postmarxism and postmodernism

rakesh bhandari djones at
Sat May 25 22:35:58 MDT 1996

>From Andrew Ross via Jon Beasley-Murray:

>> "[T]he left's view of Capital iteself as a supremely rational and
>> monolithic, domination producing system has tended to remain in place...
>> Capital, or rather our imaginary of Capital, still belongs for the most
>> part to a demonology of the Other. This is a demonology that inhibits
>> understanding and action as much as it artificially keeps alive older forms
>> of ressentiment that have little or no purchase on postmodern consumer
>> society."

Actually I don't think Ross is wrong--though I don't see the relevance of
the postmodern consumer society to the point he is making (is he arguing
against the politics of income redistribution?); it's only that I would not
have able to extract the rational kernel if I had not read Postone (Time,
Labor and Social Domination: a reinterpretation of Marx's critical theory).

If we are to understand how and in what precise ways capital, though the
product of alienated human activity, comes to dominate people as a demonic
other (for Postone, capital takes on the properties of Hegel's Absolute
Subject), then we need only deepen our understanding of commodity
fetishism.  Or if If we are to understand why and again in what precise
ways we represent the products of our alienated activity as having powers
of their own (in our imaginary), then  we need to understand the theory of
commodity fetishism as well.

So I think if these insights are going to be deepened, there probably needs
to be a deeper engagement with Marx's text--has Ross written on critical
theoretical treatments of the theory of commodity fetishism?

In  "Capital as Subject and the Existence of Labour" (in Emancipating Marx:
Open Marxism 3, ed. Werner Bonefeld. London: Pluto, 1994), Bonefeld
explores these ideas with an eye to their implications for practice.  He
too is concerned with how traditional theory inhibits understanding and
action.  In a word, I think Bonefeld is attempting to understand how labor
actually is always already resisting its own alienation to itself and with
that recognition Bonefeld seems to want to make such resistance conscious
so as to affirm and provoke ourselves into further insubordination.

In all honesty, I was never too impressed with the new critical ideas about
traditional marxism.  Now however that I have read people like Postone and
Bonefeld, I can see the extreme weaknesses of positions I held and still
haven't shaken free from.  However, in my opinion, it remains possible to
go beyond Marx only on the basis of Marx.


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