RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA VS. ADORNO

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Fri Jul 21 22:31:51 MDT 1995


In re: Shelley, F. "Adorno and the dialectics of labor", NEWS &
LETTERS, July 1995, p. 5

This is a curious critique of Adorno's HEGEL: THREE STUDIES (MIT
Press, 1993), specifically the essay "Aspects of Hegel's
Philosophy", from the perspective of Raya Dunayevskaya Thought
("Marxist-Humanism").  I won't repeat the passages of praise for
Adorno's insights into Hegel.  I am concerned with the non
sequitor criticisms of Adorno, which I will treat here.

"How then, Dunayevskaya asks, can Adorno reduce absolute
negativity so vulgarly in his NEGATIVE DIALECTICS, where he
writes: 'Genocide is the absolute integration ... Auschwitz
confirmed the philosopheme of pure identity as death'?
Dunayevskaya answers that "When you give up Subject, when one does
not listen to the voices from below ... the next point is
irresistable -- the substitution of permanent critique for ...
'permanent revolution' itself."

Where is the logic in this?  I think I know Adorno's shortcomings,
but even reading betwen the lines I cannot reconstruct the
argument that would support this statement.

"By translating Hegel's concept of spirit as social labor Adorno
reduces subject/object identity to the equivalent of social labor
in capitalism --- in other words, to abstract labor.  (p. 20)
Akin to Rousseau's social contract, Adorno argues, identity in
Hegel as a result of a 'brutality of coercion' and is always
'accompanied by the moment of violent exertion.' (pp. 20-21)."

Well, I didn't understand Adorno either, but this I understand
less.  Obviously, what is aimed at here is Adorno seeing human
beings as totally subject to and even constituted by the logic of
the system, which is precisely the point of view that Dunayevskaya
and C.L.R. James and their colleagues sought to oppose in the
1940s when they not only opposed Stalinism but sought a
theoretical path out of Trotskyism.  Still, this argument is
obscure.

Here's another one:

"Thus despite his insight into the crucial aspect of negativity in
the Hegelian dialectic and despite his insistence that the
Absolute itself must 'disintegrate," he denies any possible
development, any possible negativity, or even openness, asociated
with the Absolute .... Adorno's 'translations' of the Absolute as
both the 'reconciled life' and as an 'unreconcilable violence' (p.
27) are reductive."

Skipping a sentence or two:

"What Adorno intimates in "Aspects" is the exhaustion of absolute
negativity in subject/object identity."

There's more, but I'll stop here.  Perhaps those more thoroughly
grounded in Hegel than I can explain this arcane argument.


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