Postone

ron at dofm.berkeley.edu ron at dofm.berkeley.edu
Sun Apr 9 03:28:46 MDT 1995


I'm not ready to comment on Rakesh's latest on Grossman, but I would like
to return to the discussion of Postone.   I agree that Postone doesn't
really add much, as Kliman already suggested to Rakesh, to describing the
dynamics Marx already laid out in _Capital_ wherein commodity production
increasingly eliminates its own value producing substance, i.e., alienated
labor.   Thinkers like Postone are relevant insofar as they reveal Marx's
idealist/Hegelian dimension.   But we can also see his limits.   Postone
catches Marx's critique of the logic of capital, its totally anti-human
direction.  Yet what is totally missing in Postone's Hegelian/Marxism is
the integrality between Marx's categories and mass creativity.  Many
reviewers (Martin Jay, Chris Arthur, etc.) have noted that Postone's
dismissal of labor as subject is at variance with Marx himself, but that
does not get to the crux of the matter.   A greater issue is how Marx's
illumination of the absolute anti-human logic and direction of the
commodity-form (which so attracts Postone) was tied to what Marx called the
"quest for universality" of the living subject.

The integrality of logical categories with actual historic struggles
defines the very structure of _Capital_.   Marx looked at the logical
consequences of reducing labor to value creating activity.   First it was a
werewolf hunger for surplus value through extending, to a full 24 hours if
possible, the working day.   Marx called that logical category, which
characterizes the inner workings of the idea of capitalism, absolute
surplus value.   He also called the idea embedded in the more or less forty
year protracted civil war in production for the normal working day greater
than any of the abstract ideas of freedom coming out of the 18th century
revolutions.   That idea--when does my time become my own--was greater,
says Marx, because it was concrete.   All this does a disappearing act with
Postone who only sees a straight line development of the domination of an
abstraction over the human laborer.   With the historic turn to gain more
surplus value through relative surplus value, i.e., getting more out of
workers within a given working day, Postone ignores the workers' struggle,
singled out by Marx, against the introduction of machinery to more
perfectly dominate and control them.

The integrality of logic with historic struggles for freedom is nowhere
more concentrated than in Marx's discussion of the commodity-form as he
takes up the fetishism of commodities.   Postone criticizes "traditional
Marxism" for being under the spell of "the determinate forms of appearance
of capitalist social relations." (p. 70)   Contrary to Marx, the
presupposition of Postone's "immanent critique" is not the "affirmation"
but rather the "abolition" of labor.   He therefore includes any attempt at
"direct human labor's non mystified social assertion" under the same rubric
as "traditional Marxism."   This is wrong both in logic and in history.
Marx's concept of freely associated labor as the opposite of the
commodity-form was the result of his subjecting capitalist mind to method.
 He proves commodity production is really social relations between things
and material relations between people.   The logical speculative positive
in the negation of this particular social form, the commodity-form, is
Marx's concept of freely associated labor as the only pathway out.   Marx
came to that conclusion before the Paris Commune.   Because freely
associated labor is not an idea ala Hegel's alienated philosopher, who
"transcends" alienations in thought, but rather must be realized in life,
the development of Marx's thought as his own specific recreation of the
Hegelian Notion can be easily missed.   The power of the idea in Marx can
go beyond the relationship of theory to history as identity, or parallel
equivalency, because it is based on a return to his unique principle of
realizing negation of the negation in actual history.   There is also a
movement from history to logic reflected in the 1872 edition of _Capital_
published after the Paris Commune.   The additions Marx made to the section
on the fetishism of commodities after the Paris Commune make clear that his
breakthrough on working out the source of the abstract and super sensible
"determinate forms of appearance of capitalist social relations" (an idea
Postone uses to characterizes Marx's concept of fetishism and which he says
"traditional Marxists" failed to grasp) cannot possibly be separated from
the historic self affirmation of labor.   That's when Marx addresses
directly the source of the enigma that products of the human brain and
hands are related to as though they have an autonomous life of their own.
"Whence arises," Marx added after the Paris Commune, "the enigmatic
character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of a
commodity?  Clearly, it arises from this form itself."   The Paris Commune
proved to Marx, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the totally evanescent
character of the commodity-form, proved that new determinations of
objective social relations can emerge wholly out of worker's own subjective
self activity, or as Marx put it, the Communards "have no ideals to realize
but to set free the elements of the new society." (See Dunayevskaya on the
structure of _Capital_ in _Marxism and Freedom_)

In place of Marx's tightly worked out relation between philosophy and
revolution Postone substitutes an "immanent critique."   The point of
Marx's tightly worked out relation is for the objective drive for free
association to gain the full self confidence, as it creates the objective
social forms, that it owes nothing to anything but its own determinateness.
  Recent history has shown that spontaneous movements reach an impasse.
In a recent interview Karol Modzelewski (_New Politics_, winter, 1993)
described the transformation of the new popular form, Solidarity, in Poland
from a movement having confidence in working out its own world through new
forms of genuine democracy to accepting another external determinant of
social life.   This great popular movement was sucked into accepting as the
"new" the latest globalized stage of commodity production.

This is what makes Marx's concept, which he outlined in the Preface to
_Capital_, of the "power of abstraction" over social forms, and
specifically the commodity-form, so contemporary.   Postone passes over the
crucial logical flow in Marx which was to realize that power in the
activity of ordinary people.   That doesn't delude but rather enhances the
power of ideas, but it does so as a dimension of the actual struggle for
freedom, which, for Marx, was the most immanent dimension of reality.

Ron



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