mind that capitalism creates the wealth
of nations and noted that
the proprietor of stock is properly a citizen of the world, and is not
necessarily attached to any particular country. He would be apt to abandon
the country in which he was exposed to a vexatious inquisition, in order to

ON THEOLOGY AND REAL ABSTRACTIONS

213

be assessed to a burdensome tax, and would remove his stock to some


other country where he could either carry on his business, or enjoy his
fortune more at his ease.68
David Ricardo concurred, adding that if a capital is not allowed to get the
greatest net revenue that the use of machinery will afford here, it will be
carried abroad leading to serious discouragement to the demand for labour.69
He thus also formulated the necessity of capitalist social relations to produce
redundant population. According to Hegel, the accumulation of wealth
renders those who depend on the sale of their labour power for their social
reproduction, insecure in deteriorating conditions. He concluded that despite
the accumulation of wealth, bourgeois society will find it most difficult to
keep the dependent masses pacified, and he saw the form of the state as
the means of containing social antagonism, curbing the rebelliousness of the
dependent masses.70
For Karl Marx, the critique of the capitalist amounted to a critique of an
economic character mask. He therefore demanded the critique of the real
thing, that is, capital as the constituted form of the relations of socio-economic
objectivity. Against the existing concept of formal equality, he argued that
communism rests on the equality of individual human needs. John Holloway
thus conceives of the class struggle in entirely negative terms as a struggle
against a society that is founded on the existence of a class tied to work.71
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer argued that antisemitism articulates
a senseless, barbaric rejection of capitalism that makes anti-capitalism useful
for capitalism. The rulers are only safe as long as the people they rule turn their
longed-for goals into hated forms of evil.72 Antisemitism channels discontent
with conditions into blind resentment against the projected external enemy
within. That is,
no matter what the Jews as such may be like, their image, as that of the
defeated people, has the features to which totalitarian domination must
be completely hostile: happiness without power, wages without work, a
home without frontiers, religion without myth. These characteristics are
hated by the rulers because the ruled secretly long to possess them.73
That is, the spellbound critique of capitalism is functional for the perpetuation
of the system of abstract wealth it encourages a resentful anti-capitalism,
one that identifies, condemns and attacks the rumoured wrongdoer, and
one that therefore condemns itself to mere fodder in a system of wealth
that depends on the ready availability of its human material.74 Antisemitism
holds the Jew responsible for the manoeuvres of the invisible hand, and as

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the projected personalization of capitalism, the Jew is condemned as the


veritable agent of misery. The Jew is evil personified, and evil needs to be
eliminated so that the world is free of evil, and thus cured of the idea of a life
beyond free labour.75
Antisemitism is the rumour about Jews. The rumour picks up on the
fateful and at times devastating movement of economic forces. It says,
blame the Jew. Antisemitism is the resentful theology of anti-capitalism. It
personalizes hated forms of capitalism, provides an outlet for discontent, and
offers an enemy. Antisemitism is all-embracing because it comprehends
nothing.

Notes
1 Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.92. Michael Heinrich, An
Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marxs Capital (New York 2012),
argues with similar purpose in Chapter10, Section 2.
2 Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectics of Enlightenment (London
1979), p.179.
3 Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 6
(London 1976), and Grundrisse (London 1973), pp.23989.
4 Marx, From the Preparatory Materials, in Marx Engels Collected Works,
vol.29 (London 1987), p.487.
5 Peter Gowans Global Gamble (London 1999)is the most emblematic
account of this view.
6 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA 2000), pp.149,
105.
7 Theodor Adorno, Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords (New York
1998), p.118.
8 This part draws on Adorno, Lectures on History and Freedom (Cambridge
2008a), pp.1002.
9 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics.
10 Alfred Rosenberg, Der staastsfeindliche Zionismus (Munich 1938).
11 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.185.
12 There is of course a difference between the antisemitism that culminated in
Auschwitz and the antisemitism of the post-1945 world. However, whether
antisemitism persists because or despite of Auschwitz is, ultimately, an idle
question. The terms despite and because give credence to the notion
that Auschwitz, this factory of death, was in fact successful in destroying
antisemitism, too. This view purports that antisemitism has not so much
to do with society but that it has rather something to do with Jews. On
the history of this idea, and its imprint on modern sociology, see Detlev
Claussen, The Dialectic of Social Science and Worldview. On Antisemitism

ON THEOLOGY AND REAL ABSTRACTIONS

215

in Sociology, in ed. Marcel Stoetzler, Antisemitism and the Invention of


Sociology (Lincoln, NB 2014). Auschwitz is not an event in the historicity of
bourgeois society. As I argued in Chapter4, the past does not reveal the
present. Rather, it is the present that reveals the past.
13 I return to this point below in Section 2.
14 Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (London 1974), p.141.
15 See their Elements of Antisemitism, in Theodor Adorno and Max
Horkheimer, Dialectics of Enlightenment (London 1979).
16 Immanuel Wallerstein, After Liberalism (New York 1995), p.78.
17 This point derives from Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.183.
18 As Pat Buchanan sees it, the crisis of American values is a consequence
of the nefarious effects of critical theory for which he holds those trouble
making Communist Jews responsible. Pat Buchanan The Death of the West
(New York 2002). Buchanan is former senior advisor to American Presidents
Nixon, Ford and Reagan. He is a distinguished conservative thinker.
19 Adorno, Minima Moralia, p.141.
20 Or as Jean-Paul Sartre argues in his Anti-Semite and Jew (New York 1976),
once the mob is assembled, Jews can be kicked without fear.
21 Herbert Marcuse, Negations (London 1988), p.23.
22 Wallerstein, After Liberalism, p.156,
23 Wallerstein, After Liberalism, p.211.
24 Josef Stalin, Marxism and the National Question (New York n.d.), p.8.
25 See Leon Poliakov, Vom Antizionismus zum Anti-Semitismus (Freiburg
1992), p.47.
26 Perry Anderson, Scurrying Towards Bethlehem, New Left Review, 2nd
series, no.10 (2001), pp.530, 15.
27 James Petras, Empire Building and Rule: U.S. and Latin America, in
ed. Pratyush Chandra, Anuradha Ghosh and Ravi Kumar, The Politics of
Imperialism and Counterstrategies (Delhi 2004), p.210.
28 James Petras, The Power of Israel in the United States (Atlanta, GA 2006).
29 Alex Callinicos, An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto (Cambridge 2003), p.107.
30 Alex Callinicos and Chris Nineham, At an impasse? Anti-Capitalism and
the Social Forums Today, International Socialism (online) no.115 (2007);
http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=337&issue=115 (accessed 31
May 2013). See also Chris Harman, Hizbollah and the War Israel Lost,
International Socialism (online), no.112 (2006); http://www.isj.org.uk/index.
php4?id=243&issue=112 (accessed 31 May 2013).
31 Alex Calllincos, The Grand Strategy of the American Empire, International
Socialism Journal (online), no.97 (2002); pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/
isj97/callinicos (accessed 29 July 2010).
32 International Socialism, Egypt: The Pressure Builds Up, International
Socialism (online), no.106 (2005), p.31; http://www.isj.org.uk/index.
php4?id=90&issue=106 (accessed 29 July 2010).

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

33 See http://radicalarchives.org/2010/03/28/jbutler-on-hamas-hezbollah-israellobby/ and for her quoted remark see http://www.aviva-berlin.de/aviva/


Found.php?id=1427323 (both sources accessed 8 April 2013).
34 Slavoj iek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London 2002), p.130.
35 Alex Callinicos, The Anti-Capitalist Movement after Genoa and New York,
in ed. Stanley Aronowitz and Heather Gautney, Implicating Empire (New
York 2003), p.140.
36 For further discussion of this point, Werner Bonefeld, Antisemitism and
the Power of Abstraction: From Political Economy to Critical Theory, in ed.
Marcel Stoetzler, Antisemitism and the Invention of Sociology (Lincoln,
NB 2014).
37 See Marcel Stoetzler, On the Possibility That the Revolution That Will
End Capitalism might Fail to Usher in Communism, Journal of Classical
Sociology, vol. 12, no.2 (2012), pp.191204.
38 See Adorno, Minima Moralia, pp.734.
39 Adorno, Minima Moralia, p.56.
40 Gillian Rose, Judaism & Modernity (Oxford 1993), p.5.
41 iek, Welcome to the Desert, p.129.
42 Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, in Illuminations
(London 1999).
43 Anderson, Scurrying Towards Bethlehem.
44 Indeed, the thoughtless support for the patriotic anti-imperialist resistance
does not recognize the feminists, socialists, communists and anarchists
either. It recognizes the anti-imperialist resistance of, say, The Hezbollah,
and what is not recognized can be removed from the face of the earth.
45 Ulrike Meinhof, quoted in Georg Watson, Race and the Socialists,
Encounter (November 1976), p.23. On Auschwitz and the (West-)German
left see Detlev Claussen, In the House of the Hangman, in ed. Anson
Rabinbach and Jack Zipes, Germans and Jews Since the Holocaust (New
York 1986).
46 Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, p.69.
47 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.172. On capitalist wealth as the
vanishing moment of a time made abstract, see Chapter 6.
48 Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right
Introduction, Collected Works, vol. 3 (London 1975), p.182.
49 Theodor Adorno, What Does Coming to Terms with the Past Mean?
in ed. Geoffrey H. Hartman, Bitburg in Moral and Political Perspective
(Bloomington 1986), p.124.
50 On the meaning of economy of free labour, see Chapter4.
51 John D. Rockefeller Sr., quoted in Manning Marable, Race, Reform and
Rebellion (Jackson, MS 1991), p.149.
52 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.174.

ON THEOLOGY AND REAL ABSTRACTIONS

217

53 Marcuse, Negations, p.151.


54 Marcuse, Negations, p.23.
55 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.167.
56 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.189.
57 Adorno, What Does Coming to Terms with the Past Mean?, p.363.
58 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.172.
59 Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, p.109.
60 Only in a revolution can the social individual succeed in ridding itself of all
the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew. Karl Marx and
Friederich Engels, The German Ideology, Collected Works, vol. 5 (London
1976), p.53. For critical interpretation, see Michael Lebowitz, Beyond
the Muck of Ages, in Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis, Human
Dignity. Social Autonomy and the Critique of Capitalism (Aldershot 2005).
61 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.171.
62 The part draws on Moishe Postone, Anti-Semitism and National Socialism,
in ed. Anson Rabinbach and Jack Zipes, Germans and Jews since the
Holocaust (New York 1986).
63 Marx, Capital, vol. III (London 1966), p.438, and see Chapter7, Section 3.
64 Marx, Grundrisse, p.886.
65 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.173.
66 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.171.
67 Postone, Anti-Semitism, pp.31314.
68 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations
(Indianapolis 1981), pp.8489.
69 David Ricardo, Principles of the Political Economy of Taxation (Cambridge
1995), p.39.
70 See Georg W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford
1967), pp.1229.
71 John Holloway, Change the World without Taking Power (London 2002).
72 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, p.199.
73 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectics, pp.185, 199. On the notion of a
spellbound critique of society, see Chapter3,
74 For an account of the functionality of social conflict, see Lewis A. Coser,
The Functions of Conflict (London 1956).
75 On free labour, see Chapters 4 and 5.

10
Conclusion: On the elements
of subversion and
negative reason
Notes from tomorrow
The difficulty in conceiving of the society of the free and equal has to do
with its very idea. In distinction to the pursuit of abstract wealth, of value
in process, money in process and as such capital, and in distinction to
seizure of the state, pursuit and preservation of political power, economic
value and factor efficiency, and in distinction to the idea of labour as the
natural necessity of social wealth and conception of the economic as an
economy of labour, it follows a completely different entelechy of human
development it seeks the society of human purposes, universal human
emancipation.
The wealth of the communist individuals and the wealth of capitalist
society belong to two different realities. For the society of the free and equal
social wealth is free time. The time for enjoyment (Marx), freely disposable
time (Adorno), comprises the communist measure and form of wealth.1 For
communism time is not money, equality is not an abstract equality before the
law and the labourer is not a times carcass. Its metabolism with nature is not
a means towards the accumulation of abstract wealth. Rather, this society
of communist individuals is characterized by the equality of individual human
needs, and the satisfaction of human beings. It recognizes humanity as a
purpose, not as a means. The time of value and the time of human purposes
belong to different worlds. The time of human purposes is the time of the
democratic organization of the means of human existence by the community
of the communist individuals themselves. 2

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The society of human purposes stands in opposition to all hitherto history.


Its achievement entails that the progress of this history comes to a standstill
so that society can be found anew.3

On the critique of the present


Louis Althusser was right to argue that Man as such does not exist. Man
as such does not do anything and Man as such is therefore incapable of
alienating herself as a personification of perverted economic forms. In
distinction to Althusser, Man is always objectified Man, and it is objectivity
which constitutes the subjective mode of conduct.4 In the topsy-turvy
world of capital, Man is a non-conceptuality, that is, the social individuals are
governed by their own social product, which manifests itself in the form of an
uncontrollable movement of economic quantities that assert themselves with
blind force over the acting subjects. Yet it is their own world that prevails not
only over them but also prevails in and through them.
Economic nature is a social nature. Its reality is immanent to its own
social context. Society manifests itself in the inverted form of economic
objectivity. Objectivity is the generic term for all relations, institutions, and
forces in which humans act.5 Definite forms of social relations comprise thus
an objective conceptuality.6 In distinction to the traditional hypothesis of
society as a manifestation of some general economic laws that ostensibly
determine social development in the last instance, the critique of political
economy, conceived critically, amounts to an ad hominem critique of the
entire system of economic objectivity as the finite reality of determinant
social relations. Instead of deriving the actual social relations from some
hypothesized economic laws of nature, it develops the economic structure
of society from the actual social relations.7 The view that we can do no
other than nature does naturalizes capitalist society, and accommodates to
its supposed nature.8 In distinction, the critical intension of the ad hominem
critique is to think against the spell of identification, cracking the economic
things from within. It therefore argues that the economic relations manifest
the objective necessity of the prevailing relations of production.9 The social
individual depends for her life on the independent movement of the economic
forces over which she has no control; yet this movement is not the doing of
economic nature. It is her own doing.10
The actual social relations manifest themselves in the inverted form of a
movement of real economic abstractions. Man receives from society what
she puts into society. That is, the person objectifies herself in the economic

CONCLUSION

221

thing, endowing it with a consciousness and a will, and the economic thing
subjectifies itself in the person as the agent of value. In the inverted world of
Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre, the individual subjects are mere
character masks of economic forces. They live under the compulsion of the
universal, that is, the law of value, which capitalism realizes over the heads
of men.11 The supersensible world, which is the world of real economic
abstractions, encompasses the sensuous world of human social practice
in the fantastic form of a relationship between things.12 It degrades the
individuals to its function, regardless as to how much they may try to raise
themselves above their own forsaken world.13

Affirmation and negation


As a critical theory of society, the critique of political economy is devoid
of affirmative traits. Rather than ascribing to society a natural essence,
according to which the economic forms can be traced back to some
origin in nature, it rejects the thesis that society is subject to natural laws
[as] ideology.14 Akin to a fake diamond, existing society radiates with
the false promise that, if planned well, the further progress of economic
development will liberate the propertyless producers of surplus value from
the harsh reality of their socio-economic position. Critical theory is critical
on the condition that it resists this falseness, refusing to be taken in by a
philosophy of progress that in its entirety is tied to existing social relations. It
therefore refuses to sanction things as they are.15 Its conception of society
is entirely negative: to negate a negation does not bring about its reversal
and were such a reversal to occur, it would merely prove that the negation
was not negative enough. In short, what is negative is negative until it has
passed.16 It therefore does not sign up to the idea of a progressive future.17
Instead, its objective goal is to break out of the context from within.18 There
is no vantage point from which to launch the society of human purposes.
Its reality is entirely negative, that is, what is negative in revolution/critique
does not harbour in it the notion of a teleological or progressivist positive
resolution.19
The society of human purposes is not the hidden secret of the capitalist
social relations. Rather, its hidden secret is the force of the law-making
violence of expropriation that divorced the mass of the population from the
means of subsistence, cutting the producer of surplus value off from the
direct access to the means of life. The force of law-making violence appears
in the form of economic compulsion, which facilitates the selling and buying of

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

labour power between equal legal subjects who exchange with each other in
freedom from direct coercion. The interests of the sellers and buyers of labour
power are not the same. Their civilized conduct is a political matter. That is,
the state is charged with depoliticizing the relationship between capital and
labour by concentrating the political character of bourgeois society. The state
is no independent being. It is the political form of the bourgeois relationships
of coined freedom. Its purpose is not negotiable. The political state is the
state of social depoliticization. It policies the bourgeois form of freedom in
the form of contractual relations between the buyers of labour power and the
producers of surplus value as equal subjects of law, and money. Marx thus
argued that the bourgeois conception of equal rights manifests the right of
private property as a right of inequality. 20 He therefore argued that all who
live from the sale of their labour power find themselves directly opposed to
the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consist, have
given themselves collective expression, that is, the state; in order therefore
to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the state.21 The
society of the free and equal organizes its forces propres as social forces,
and therefore does not separate social power from itself in the shape of
political power.22
Critical theory demands a praxis that fights barbarism and argues that
in hell everything is hellish. Like Marx,23 it rejects the idea of revolution as
a revolution for the freedom of labour as regressive, denies that bourgeois
society contains within itself the necessity of human emancipation, opposes
the notion of historical progress for the benefit of the working class as a
conformist rebellion, a rebellion that, say, instead of ending slavery, seeks
a new deal for slaves. Class is an entirely negative concept. The critique of
class society finds its positive resolution not in better-paid and fully employed
producers of surplus value. It finds its positive resolution only in the classless
society.
The notion of revolution as a revolution for workers expresses a theological
idea. According to Lukcs, for example, the worker can resist reification
because, as long as he rebels against it consciously, his humanity and his
soul are not changed into commodities.24 Reification thus does not affect
the soul of the worker, as if the soul is not of this world but of divine origin.
Lukcs derives the revolutionary subject, he calls it the totality of the
proletarian subject represented by the Party, from something that is entirely
invisible history however does not unfold according to invisible principles.
Critical theory is not a theoretical expression of the soul of the social forces.
Rather, it aims at these forces themselves, seeking their dissolution. That is,
at its best, historical materialism thinks against the progress of history and,
as such, it really brush[es] history against the grain (Benjamin) so that the

CONCLUSION

223

negative reason of human emancipation does not become a piece of the


politics it was supposed to lead out of (Adorno).25
History does not unfold. It takes no side. In fact, [h]istory does nothing, it
possesses no immense wealth, it wages no battles. It is man, real, living
man who does all that, who possesses and fights; history is not, as it were, a
person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing
but the activity of man pursuing his aims.26 These aims are not theologically
determined, naturally founded or purposefully active. The purpose of capitalism
is the profitable accumulation of abstract wealth for its own sake. The commune
of human purpose is not an existing human purpose. Its reality is entirely
negative. History appears as a linear sequence of events, from one battle to
another and from this division of labour to that division of labour, culminating in
the present. This appearance is real but by itself, devoid of meaning. What does
it really mean to say that history is a sequence of events? Events of what, and
what was so eventful? History appears as a transcendent force of progress only
when one abstracts from it, leading to its description as a sequence of events,
for which the terms historicity provides the name. Historicity comprises the
idea of history without history.27 That is to say, in order to comprehend history,
one needs to crack the appearance of history as a sequence of events.28
One needs thus to think out of history, out of the battles for freedom,
slave insurrections, peasant revolts, the struggles of Les Enrags, working
class strikes, riots, insurrections and revolutions, to appreciate the traditions
of the oppressed, recognize the smell of danger and the stench of death, gain
a sense of the courage and cunning of struggle, grasp the spirit of sacrifice,
comprehend however fleetingly the density of a time at which the progress
of the muck of ages almost came to a standstill. 29 History does not lead
anywhere; it has no telos, no objectives, no purpose and it does not take
sides. At its worst, it continuous on the path of victorious progress under
darkened clouds and smoke-filled skies. At best, its progress will be stopped.
Such history has not been made yet, though it has often been attempted. In
our time, this attempt is called communism this attempt at negation that
seeks to rid the world of all the muck of ages. For Marx, the struggle against
oppression is the struggle of the last oppressed class, time and time again.
The oppressed class does not struggle for the progress of oppression this
really is the business of the overlords of history.30 The proletariat is the name
of the oppressed class of our time. Marx says that it is the last class. It might
not be the last class, though, and if it is not, then the continuum of history
will not have been broken.31 That is to say, there really is no secret reality that
points beyond the existing social relations of production. The resolution to the
dialectical context of immanence is that context itself. The whole is false.32
The whole has to go.

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

On the difficulty of saying NO


Only a reified consciousness can declare that it is in possession of the
requisite knowledge, political capacity and technical expertise not only for
resolving capitalist crises but also to do so for the workers.33 Its grasp of
reality is entirely abstract and its assertion to know what to do is groundless.
As a practical theory for action, its condemnation that capitalism produces
deplorable situations is tireless. Deplorable situations (Mistnde) are not
the same as deplorable conditions (Zustnde). The dispossessed producer of
surplus value is a condition of capitalism. In distinction, deplorable situations
describe entirely avoidable socio-economic circumstances, be they the result
of a chance development, government incompetence or hard-nosed classpolitics. As such it can be rectified by well-meaning political interventions
that regulate capitalist economy for the benefit of the poor and downtrodden.
The critical insight that the capitalist form of wealth is premised on a class
of dispossessed producers of surplus value disappears from view, and what
appears in its stead is the view that the situation of the workers can be
overcome by means of state. It is thus suggested that the fateful movement of
an economy, in which the needs of human beings, the satisfaction of human
beings, is never more than a sideshow, can be resolved and transformed
for good by well-meaning government interventions. This notion is in great
measure no more than ideology.34 In essence, then, its protest against a really
existing misery that blights the life of a whole class of individuals, is in reality
a party political advert; it transforms the refusal to sanction things as they are
into ticket thinking.35 Ticket thinking is one-dimensional. It feels the pain of
the world and offers its own political programme as the means of salvation,
with a claim to power. Ticket thinking proclaims falseness. 36 It promises a
world beyond misery amid a pile of debris that grows skyward.37 Ticket
thinking feeds on what it condemns. It condemns this miserable situation and
that shortcoming with righteous indignation and an eye for power. It sniffs out
the miserable world, from the outside as it were, and at best transforms the
protest against capitalism into a political advertisement for itself. At worst, it
radicalizes its stance into a moral crusade against the identified wrongdoers,
with potentially deafening consequences.
Benjamins theses of history say that the poor and miserable will not be
liberated unless they liberate themselves, by their own effort, courage and
cunning. Herbert Marcuse focuses the conundrum of this argument most
succinctly when he argued that slaves have to be free for their liberation
so that they are able to become free.38 Marcuses argument is to the point:
to bring the progress of capitalism to a standstill and found society anew

CONCLUSION

225

requires a non-capitalist identity, and the difficulty of its conception is


a simple one: such an identity does not belong to the present, which is a
capitalist present. What really does it mean to say no to a capitalistically
organized mode of human subsistence and social reproduction? To say no to
capitalism is simple. But to say what the no is, is difficult. For one, the no
is not external to but operates within that same society that it opposes. Like
Marxs summons of class struggle as the motor of history, the no drives the
negative world forward. It is its dynamic force. Furthermore, to say what the
no is compromises the no insofar as it becomes positive in its affirmative
yes to something that has no valid content except the very society that it
opposes. The no is immanent to its own forsaken social context. It has no
independent reality and contains no teleological direction. There is no reality
beyond the existent social relations.

On the realism of negation


There is thus need for a realistic conception of the struggle for the society of
human purposes. Class struggle has to be rediscovered as the laboratory of
human emancipation. This struggle does not follow some abstract idea. It is
a struggle for access to crude and material things without which no refined
and spiritual things could exist. 39 What then is the working class in-itself
struggling for? In-itself it struggles for better wages and conditions, and
defends wage levels and conditions. It struggles against capitals werewolfs hunger for surplus labour and its destructive conquest for additional
atoms of unpaid labour time, and thus against its reduction to a mere times
carcass. It struggles against a life constituting solely of labour-time and thus
against a reduction of human life to a mere economic resource. It struggles
for respect, education and recognition of human significance, and above all it
struggles for food, shelter, clothing, warmth, love, affection, knowledge, time
for enjoyment and dignity. Its struggle as a class in-itself really is a struggle
for-itself: for life, human distinction, life-time and above all, satisfaction of
basic human needs. It does all of this in conditions (Zustnde) in which the
increase in material wealth that it has produced, pushes beyond the limits
of its capitalist form. Every so-called trickle-down effect that capitalist
accumulation might bring forth presupposes a prior and sustained trickle up
in the capitalist accumulation of wealth. And then society suddenly finds
itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if famine,
a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of
subsistence.40

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

The existence of the social individuals as personifications of seemingly


self-moving economic forces does not entail the reduction of social
consciousness to economic consciousness. It entails the concept of economy
as an experienced concept, and economic consciousness as an experienced
consciousness. At the very least, economic consciousness is an unhappy
consciousness. This is the unhappy consciousness of the struggle for access
to the means of subsistence. It is this struggle that makes the oppressed
class the depository of historical knowledge. Class struggle supplies a unique
experience with the past.41 Whether this experience turns concrete in the
changing forms of repression as resistance to repression or whether it turns
concrete in forms of repression is a matter of experienced history. There has
been as much free will as there were men with the will to be free.42
The society of human purposes can be defined in negation only. In the
struggle against a negative world nothing is certain, except misery itself.
Nevertheless, uncertainty is also an experienced concept. Historically, it has
assumed the form of the Council, the Commune, the Rte, the Soviet, the
Assemblies and now the squares from Barcelona and Madrid to Istanbul,
from Tunis to Cairo, from Athens to Rio, from Buenos Aires to New York, and
Beijing, too this democracy of the streets, which, despite appearance to the
contrary, manifests no impasse at all. It is the laboratory of the society of the
free and equal its validity is its own uncertainty.43

Notes
1 Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, vol. 3 (London 1972), p.252. Theodor
Adorno, Gesellschaftstheorie und Kulturkritik (Frankfurt 1975), p.43.
2 On communism as the society of communist individuals, see Herbert
Marcuse, Soviet Marxism (London 1958), p.127.
3 This insight is core to Walter Benjamins Theses on the Philosophy of
History, in Illuminations (London 1999). The understanding of communism
as the end of the muck of ages that founds society anew is Marxs Karl
Marx and Friederich Engels, The German Ideology, Collected Works, vol. 5
(London 1976), p.53.
4 Theodor Adorno, Einleitung zum Vortrag Gesellschaft, Soziologische
Schriften I, in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 8 (Frankfurt 1997), p.570.
5 Theodor Adorno, Soziologie und empirische Forschung, in Theodor Adorno,
Hans Albert, Ralf Darendorf, Jrgen Habermas, Harald Pilot and Karl Popper,
Der Positivismusstreit in der deutschen Soziologie (Munich 1993), p.84.
6 Theodor Adorno, Drei Studien zu Hegel, in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 5
(Frankfurt 1971), p.209.

CONCLUSION

227

7 This is, in a nutshell, the argument of Chapters2 and 3.


8 David Harvey, History versus Theory: A Commentary of Marxs Method in
Capital , Historical Materialism, vol. 20, no.2 (2012), p.13.
9 Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics (London 1990), p.354; translation
amended.
10 On cracking and doing, see John Holloway, Change the World without
Taking Power (London 2002) and Crack Capitalism (London 2010).
11 Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.311, 305, 311, 199.
12 Marx, Capital, vol. I (London 1990), p.165.
13 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 311. This part draws on Marx, Capital, vol. I, p.92.
14 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.355.
15 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. xix.
16 Adorno, Negative Dialectics, pp.15960.
17 See Benjamin, Theses, and Theodor Adorno, Lectures on History
and Freedom (Cambridge 2008a) and Theodor Adorno, Fortschritt, in
Stichworte. Kritische Modelle 2 (Frankfurt 1969), for a critique of the
philosophy of progress. Progress has already been made: from one set of
rulers to another (Benjamin). Adorno agrees and disagrees with Benjamins
notion of history as a universal history of the victors. For Adorno, history
appears as such a universal history by hindsight only. It feeds on the
circumstance that the many attempts to crack its continuum have failed,
and what failed vanished from the record only to appear in the form of
a triumphal succession of one set of rulers to the next. For history to be
made, its progress has to be stopped.
18 Adorno, Lectures on History, p.407.
19 I owe this point to Richard Gunn.
20 On this, see Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Marx Engels
Selected Works, vol. 3 (Moscow 1970).
21 Marx and Engels, German Ideology, p.80. For an insightful account of
Marxs conception of the directly social democracy of the communist
individuals as the antithesis to the state-form of bourgeois society, see
Miguel Abensour, Democracy Against the State (London 2011).
22 Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question, Collected Works, vol. 3 (London 1975),
p.168.
23 Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme. According to Benjamin, Theses,
p.250, Marx attacked the Gotha Programme of German Social Democracy
because he was smelling a rat.
24 Georg Lukcs, History and ClassConsciousness (London 1971), p.172.
25 Benjamin, Theses, p.248; Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p.143.
26 Karl Marx, The Holy Family, in Marx Engels Collected Works, vol. 4, p.93.
27 In Benjamins (Theses, p.254) judgement, the transformation of history
into a science without history characterizes the bordello of historicity.

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CRITICAL THEORY AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY

28 I use this phrase in reference to Holloway, Crack Capitalism.


29 The notion of thinking out of history rather than about history, derives from
Adornos negative dialectics which argues that for thought to comprehend
society it needs to think out of society. For him, thinking about society, or
about history, amounts to an argument based on hypothetical judgements
that treat society as an as if, leading to dogmatic claims about its natural
character.
30 On this, see Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of
Enlightenment (London 1979).
31 On this, see Werner Bonefeld, Critical Theory, History, and the Question
of Revolution, in ed. Shannon Briscant, Communism in the 21st Century,
vol. 3 (Oxford 2014); Notes on Fetishism, History and Uncertainty: Beyond
the Critique of Austerity, forthcoming Isegoria. Revista de Filosofia Moral y
Politica, no.50 (2014).
32 Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (London 1974), p.50.
33 Adorno, Lectures on History, p.25.
34 Adorno, History and Freedom, p.51.
35 See Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic and Theodor Adorno, sthetische
Theorie (Frankfurt 1970), p.377.
36 Adorno, Lectures on History, p.28.
37 Benjamin, Theses, p.249.
38 Herbert Marcuse, Der eindimensionale Mensch (Darmstadt 1967), p.61.
See also Werner Bonefeld, State, Revolution and Self-determination, in ed.
Werner Bonefeld and Sergio Tischler, What is to be Done? (Ashgate 2002),
p.133.
39 Benjamin, Theses, p.246.
40 Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London 1997),
p.18.
41 Benjamin, Theses, p.254.
42 Adorno, Lectures on History, p.265.
43 On this see Katarina Nasioka, Communities in Crisis, Massimo de Angelis,
Social Revolution and the Commons and Massimiliano Tomba, Clash of
Temporalities, all forthcoming in South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 113, no.2
(2014).

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Index
Abensour, Miguel 227n. 21
abstract labour 7, 10, 11, 42, 43, 91,
98n. 56, 1214, 137, 139n. 23,
140nn. 29, 34, 36, 1412nn. 61,
68, 147, 152, 154
in context of systematic
dialectics 126
as form of class struggle 1256
physiological determination of 124
social form of 1238
as substance of value 1245
trans-historical treatment of 137
and value form 12836
and concrete labour 1302
and double character of
labour 12830
and free labour 8795, 160, 171,
175
and real-time abstraction 1336
abstract negativity 35
ad hominem critique 38, 39, 54, 62,
69, 220
Adorno, Theodor 2, 3, 8, 10, 14n. 19,
23, 379, 43, 46n. 42, 48n. 71,
49nn. 84, 93, 50n. 116, 557, 62,
63, 656, 69, 72n. 44, 86, 96n.
22, 101, 114, 120n. 77, 127, 138n.
7, 141n. 41, 165, 196, 198, 208,
213, 222, 227n. 17, 228n. 29
Dialectic of the Enlightenment 1,
48n. 84, 96n. 22, 138n. 87, 205
Negative Dialectics 45, 73n. 63
Agnoli, Johannes 13n. 13, 72n. 36,
75n. 109, 186n. 6, 190n. 77
Alliez, Eric 141n. 51
Althusser, Louis 22, 28, 32, 35, 46n.
42, 49n. 90, 50n. 116, 61, 99n.
69, 117n. 21, 120n. 74, 220

Altvater, Elmar 160n. 1, 161n. 7,


186n. 5
American Zionism 202
Amin, Samir 80
Anderson, Perry 13n. 14, 50n. 116,
202, 204
anti-capitalism
and antisemitism 199210,
214n. 12
abstraction and 2058
finance and industry and 20912
on critique of capital
personifications 1959
and society in critical and theological
perspectives 21214
anti-humanism, theoretical 289, 35
anti-imperialism 197, 201, 216n. 44
antisemitism seeunder anticapitalism
Arthur, Chris 13n. 14, 15n. 41, 16n.
57, 50n. 121, 56, 88, 89, 123,
1257, 140n. 34, 141nn. 412,
143n. 109
Auschwitz 198, 205, 208, 212, 214nn.
1213, 216n. 45
authoritarian liberalism 191n. 86
automaticity, of inverted society 71n.
10
autonomization, law of 89, 84, 91
Backhaus, Hans-Georg 3, 78, 13n.
16, 47n. 46, 50n. 113, 74n. 91,
89, 98n. 56, 140n. 36, 188n. 41
Balibar, tienne 30
barbarism 2, 12, 66, 204, 222, 225
base/superstructure metaphor 1689,
174, 187n. 20
Beck, Ulrich 117nn. 223

240

INDEX

Beck-Gernsheim, Elisabeth 117n. 23


Bell, Daniel 25
Bellofiore, Ricardo 13n. 14, 132
Benjamin, Walter 14n. 23, 37, 95n.
2, 97n. 22, 187n. 20, 204, 222,
224, 226n. 3, 227nn. 17, 27
Bensaid, Daniel 141n. 51
Bentham, Jeremy 162n. 50
Bidet, Jacques 48n. 63, 120n. 73
Blanke, Bernhard 186n. 6
Bonapartism 166, 180, 182, 186n. 9
Bonefeld, Werner 15n. 42, 16n. 57,
73n. 60, 74n. 72, 75n. 108, 96n.
3, 117n. 22, 139n. 18, 163n. 73,
186n. 7, 187n. 20, 188nn. 41,
44, 190n. 77, 216n. 36
bourgeois society 667, 73n. 59, 109,
114, 118n. 43, 1501, 160, 166,
178, 185, 187n. 13, 213
as uncivilized 1678
Bowmaker, Simon 46n. 30
Braunmhl, Claudia von 161n. 16
Braunstein, Dirk 4, 14n. 19, 46n. 42,
165, 185n. 3
Braverman, Harry 126, 138n. 7
Brittan, Sam 25
Buchanan, Pat 215n. 18
Budd, Adrian 161n. 9
Burnham, Peter 161n. 9, 162n. 37
Butler, Judith 202
Callinicos, Alex 16n. 54, 31, 118n. 25,
202, 203
capital 115, 1524
as autonomic subject of bourgeois
society 66
as barrier to capital 157
as bewitching force 62, 115
competitive logic of 148
law of 86
personified 156
plethora of 1578
and primitive accumulation 81
self-valorization of 113
as social relationship 154
seealsocapitalism
capitalism 24, 27, 313, 117n. 19,
122

and abstract labour 121, 1234,


138n. 1
casino 159, 163n. 70, 196
conceptuality of 56
critique of 4, 6, 910, 38, 41, 196
and exchange relations 61
hatred of 205
historical presupposition of 87
and labour 2930
ontologized time in 133
and primitive accumulation 80
purpose of 223
and social relations 47n. 42
structuralist analysis of 29
seealsocapital
capitalist wealth 911, 403, 60, 66,
88, 90, 102, 106, 11011, 119n.
53, 2001
globalization and 147, 150, 155,
156, 159, 160
time of 122, 125, 129, 130
Carchedi, Guglielmo 139nn. 18, 23
Carey, Henry 159
Charnock, Greig 164n. 77
civil government, establishment
of 172
Clarke, Simon 32, 34, 44nn. 2, 4, 9,
116n. 16, 119n. 53, 159, 162n.
37, 163n. 61, 185nn. 1, 4, 186n. 6
class 10, 33
antagonism 9, 70, 92, 93, 107, 167
and classification 1026
and competition 1069
and critique 11415
and labour and surplus
value 10914
relationship 59, 64
social 115
struggle 64, 1012, 118n. 43,
172, 2256 seealsoindividual
entries
classical view 37, 912, 13n. 16,
14nn. 23, 30, 21, 22, 324, 37,
41, 71n. 12, 1045, 109, 115,
128, 130, 1367, 166, 1689,
174, 188n. 41
Claussen, Detlev 214n. 12
Cohen, Gerald 14n. 23, 119n. 45

INDEX
commercial society 22, 169, 170, 171,
1734
moral sentiments of 171
transition towards 33
conceptualization, significance
of 569
contractual freedom 59, 107, 170
Coser, Lewis A. 217n. 74
cosmopolitanism 197
Cox, Robert 148, 160, 161n. 9
Cristi, Renato 191n. 85
critical theory, of society seeunder
political economy, critique of
Dalla Costa, Mariarosa 16n. 56, 95n.
2, 160n. 83
de Angelis, Massimo 80, 96n. 10,
121, 123, 1256, 136, 141n. 42,
228n. 43
debasement 1
Debord, Guy 63, 127
democratization of society, danger
of 180
demystification 60, 62
demythologization 38
De Vroey, Michel 122, 142n. 82
dialectics 15n. 33, 54, 679, 90, 95,
98n. 50, 115
and critique of political
economy 679
negative 45, 11, 120n. 77, 228n. 29
objective 37
systematic 15n. 41, 889, 126
tradition dialectics 56
dictatorship and freedom 17881
distributive justice 119n. 45
disunity and unity 60, 64, 107, 108,
109, 115
Dobb, Maurice, 138n. 11
double character of labour 1223,
12830, 132, 137
doubly free wage labourer 86, 88, 93,
94, 111, 189n. 61
dynamic within stasis 86
Eagleton, Terry 14n. 23, 34, 105
economic compulsion 59, 84, 1068,
114, 119n. 43, 176, 206, 221

241

economic consciousness 226


economic freedom 169, 1756
economic objectivity 23, 3640, 168
economic rationality 245, 59,
188n. 44
economic theory
and economic nature 228
significance of 21
Engels, Friederich 5, 14n. 30, 36, 42,
182
equal exchange law, as fiction 93
equivalence exchange, and money 3
essence, appearance of 637
Eucken, Walter 188n. 47
exchange value 3, 9, 38, 423, 65, 91,
122, 128, 129, 1312, 1345,
196, 210
existentialism 73n. 60
Federici, Silvia 16n. 56, 95n. 2
Ferguson, Adam 33
fetishism 197
abstract labour 137
of commodities 23, 37, 40, 44n. 1,
54, 62, 90, 91, 93, 122, 210
critique of 8, 39, 63, 210
and world market 1525
financial capital 158, 211
Fine, Robert 186n. 6
Fineschi, Roberto 13n. 14, 98n. 50
Foster, John Bellamy 163n. 70
Foucault, Michel 187n. 30, 188n. 44,
189n. 66
Franklin, Benjamin 127, 140n. 29
free economy and market
police seeneoliberalism
freeman and slave, comparison of 83,
97n. 32
Friedman, Milton 190n. 81
Friedrich, Carl 178, 1801
Gambino, Ferruccio 119n. 59
Giddens, Anthony 90, 117nn. 20, 22
Gill, Stephen 147
Gindin, Sam 160n. 3
Glassman, Jim 82, 83, 87, 88, 96n. 10
globalization seeworld market
governmentality 187n. 30

242

INDEX

Grollios, Vasilis 71n. 16


Gunn, Richard 75n. 108, 107
Habermas, Jrgen 14n. 20, 61,
73n. 54
Hardt, Michael 197
Harvey, David 31, 46n. 31, 47n. 50,
7980
The New Imperialism 79
Haselbach, Dieter 191n. 86
Haug, Wolfgang Fritz 29, 32, 47n. 47,
139n. 23
Hayek, Friedrich 25, 61, 175, 181,
190n. 81, 191nn. 85, 92
Hegel, Georg W. F. 64, 119n. 43, 166,
187n. 13, 213
Phenomenology 44n. 1
Philosophy of Right 167
Science of Logic 89
Heinrich, Michael 5, 10, 13n. 14,
142n. 79
Heller, Herman 191n. 86
Hennis, Wilhelm 190n. 80
Hill, Christopher 99n. 62
Hirsch, Joachim 151, 186n. 5
historical materialism 36, 56, 65, 70,
139n. 27, 2223
critique of 48n. 71
Engels view of 36
structuralist idea of 31
traditional Marxist conception of 37
historicity 378, 215n. 12, 223,
227n. 27
history 967n. 22, 223, 227nn. 17, 27,
228n. 29
as chain of causality 98n. 54
Hobbes, Thomas 204
Holloway, John 44n. 9, 47n. 46, 95n.
2, 118n. 43, 137, 185n. 4, 186n.
6, 213, 228n. 28
Honneth, Axel 73n. 59
Horkheimer, Max 4, 5, 24, 48n. 62,
49n. 84, 96n. 22, 118n. 43,
138n. 7, 185n. 3, 196, 198,
213
Dialectic of the Enlightenment 1,
48n. 84, 96n. 22, 138n. 87,
205

human practice 60, 62


sensuous 61, 63, 66, 67, 70, 195,
221
ideology, significance of 38, 55
imperialism, critique of 2012
instrumental rationality 206
inverted forms 610, 15n. 42, 23, 25,
27, 35, 38, 40, 47n. 42, 53, 54,
57, 58, 625, 69, 71n. 10, 88,
98n. 56, 112, 126, 195, 196,
2201
Itoh, Makato 121, 124, 137
Jameson, Frederic 15n. 34
Jay, Martin 14n. 20
Jessop, Bob 30, 478nn. 56, 66, 71,
116n. 16, 179, 185n. 1
Jevons, William Stanley 44n. 6, 45n.
30
Jojima, Kunihiro 26
Kaldor, Nicholas 25
Kant, Immanuel 208
Kay, Geoff 140n. 34
Keynesian political economy 44n. 9
Kicillof, Axel 1236, 128, 137,
139n. 18
Kluge, Alexander 119n. 43
Krahl, Jrgen 15n. 13, 23n. 14, 94n.
143
labour
abstract seeabstract labour
actual 133
and capitalism 29, 42, 83, 85
commodified 90
concrete labour 42, 43, 93, 122,
124, 126, 128, 129, 130, 132,
134, 135, 137, 140n. 29, 153,
196, 201, 211
division of 223, 334, 167
dualistic conception of, and
money 21011
free 8795, 160, 171, 180, 212
liberal reward for 172
necessary and surplus 11112,
1567

INDEX
power 43, 65, 92, 94, 102, 106,
107, 10914, 122, 176, 177,
186n. 6
productive power of 22, 33, 153, 155
social 30, 37, 54, 85, 98n. 56, 108,
113, 121, 130, 134, 135, 149,
150, 152, 176
standpoint of 3, 9, 37, 54, 55
and surplus value 10914
trans-historical materiality of 2930
types of 142n. 68
labour theory, of value 122
Laissez-faire 175, 188n. 44
seealsocapitalism
Lapavistas, Costas 48n. 67
Lebowitz, Michael 217n. 60
Lenin, Vladimir 204
Linebaugh, Peter 99n. 62
List, Friedrich 162n. 31
Lucas, Robert 46n. 31
Lukcs, Georg 13n. 4, 54, 55, 68,
71nn. 11, 12, 13, 16, 73n. 65,
118n. 25, 222
Luxemburg, Rosa 80, 179, 190n. 77
McChesney, Robert W. 163n. 70
Man 15n. 41, 34, 35, 56, 63, 65, 67,
69, 83, 153, 162n. 42
concrete 128
as economic Man 22, 27
in existentialism 73n. 60
as free labourer 8990, 189n. 61,
214
as highest being for Man 38
image of 198
as member of definite form of
society 39
as objectified Man 220
Mandel, Ernest 13n. 10, 138n. 11
Marcuse, Herbert 4, 73n. 60, 185n. 3,
224, 226n. 2
Marx, Karl 13n. 11, 15nn. 36, 42, 21,
23, 24, 27, 413, 55, 62, 66, 80,
83, 93, 97n. 32, 118n. 29, 119n.
59, 121
Capital 4, 6, 7, 15n. 34, 28, 32, 60,
82, 8890, 107, 125, 140n. 29,
185n. 4, 211

243

Communist Manifesto 108, 151,


182
Critique 127, 135
critique of political economy 6,
349, 47n. 42, 97n. 22, 117n. 23
ad hominem 38, 39
reducio ad hominem 39
critique of Smith and Ricardo 36
critique of trans-historical conceptions
of economic nature 38
German ideology 184
Holy Family 171
new reading of, and critique of
economic reforms 3, 4, 610,
13n. 14, 15n. 41, 16n. 49,
39, 41, 82, 95, 138n. 1,
165, 175
Paris-Manuscripts 28
Trinity Formula 104
seealsoindividual entries
Meinhof, Ulrike 205
Menger, Carl 59
modern economic theory,
conventional view of 345
money, as automatic fetish 66
moral sentiments 16971, 173, 175,
180, 187n. 30, 189n. 66
moral sociability 171
moral support 202
Mott, James 140n. 34
Mller-Armack, Alfred 175
Murray, Patrick 31, 142n. 68
Nasioka, Katarina 228n. 43
nation state 148, 1502, 159
seealsoworld market
negation
and affirmation 2213
difficulty of expressing 2245
realism of 2256
negative dialectics 45, 11, 120n. 77,
228n. 29
Negri, Antonio 62, 197
Negt, Oskar 119n. 43
neoliberalism 80, 166, 1748,
188n. 44
American 117n. 22
Neumann, Franz 185n. 3

244

INDEX

non-cocentputality 56, 69, 220


non-identity 54, 69, 73n. 63
objectivity 3, 5, 10, 15n. 42, 54, 56,
58, 623, 65, 129, 132, 166,
198, 213, 220
of abstract value, time, and value 133
economic 23, 3640, 168
irrationality 61
social 56
of social labour 135
value 132
Panitch, Leo 160n. 3
Pashukanis, Evgeny 186n. 6
perfect liberty, system of 16971
personifications of capital 2, 3, 5, 6,
12, 27, 35, 56, 60, 61, 63, 84,
913, 101, 1089, 11314, 127,
1356, 156, 177, 184, 1957,
211, 220
perverted forms 7, 12, 15n. 42, 21,
23, 39, 40, 50n. 113, 54, 59, 62,
64, 66, 6870, 84, 89, 92, 102,
1089, 11415, 158, 206, 211,
220
Petras, James 202
Picciotto, Sol 185n. 4, 186n. 6
political economy, critique of 6, 349,
47n. 42, 54, 97n. 22, 105, 108,
117n. 23, 122, 1825
ad hominem 38, 39
appearance of essence and 637
as critical social theory 36
dialectics and 679
reducio ad hominem 39
social praxis and 603
society concept and 5460
subversion and 13
political form and force of law 1658
and neoliberalism 1748
on police, justice, and moral
sentiments 16874
and political theology 17881
Postone, Moishe 2, 3, 910, 29, 37,
48n. 60, 74n. 86, 90, 102, 105,
116n. 11, 118n. 24, 122, 138n. 1,
140n. 29, 163n. 59, 217n. 62
post-war political economy 147

Poulantzas, Nicos 28, 116n. 16, 118n.


24, 185nn. 1, 4, 186n. 5
practical humanism 28, 35
praxis 14n. 22, 222
social 53, 603
present, critique of 2202
primitive accumulation 43, 7082, 115
secret of 827
and value form and free
labour 8795
protectionism 151
Proudhon, Pierre Joseph 27, 36, 196
Psychopedis, Kosmas 16n. 49, 75n.
108, 98n. 50
Ptak, Ralf 188n. 44
racism 199200
real abstraction 1, 6, 8, 9, 24, 25, 38,
39, 63, 66, 67, 70, 71n. 10, 90,
91, 96n. 22, 127, 132, 133, 134,
136, 137, 223
Realpolitik 188n. 44
reason, significance of 1, 67, 96n. 22,
137, 2058, 223
Reich, Robert 151
Reichelt, Helmut 3, 7, 8, 10, 15n. 33,
16n. 49, 39, 44n. 1, 45n. 16,
50n. 106, 61, 73nn. 54, 63, 89,
120n. 71, 138n. 13, 140n. 29,
142n. 68, 165, 185n. 4
reification 2, 28, 35, 36, 54, 55, 57,
58, 63, 69, 70, 92, 222
and abstract labour 122
of consciousness 224
of economic categories, subversive
of 38
ideology of 38
of time 133
and value 122
Ricardo, David 4, 22, 36, 122, 130,
137, 149, 213
Ritsert, Jrgen 116n. 5
Robbins, Lionel 34
Robertson, William 169
Robinson, Joan 24, 25, 26
Robinson, William I. 160n. 3
Rpke, Wilhelm 175, 180, 183
Rose, Gillian 14n. 22, 216n. 40
Rosenberg, Alfred 198

INDEX
Rossiter, Clinton L. 180, 181
Rubin, Isaak 1212, 1246, 137,
143n. 112
Rstow, Alexander 175, 188n. 44,
189n. 61, 191nn. 86, 88
Saad-Fhilo, Alfredo 48n. 67
Samuelson, Paul 49n. 75
Sartre, Jean-Paul 215n. 20
Scheuermann, William E. 191n. 85
Schmidt, Alfred 4, 28, 34, 46n. 42,
73n. 60, 75n. 95
Schmitt, Carl 17881, 190n. 77, 191n.
85
Schrader, Fred 140n. 29
Schumpeter, Joseph 256, 119n. 53,
179
scientific Marxism 289
Smith, Adam 12, 22, 33, 36, 57, 87,
97n. 32, 110, 129, 131, 162nn. 26
social antagonism 9, 60, 64, 114, 160
social autonomization 8
social constitution and political
economy 212
economic nature
and capitalistic anatomy 2836
and economic theory 228
economic objectivity and 3640
social individual 5, 9, 56, 60, 61, 64,
92, 99n. 69, 103, 120n. 74, 153,
175, 195, 217n. 60, 220, 226
appearance of 91, 115
in capitalism 38, 147
and value 63
social labour 4
social laws 34, 57
abstract 61
social life 54, 60, 91, 137
social objectivity 56
social order 160, 168
social praxis 53, 603
social reality 1, 27, 39, 122, 131, 132,
166
social relations 59, 22, 23, 27, 29,
34, 367, 40, 58, 91, 129, 158,
162n. 42, 182, 197, 220
autonomization of 116n. 11
and capitalism 47n. 42, 196
definite, critique of 37

245

depoliticization of 176, 185


of exchange value 38
historically specific 30
humanization of 35
and objective conceptuality 220
real 54, 66, 70
disappearance of 91
and social reproduction 62
social reproduction 62, 66, 93, 117n.
23, 157, 196
social stratification 103
social wealth 33, 132
social world 63, 84, 91
socialism 31, 34, 68, 137
national 211
socially necessary labour time 128
Sohn-Rethel, Alfred 54, 65, 71n. 10,
185n. 3
sovereignty 181
Stalin, Joseph
Marxism and the National
Question 201
Starosta, Guido 1236, 128, 137,
139n. 18
state seeindividual entries
Stoetzler, Marcel 16n. 57, 216n. 37
Strange, Susan 158, 163n. 70
structuralism 29, 31, 48n. 66, 49n. 90
structuration 90
subjectivity 62, 63, 206
supersensible world 21, 44n. 1, 54,
613, 67, 70, 109, 129, 132,
141n. 41, 195, 221
surplus value 3, 43, 59, 66, 80, 87, 88,
150, 156, 1589, 166, 176, 177
and equivalence 1069
and labour 10914
reconversion into capital 93
systematic dialectics 15n. 41, 889,
126
Thompson, Edward Palmer 99n. 62
thought and reality, radical separation
between 312
ticket thinking 203, 224
time, significance of 133
Tischler, Sergio 190n. 77
Tomba, Massimiliano 14n. 23, 228n. 43
totalitarianism 198

246

INDEX

traditional Marxism, renouncing


of 13n. 16
traditional social theory 56, 678,
73n. 60
trans-historicalness 35, 9, 22, 24,
2930, 358, 41, 47nn. 42, 56,
49n. 84, 87, 1226, 128, 130,
137
Tribe, Keith 189n. 66
Trotsky, Leon 201
use-values 3, 30, 423, 65, 112, 122,
126, 12835, 154, 156, 163n.
59, 196, 211, 212
validity, as social category 25
value 39, 61, 689
and abstract labour 122, 1245
as capital 43
conceptuality of 82, 150
equivalence 131
exchange 3, 9, 38, 423, 65, 91,
122, 128, 129, 1312, 1345,
196, 210
form 8, 15n. 41, 126
and concrete labour 1302
and double character of
labour 12830
and free labour 8795, 160
and real-time abstraction of
abstract labour 1336
labour theory of 122
law of 478n. 56, 65, 90, 113, 147,
170, 183, 221

money and 645


perverted form of 66, 132
phantom-like objectivity of 1312
as sensuous, supersensible
thing 62
and social individuals 63
use- 3, 30, 423, 65, 112, 122, 126,
12835, 154, 156, 163n. 59,
196, 211, 212
and utility 46n. 30
valorization of 106, 109, 150, 155,
157, 1756
world-market movement and
154
Vercellone, Carlo 118n. 24
Vincent, Jean-Marie 138n. 7
Volksgenosse/ Volksgenossen 207,
210, 212
von Mises, Ludwig 188n. 44
Wallerstein, Immanuel 201
Washington consensus 197
Weber, Max 119n. 45, 204
world market 1478
and crises 1559
and fetishism 1525
and society 14852
worldview Marxism 5, 35,
55
Wright, Steve 185n. 4
Wright, Erik Olin 118n. 24
Zarembka, Paul 95n. 1
iek, Slavoj 2023