The totality for kids

April 3rd, 2012

Attributing the abstract domination of capital to concrete forms is an undeveloped critique. An extract from Helmut Reichelt’s Marx’s Critique of Economic Categories (2007)

The essence of Adorno’s critical theory lies in the very fact that he understands the capitalist economy as an inverted reality in which individuals no longer ‘interact with one another’ on the market as rationally acting subjects, as the idea of the exchange economy suggests. Adorno criticised such a concept as ‘social nominalism’. Rather, they act as executors of constraints generated and reproduced by themselves, which are implemented in and through their conscious actions without, however, these being consciously accessible to them. Th is is what the strong concept of totality means, which should not to be confused with the mechanistic idea in which ‘everything is linked with everything else’ (Albert), or with the hermeneutic one that operates by ‘anticipating the interpretation of a connection of meaning’ (Habermas).

Totality is not a methodological postulate, but rather the concept of a real ‘becoming autonomous [Verselbständigung]’.

Totality . . . is pre-established for all individual subjects since they obey its ‘constraints’ even in themselves and even in their monadological constitution and here in particular, conceptualise totality. To this extent, totality is what is most real. Adorno is therefore vehemently against any levelling down of society to an intelligible coherence. He insists that society is both ‘intelligible and unintelligible.’

From the journal Historical Materialism 15 (2007) 3–52

‘When one examines the specific characteristics of the power attributed to the Jews by modern anti-Semitism—abstractness, intangibility, universality, mobility—it is striking that they are all characteristics of the value dimension of the social forms analyzed by Marx. Moreover, this dimension, like the supposed power of the Jews, does not appear as such, but always in the form of a material carrier, the commodity.’

Moishe Postone, Anti-semitism and National Socialism

6 Responses to “The totality for kids”

  1. Jules Guesde Says:

    I agree. But why have you chosen a concrete form that has already received so much attention that it may be overdeveloped?

    For a good argument about why Adorno and Horkheimer’s theorization of anti-semitism is better than Postone see

    also see

    I’m also curious– if your interested in relating concrete forms to abstract domination, yet you don’t want to do if from a class affirmative position, how do you rate Holloway’s recent work?

  2. Says:

    Dear Jules,
    Thanks for the docs. I find the article by Gerhard Hanloser unconvincing, and can’t see how Adorno and Horkheimer’s position, as quoted by Hanloser, is an advance on Postone et al. Rather, it is a regression in that they merely state that behind the fetishistic character masks there resides ‘real’ actors. Tellingly. Adorno and Horkheimer talk about all this in the past tense:

    “The workers had to supply the maximum amount of goods. Like Shylock, the bosses demanded their pound of flesh. They owned the machines and materials and therefore compelled others to produce for them. They called themselves producers, but secretly everyone knew the truth.”

    This isn’t news. What is a breakthrough is Postone et al’s reading of Marx, where the emphasis is laid more constructively on the ‘value’ in the category ‘surplus value’ – for so long the implications of which have been categorically ignored by those claiming to be marxists.

    In attempting to furnish some kind of olive branch to the Movementists, as some kind of spokesman for ‘libertarian communism’ (whatever that means) Hanloser, it seems to me, refuses to acknowledge the central problem. There can be no theoretical shotgun marriage with any movement that has within its ranks those who won’t or can’t acknowledge the key theoretical problem facing us today: the universalisation of the proletariat.

    So be it! Marx also had to break from the First International. So the same problem faces all of us today. There is no short cut out of this shitty society, certainly not one to be found in alliances with antisemites. Of course the reality of primitive accumulation as it manifests itself today is utterly barbaric, but the big reason why the Left has hardly any purchase over these events is the theoretical bankruptcy it is unwilling to face.


  3. negative potential Says:

    “I find the article by Gerhard Hanloser unconvincing”

    Yet you don’t offer any reasons as to **why**, and this despite the fact that the Hanloser article is a couple of pages long, with some very exacting Marxological arguments.

    Just another symptom of the intellectual bankruptcy of the PD project: “We found our ticket, and we won’t let arguments get in the way of theoretical market share.”

  4. Says:

    Well I thought my comment on Adorno and Horkheimer was a start. They maintain a standpoint of labour thesis, as quoted here, and as critiqued by Postone in TL&SD.

    For Hanloser, it seems, the indivisible remainder remains as terminal end point – the exploited the proletariat, and logically then, her double, the bourgeois exploiter.

    This doesnt deflect from the fact that a richer, more appropriate reading of Capital, one applicable to today’s society, forces us to push beyond this dead end.

  5. Nik Says:

    “…the intellectual bankruptcy of the PD project…”, Negative Potential

    This implies that the facilitators of PD magazine and website had some intellect, but lost it. What did we lose? If you can elucidate on that it would be far more helpful than a doctrinaire rant that has become a sort of trademark of yours. Then we can go for course of re-education.

  6. negative potential Says:

    “This doesnt deflect from the fact that a richer, more appropriate reading of Capital, one applicable to today’s society, forces us to push beyond this dead end.”

    You don’t get a “richer, more appropriate reading of Capital” if you refuse to move beyond the first three chapters. That’s exactly Hanloser’s argument.

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