Critical Theory & Marxism

(in press) “Post-Marxism,” Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory, volume III, ed. Best, Beverly; Bonefeld, Werner; O’Kane, Chris; Larsen, Neil, London: Sage

(in press) “Culture Industry,” Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory, volume II, ed. Best, Beverly; Bonefeld, Werner; O’Kane, Chris; Larsen, Neil, London: Sage

(in press) “Gegenständlichkeit. From Marx to Lukacs and Back Again,” Theory and Practice: Critical Theory and the Thought of Andrew Feenberg, ed. Darrell Arnold, New York: Routledge

As one of very few authors in the Anglo-American tradition Andrew Feenberg has pointed out, the early development of critical theory and Lukacs’ philosophy cannot be understood without reflecting on the historically rich network between phenomenology, Neo-Kantianism, and social theory. Moreover, in contradistinction to many contemporary critical theorists, Feenberg, following Lukacs, is not hostile to epistemological and ontological questions in social theory. In this vein, the main terms that Feenberg introduces in his interpretation of Lukacs is Gegenständlichkeit (objectivity). Although I agree with Feenberg’s claim that this term is central for understanding Lukacs’ understanding of social entities as culturally meaningful entities, I argue that we can find this broader social meaning of entities already foreshadowed in chapter one of Marx’s Capital if we read Capital as a theory of society. Unfortunately traditional Marxist discourses tend to reduce Capital to an “economic” theory and Feenberg seems to follow this tradition, i.e., he seems to dismiss the critique of political economy as the primary horizon for a critical theory of society. However, as I will demonstrate, Marx’s project cannot be reduced to a labor theory of value and, instead, it should, from the beginning on, be understood as a social theory based on social categories and Gegenständlichkeit as the central element for translating epistemological concepts into social concepts.

(in press) “Movement or Event? Negri vs. Badiou on Politics,” in Italian Philosophy: Engaging Contemporary European Perspectives, ed. Antonio Calcagno and Silvia Benso, New York: SUNY Press.

Although Negri (and Hardt) are usually identified as a “non-dogmatic” version of Post-Marxism, their position can be identified with the attempt to offering a contemporary vision of Marxist thought that, at least to some extent, remains true to its basis, namely, the connection between Marxist social theory and political philosophy. Accordingly, political thought can for them only be defined in connection with a theory of subjectivity and labor defined by recent developments in global capitalism. In contradistinction, and seen from the problem of how to combine social theory, political economy, and political thought, Badiou is furthest away from a Marxian base (broadly defined), given that one of his central claims is that politics needs to be re-thought as a “true” politics, which he conceives of as independent from questions of social form and social-economic structure. As I argue in this chapter, Negri’s concept of the political in connection with the social, even if one might disagree with his concrete analysis of contemporary forms of labor and subjectivity, is far superior to Badiou’s regressive concept of communist politics, insofar as it takes the social into account as constitutive for the political and does not lead to the consequence that we need to wait for some “truth event” that turns individuals into spiritual soldiers.

(in press) “Alienation, Private Property, and Democracy. Why Worrell and Krier Raise Questions in the Clouds.,” Critical Sociology

In this essay I argue that Marx’s philosophy does not commit us to Worrell’s and Krier’s claim that a post-capitalist society will be a social formation in which all social relations appear unmediated to their agents. Quite the opposite is true: given his Hegelian background, which Marx never gives up, social relations are in principle to be mediated by the results of human productive acts, and although a socialist society no longer is mediated by capital, it still cannot be thought without a legal, ethical, and political form of these relations. Those meditations (which Worrell and Krier do not separate clearly from social-economic aspects) will be universal. Accordingly, the author’s claim that Marx is opposed to the concept of the universal is baseless. In addition, I demonstrate that Worrell’s and Krier’s interpretation of Marx’s concept of alienation as a romantic concept is misguided and, instead, that we would do well to focus on the concept of private property. Finally, I show that they do not properly grasp Marx’s concepts of democracy and communism.

“Fiction without Fantasy. Capital Fetishism as Objective Forgetting,” Continental Thought & Theory, 2, 2017, 364-382 [download]

In my paper I briefly examine three popular mystifications of the concept of capital, before I further argue that the concept of fetishism should be conceived of as a process of social forgetting. I argue that we are living in a fetishistic society insofar as fetishism is not only collective but also objective. However, I am not opening up totally new territory here, since, for example, Zizek argued that commodity fetishism is “the unconscious of the commodity form,” and Jameson expanded the idea of the objective quality of commodity fetishism towards what he calls the “historical amnesia” of consumer societies. However, I hope that my reflections can be seen as an extension of these positions in two important respects: first, they go beyond the concept of commodity and tie the concept of fetishism back to the concept of capital, and, second, they tie the problem of amnesia and fetishism back to Marx’s method.

“Left Thatcherism. Recent Critical Theory and Post-Marxism(s) in the Light of Marxian Social Ontology,” Capitalism’s Future:  Alienation, Emancipation and Critique, ed. Dan Krier, and Mark Worrell, Leiden: Brill 2016, 93-113. [download]

By now it has become the central aim of French post-Marxist thought and critical theorists of the Frankfurt School alike to develop critical theory further towards overcoming central features of Marxian theory, especially his critique of political economy. What is at stake in both schools is the rejection of a dialectical conception of society that operates with strong assumptions about both the reconstruction of the totality of society as well as the foundations of social ontology in social-economic terms. Two other foundations of the being of the social have been put forward, namely, on the one hand, the claim found in post-structuralist inspired thought that the social is founded on the political, and, on the other hand, the claim advanced in recent Frankfurt School inspired thought that the social is founded on the ethical. This turn, I claim, leads to the consequence that Marx’s conception of the capitalist world as a historically-specific world constituted by the value form gets lost and is replaced by universal and, at least tendentiously, a-historical concepts. As a consequence, the critique and analysis of capitalism is no longer the central task, since the principle of valorized labor gets replaced by universalist principles. As a consequence, a substantial concept of the social gets lost.

“Is Capital a Thing? Remarks on Piketty’s Concept of Capital,” Critical Sociology, 42/2, 2015. 375-383. [download]

The thesis of my remarks is that Piketty’s overall position understands capital as something that exists within society, whereas I submit (on the grounds of Marx’s theory of society) that capital is the main category that determines the existence of capitalist society. Put differently, capital in the form of valorized labor determines the specific social form of capitalist society. Whereas Piketty’s position is built upon a positivistic concept of capital, I argue that capital is not “some-thing;” rather, capital is the central category of capitalist social reproduction. Capital, in other words, must therefore describe the functioning of a social totality as a whole and cannot be related to a single aspect of it. Accordingly, though the focus on inequality is important, it tends to hide the real social organization of capitalist society.

“An der Oberfläche der Tauschgesellschaft. Kritik der Kritischen Theorie,“ Prokla. Zeitschrift für kritische Sozialwissenschaft, 180, 2015, 453-469. [download]

In diesem Beitrag lege ich dar, warum der normative „turn“ der Frankfurter Schule, insbesondere sichtbar bei Habermas und Honneth, in Engpässen endet, da eine substantielle Kritik des Kapitalismus durch den alleinigen Fokus auf Kommunikation, Normativität und Moral verhindert wird. Dagegen werde ich argumentieren, dass wir zu einer Neuaufnahme und Re-Aktualisierung einer bei Marx schon zu findenden „immanenten Kritik“ im Sinne einer Analyse der gesellschaftlichen Totalität und eines substantiellen Arbeitsbegriffes zurückkehren sollten. Das Verlassen des Produktionsparadigmas dazu führt, dass die Genese der kapitalistischen Gesellschaft und ihrer Konsequenzen vernebelt werden. Mit dem Verschwinden des Arbeitsbegriffes aus der „offiziellen“ kritischen Theorie verschwindet auch ihr kritischer Stachel. Dieser Beitrag kann als eine Erweiterung meines Beitrages in Prokla 176 (Lotz 2014b) verstanden werden.

“Marx contra Negri: Value, Abstract Labor, and Money,“ Interventions. Contemporary Political Italian Philosophy, ed. Antonio Calcagno, SUNY Press 2015, 217-343. [download]

In this essay I present critical reflections on Antonio Negri’s attempt to break out of central aspects of the Marxian legacy, in particular Marx’s concept of value. As I demonstrate, Marx’s theory of value cannot be reduced to the problem of labor time and issues related to measurement, as these terms in Marx’s mature theory indicate a specific mode of how society is constituted as a totality, which includes exchange and money. As such, we need to make distinctions between value and value form, money and money form, capital and capital form, etc. As a theory of the form of capitalist social relations, Marx’s philosophy can help us not only critically engage with Negri’s theory of (immaterial) labor, but also correct certain reductions, in Negri’s thought, such as the reduction of capital to power and control, as well as his over-idealized notion of the general intellect

The Return of Abstract Universalism. A Critique of David Graeber’s Concept of Society and Communism,” Radical Philosophy Review, 18/2, 2015, 245-262. [download]

In this essay I critically examine David Graeber’s concept of “everyday communism.” Graeber claims that that all societies are ultimately based and founded upon what he calls the “communism of the senses.” This “two-level” version of social reality, as I intend to show in what follows from a Marxian standpoint, should be rejected, as it operates with a descriptive concept of society that posits as the center or “essence” of society its universal and a-historical “human” base, on top of which hierarchical and economic relations are posited as “superstructures.” Graeber favors a theory that posits an ahistorical base underneath the historical. As a consequence, society disappears underneath an empty and abstract concept of the ethical. This image of society, I will argue with Marx and Engels, overlooks the categorical form of social relations, which cannot be reduced to an empty and abstract concept of sociality as “human” ethical relations. This is especially visible in the case of capitalist socialization.

“Against Essentialist Conceptions of Love. Towards a Social-Materialist Conception of Love,” Thinking About Love: Essays in Contemporary Continental Philosophy, ed. Dianne Enns, Penn State Press, 131-148 [download] [review]

Love, as I try to develop in this essay, is not the ontological or ethical basis from which all other elements of society emerge, but it is tied to a social form that depends upon the categorial system of reproduction, which is the way in which love concretely exists under existing relations of production. Love, taken here as the sensual form of being social (which in turn depends upon reproduction), remains, accordingly, in distance from religious, romantic, anthropological or legal conceptions of love. Against such reductionisms we must maintain that love is a form of being social in which the sensual life is as complex as the social world, and not an abstraction from the latter. As Marx states in The Holy Family: love “cannot be construed a priori, because its development is a real one which takes place in the world of the senses and between real individuals” (MEW 2, 23). Love, then, is tied to real individuals and cannot be seen in an ahistorical fashion, though it needs to be grasped in its specific, i.e., its categorial form. I will first present reflections on love in pre-Marxian terms, as Marx’s break with essentialist conceptions of love depends upon his critique of Feuerbach; I will then reconstruct Marx’s early philosophy of love as a philosophy of sensuality, expanding this position by taking the “standpoint of reproduction” (Althusser) into account, before I finish with contrasting the social-material theory of love with what I conceive as regressive position in recent political philosophy, such as Negri’s and Badiou’s philosophies of love.

“Klasse und Gewalt. Kritische Anmerkungen aus Marxistischer Sicht zum Verschwinden des Klassenbegriffs in Kritischer Theorie und Post-Marxismus,“ Prokla. Zeitschrift für kritische Sozialwissenschaft, 176/2014, 383-403. [download]

In this essay I briefly analyze why the concept of class has disappeared in recent social philosophy, such as in the philosophies of Badiou, Negri/Hardt, and Honneth. I argue that a change in the foundations of their social ontologies has led to the dismissal of the concept of class and, in addition, I argue that these changes are unwarranted, since they lead to a loss of a critical concept of society. Then, in a second part, I argue that the concept of class deserves a systematic status within a theory of capitalist sociality, especially since the concept of class can be traced back genetically to violent social relations that are derived from the capitalist social order.

“The Transcendental Force of Money. Social Synthesis in Marx,” Rethinking Marxism, 26/1, 2014, 130-139. [download]

Instead of defining money as a means or tool for social communication and exchange, Marx determines money as the really existing universal and as existing form of an abstract social mode of domination. His conception is the consequence of transforming Kant’s concept of “thinghood” into a social and material concept, which most scholarship overlooks. As such, it confronts us with the problem of how we should think of really abstract social relationships and a form of social reproduction that is itself abstract because social reproduction depends upon the money form. In this paper I first analyze Marx’s early concept of money as the thing itself, after which I reconstruct how this aspect is finally turned into a social concept in the Grundrisse.

“Capitalist Schematization. Political Economy, Exchange, and Objecthood in Adorno,” Zeitschrift für Kritische Theorie, 36/37, 2013, 110-123. [download]

I argue that the culture industry chapter in DE cannot be properly understood if one does not take Adorno’s interpretation of the Kantian schematization concept into account, as Adorno claims that schematization of objecthood is a function of labor, which, in turn, depends upon [a] capitalist commodity exchange and [b] the “real abstraction” that occurs in exchange, which establishes value and the abstract nature of capitalist social totality. My thesis, accordingly, is that Adorno’s concept of schematization remains faithful to Marx’s Capital. Schematization of objecthood does not occur in the mind of the subject; rather, it occurs in social reality.

“Reification through Commodity Form or Technology? From Honneth back to Heidegger and Marx,” Rethinking Marxism,  25/2, April 2013, 184-200. [download]

Heidegger’s claim that the being of beings has been reduced to standing reserve through modern technology seems to be the best expression of Marx’s concept of reification as a result of the commodity form. In my paper, after briefly criticizing Honneth’s recent reconceptualization of reification as [1] psychological and [b] non-economic, I will outline the problem of reification from the perspective of Marx, which will prepare the confrontation that I shall present between Heidegger and Marx, for the real issue is whether reification is the result of technology (which I will call “causality form”) or the result of the “commodity form.” Though I am unable to present a “final” solution for this confrontation, I claim, against Heidegger, that Marx’s concept of the commodity form is not based on subjectivity and, in addition, that Heideggerian ontology is unable to explain the connection between “enframing” and the capitalist structures that Heidegger implies in his descriptions of modern phenomena. Accordingly, this essay tries to open up a new path towards what has recently been called “Heideggerian Marxism.”

“Warentausch und Technik als Schematisierung von Gegenständlichkeit bei Adorno und Heidegger,“ in Ding und Verdinglichung. Technik- und Sozialphilosophie nach Heidegger und der kritischen Theorie, ed. Christian Lotz, Hans Friesen, Markus Wolf, and Jakob Meier, München: Fink, 191-211 [download]

In diesem Aufsatz versuche ich zu zeigen, dass Adorno und Heidegger die Kants Gedanken der Gegenstandskonstitution durch den Schematismus aufnehmen und in ihren Theorien materialistisch bzw. ontologisch wenden. In einem ersten Schritt zeige ich, dass Adornos These ist, dass der Bezug auf Gegenstände eine soziale Funktion ist, die von der sich durch Individuen hindurch reproduzierenden Gesellschaft bestimmt wird. Je mehr diese Reproduktion sich im Sinne der kapitalistischen Warentausch-Logik vollzieht, umso mehr vollzieht sich auch die Schematisierung der Welt innerhalb dieser Logik, da der Warentausch die Bedingung der Möglichkeit nicht nur von Vergesellschaftung im allgemeinen, sondern auch von gegenständlicher Erfahrung ist – und letztendlich die Erfahrung außerhalb dieses Schemas – d.h. der Zukunft und des Andersseins – unmöglich macht. Der Warentausch regelt und schematisiert also den Gegenstandsbezug. In einem zweiten Schritt zeige ich, dass Heideggers These ist, dass im Schematismus vor allen Dingen Kants Begriff der Gegenständlichkeit zum Vorschein kommt. Dieser Begriff der Gegenständlichkeit aber ist nach Heidegger schon aus der Logik der Subjektivitätsphilosophie geboren, die wiederum auf der den Zugang zum Seienden bestimmenden Technik fußt. Daher ist Technik bei Heidegger imgrunde ein ins Ontologische gewendeter Schematismus, bei dem unsere Erfahrung durch eine als Wirkung und Effekt verstandene Zweck-Mittel-Kausalität es uns nicht mehr erlaubt, die Dinge als Dinge, d.h. als etwas Besonderes, und das heißt als etwas sich ereignendes Wesenhaftes, zu erfahren. In einem dritten Schritt versuche ich zu zeigen, dass Heideggers „Lösung“ einer Schematisierung moderner Erfahrung als Technik nicht überzeugt. Auf der einen Seite nämlich behauptet er, dass die moderne Technik der Rahmen aller Erfahrung ist, auf der anderen Seite aber kann er die Phänomene, die er im Blick hat, nämlich die dynamischen Phänomene des Kapitalismus, nicht mehr aus der Annahme eines metaphysisch verstandenen Gestells ableiten. Ich komme daher zu dem Schluss, dass der materialistische Ansatz – solange man seine Prämissen übernimmt – überzeugender ist.

“Discipline,” in Encyclopedia of the Modern World, ed. Peter N. Stearns, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2008. [download]