Archive for July, 2015

The science that wasn’t: The orthodox Marxism of the early Frankfurt School and the turn to critical theory

July 25, 2015

The Charnel-House

Marco A. Torres
Platypus Review 5
May-July 2008
.

NOTE: I’m republishing this piece by Marco Torres from 2008 because it underscores the shift away from revolutionary optimism toward critical pessimism that took place among more perceptive Marxists during the 1920s and 1930s. The Frankfurt School, as it’s come to be known, is exemplary of this turn. Nevertheless, this does not mean they ceased to be Marxists. Rather, they represented an attempt to grasp the failure of revolutionary Marxism using the tools of historical materialism itself.

As the economist Alfred Sohn-Rethel explained, this critical reappraisal “began towards the end of the First World War and in its aftermath, at a time when the German proletarian revolution should have occurred and tragically failed. This period led me into personal contact with Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Siegfried Kracauer, and Theodor Adorno and the writings of Georg Lukács and Herbert Marcuse…

View original post 2,549 more words

Real abstraction: On the use and abuse of an idea

July 25, 2015

The Charnel-House

.
The Marxian notion of “real abstraction” has garnered a great deal of attention in leftist theoretical circles of late, with somewhat mixed results. It was first formulated and treated systematically by Alfred Sohn-Rethel, an economist associated with the Frankfurt School of social theory. Helmut Reichelt has pointed out, however, that the term was used prior in a couple instances by the German sociologist Georg Simmel (Reichelt, “Marx’s Critique of Economic Categories,” pg. 4). Notably, Simmel’s usage occurs in connection with the “abstract value” represented and measured by money, as that which converts qualitatively incommensurable items into quantitatively commensurable commodities. He writes that “not only the study of the economy [economics] but the economy itself is constituted by a real abstraction from the comprehensive reality of valuations” (Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, pg. 78).

With Sohn-Rethel, the exposition of the concept is much more thoroughgoing. According to the definition…

View original post 1,175 more words

Utopia, Ltd.: Constructivism reconstructed

July 25, 2015

The Charnel-House

.
There’s a piece I wrote up going over the Utopia, Ltd. show that’s been posted on the Metropolis Magazine blog, titled “Reconstructivism.” If anyone reading this is in London, I’d encourage them to check it out. Looks great, and everyone who’s been to it has had only good things to say. You can read my own thoughts on the matter by clicking the linked article above.

Paul Prudence, a photographer living in London, was the one who first got in touch with me about it. So he deserves some credit for alerting my attention, and major props on the photos he took of the models at the exhibit (shown below). I’m also grateful to Sammy Medina — Metropolis’ web editor — for looking it over and providing me with the interview materials sent in by the model-maker, Henry Milner, and the lead curator, Elena Sudakova.

All photos here were taken by…

View original post 2 more words

The metropolis, money, and abstraction

July 25, 2015

The Charnel-House

.
What follows is an extract, some preliminary research, from an essay I’m working on with Sammy Medina. It’s in very rough form, and over-footnoted. Much of it will have to be cut. But I still felt like I had to go through everything step by step to make sure that each stage of the argument holds up. Once that’s done I’m hoping I’ll find shortcuts for how to say it with greater brevity.

.
The modern metropolis, both in its historical origins and present-day existence, is the site of capitalist accumulation par excellence. As the German sociologist Georg Simmel put it in his celebrated 1903 essay, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” “[t]he metropolis has always been the seat of the money economy.”[1] Money played a vital role, after all, in shifting the political center of gravity away from the countryside toward the city. Despite the numerous titles and…

View original post 2,083 more words

“The Four Cs”: Commodity, Currency (Money), Capital, Corporation — A popular lexicon regarding some commonly confused terms, along with some further scholarly notes

July 25, 2015

The Charnel-House

The “Four Cs”: Commodities, Currency (Money), Capital, and Corporations

POSITIVE DEFINITIONS

First we can state briefly what these objects concretely are, so that we can then spell out exactly what they are not.

Commodity A commodity is any product that is produced for sale on the market, i.e. for the sake of exchange.  Like any other product (non-commodities included), it has a certain utility, or “use-value.”  Products, regardless of their salability, tend to be useful in some way or another, to satisfy a certain need.  Use-values are of a qualitative nature.  That is to say, they are useful because they possess certain utile qualities.

Unlike other products, however, commodities also possess a certain value, or “exchange-value.”  As soon as a product becomes available for exchange on the market, it is thereby converted into a commodity.  Exchange-values are of a quantitative nature.  That is to say…

View original post 5,337 more words

Capitalism and bourgeoisie: The sorcerer’s apprentice

July 25, 2015

The Charnel-House

The magic and necromancy
of commodity production

.
Goethe’s famous 1797 ballad Der Zauberlehrling [The Sorcerer’s Apprentice] provides probably the best allegory for Marx’s own conception of capitalism, which he memorably described as partaking of a kind of sorcery — “the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labor as long as they take the form of commodities.”

Under the capitalist mode of production, the producer is ruled by the products of his labor rather than the other way around. Living labor in the present serves the accumulated dead labor of the past. “We suffer not only from the living, but from the dead. Le mort saisit le vif![The dead holds the living in its grasp!]

An illustration of a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, found on nucius.org

In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels implicitly allude to Goethe’s poem, comparing society’s relation to capital to “the sorcerer who is no longer able to…

View original post 362 more words

Ross Wolfe

July 25, 2015

Ross Wolfe.


%d bloggers like this: