The Metaphysical Subtleties of Class Struggle

On the Unspoken Premises of an Odd Retro-Discourse

Source: Principia Dialectica, Nr. 2/2006 (London) www.principiadialectica.co.uk

Original: Die metaphysischen Mucken des Klassenkampfs, krisis 29, Münster 2005

Norbert Trenkle

Could the class struggle be making a comeback on the stage of history? If one follows the discourse on the left, there is no doubt about it. Referencing the proletariat and class struggle, the preface to issue 4/2003 of Fantômas magazine reads, “There’s life in the old dog yet.” It continues, “If the balance of power is to be challenged from below … it is high time for the left to make class an issue again” (p. 3). Similar comments are appearing in many other left magazines. As the crisis of globalised capitalism increases social polarisation and certain kinds of resistance start stirring, the traditional Marxist worldview is apparently regaining a commensurate degree of respectability. Disregarding for a moment the Marxist dinosaurs still raising the brawny prole fist, a remarkable change has arisen in contrast to the traditional discourse around class struggle. It has been obvious for a long time that the past fixation on the white, male, metropolitan industrial working-class as the fantasised subject of the revolution is outdated. This is not only due to the microelectronic revolution in productivity that transformed this social segment into a small minority, which is privileged in many respects when compared to the large mass of precarized labour sellers and aggressively defends its status through downward delimitation in the capitalist pecking order. In fact the discourse of the 1980s and 1990s justifiably criticised the hierarchisation and exclusivity that were tied to the fixation on a certain section of the conflict between labour and capital as capitalism’s fundamental contradiction and has, by contrast, highlighted the various and labyrinthine forms of domination. However, it never rose above a merely additive method: the category of class was extended, differentiated, and complemented with other categories, particularly gender and “race”, i.e., ethnicity. Thus a broad critical conception of capitalist relations and the prospect of its overcoming were lost. By contrast, the new discourse of class struggle seems to be a highly hybridised product: on the one hand, it demonstrates an attempt to redevelop a centralised concept that reduces all ongoing struggles to a common denominator; on the other hand, the strictures and exclusions of orthodox Marxism will not be reproduced. The result is a conception of class struggle that, while it remains entirely diffuse, is simultaneously dependent on non-thematised metaphysical premises (mostly in contrast to its own demands). In this respect, the new discourse around class struggle does not represent a step forward from its dignified predecessor, but ultimately reproduces it in a form that superficially accounts for changed social conditions even as it mirrors them.

Hidden Essence

Given that the mystification of class perspective represents a main staple of the Marxist catalogue, its ongoing reproduction barely attracts attention any more. Of course, it has always been contradictory to claim that a social category that was created by capitalism should also represent an essential standpoint that supersedes it. It is no coincidence that from the very beginning this theoretical aporia has created highly complex argumentations that, in their metaphysical character, were redolent of the intricate theological discourses about the Holy Trinity or the Immaculate Conception in many respects. There is no doubt that George Lukács presented the most elaborate and coherent version of the theology of class in his collected essays from the early 1920s published under the title “History and Class Consciousness”. That is why it is the best suited for tracing the main features of those metaphysical settings and implications that still implicitly affect the contemporary discourse about class struggle. The young Lukács’s theoretical achievement is his attempt to conceive of class perspective together with the reification produced by the commodity form, which sets his thinking apart from that of almost the entire Marxist tradition and makes him a reference point for the reflective left to this day. It should be kept in mind that even then this attempt was an intellectual processing of the defeat of the western revolutions. Basically, Lukács is concerned with questions of why the proletariat hasn’t succeeded in overcoming capitalism despite its growing numbers, and why in fact its empiric consciousness remains fixed in capitalist categories. The answer is no crass theory of manipulation or corruption like Lenin’s, which mainly explains the absence of revolution in capitalist centres through the interest of the metropolitan proletariat (the “labour aristocracy”) in monopoly profits and the exploitation of the colonies. According to Lukács, the problem is rather that within the commodity-producing society, social relations adopt the character of object relations. Thus social processes become independent of human beings, don’t obey a conscious will, and seem to become ineluctable, transcendent laws of nature. Initially one can agree with Lukács on a basic level. However his metaphysical volte lies in his description of reification as a structure that hides its “true essence”. He is not simply implying superficial, ideological camouflage, in the sense that there are capital factions or strange powers pulling the strings behind the scenes of the merely apparent social dynamic, as most traditional Marxists put it when they stumble about the terms of reification or commodity fetishism and try to interpret them provisionally. Lukács clearly sees the real social content of the reification that has manifested itself in the social structure and that furthermore fundamentally shapes the forms of perception. But according to his concept, the hidden truth is that the reified relations are human relations produced by and mediated through labour. This provides Lukács with a theoretically consistent way to turn the standpoint of labour into the true standpoint of social universality and to elevate the proletariat, as its representative, to the rank of the historical subject that is able to force the reification open and overcome capitalism. As Lukács puts it, the proletariat is subjected to reification because it is forced to sell its own labour power and thus turns itself into a commodity and objectifies itself. However, this is allegedly just the thing to bring it into a position from which it can see through the commodity structure and realise its own true nature, which until now has only existed “in itself”. This is the first step toward a becoming for itself that will start not only the liberation of the proletariat, but the liberation of all mankind with it: „Thus the knowledge that social facts are not objects but relations between men is intensified to the point where facts are wholly dissolved into processes. … Only at this point does the consciousness of the proletariat elevate itself to the self-consciousness of society in its historical development. By becoming aware of the commodity relationship the proletariat can only become conscious of itself as the object of the economic process. For the commodity is produced and even the worker in his quality as commodity, as an immediate producer is at best a mechanical driving wheel in the machine. But if the reification of capital is dissolved into an unbroken process of its production and reproduction, it is possible for the proletariat to discover that it is itself the subject of this process even though it is in chains and is for the time being unconscious of the fact”.

This transfiguration of the proletariat into the “true subject” of capitalism and liberator of mankind is inextricably linked to Lukács’ understanding of labour as a trans-historical principle of social constitution in all societies, a conception which is typical for the whole traditional Marxism. Therefore labour is the principle that makes a society a society and a human being a human being. However according to Lukács in capitalist society, the mediation becomes invisible because of commodity production. This is exactly what he means, when he describes reification as follows: “The essence of commodity-structure has often been pointed out. Its basis is that a relation between people takes on the character of a thing and thus acquires a ‘phantom objectivity’, an autonomy that seems so strictly rational and all-embracing as to conceal every trace of its fundamental nature: the relation between people“ . Only the development of proletarian self-consciousness removes the veil and reveals the alleged core of social relationships. In this respect, the overcoming of this reification represents the liberation of labour from the compulsion of the commodity structure that is, ultimately, external to it. Thus the communist society would be one in which mediation via labour happened consciously . Indeed, Lukács is correct when he defines the “basic nature” of the “commodity structure” as the relationship between human beings mediated through labour. Only it is not just about a trans-historical attribute of society in general, but a historically specific feature (and, incidentally, not hidden in any way) that is different from all other known social forms. Even though something has to be produced in some way in every society as a matter of course, capitalist society is the only one in history that constitutes and mediates itself through a consistent und unified activity: the abstract output of human energy. In light of this, the liberation of labour from reification is an impossible task: It is per se a reified activity and is, as such, fundamental to modern commodity production. The “conscious recognition” of labour as a social principle of mediation would be nothing more than a contradiction, because it means the “conscious recognition” of commodity production and the “conscious” surrender to its constraints andimperatives. If human beings instead started to actually communicate consciously and directly about how to organize their social relations without being redirected through money and commodities, it would not be the liberation of a “nature” that had previously been hidden behind reification but, on the contrary, the overcoming of the consistent and repressive principle of labour and the creation of a plurality of forms of social mediation and activity. Lukács’s apologists sometimes argue that he never glorified the labour perspective but insisted instead on the self-overcoming of the proletariat and thus labour. What they overlook is that this self-overcoming is accompanied by self-affirmation. It essentially means that the fate of the proletariat (labour) will be universalized. But a society of this kind is the same as the totalised commodity-producing society with its objectified compulsions. Lukács allows for that as he still sees “objective economic laws” presiding in a socialist labour society: They will remain in effect until long after the victory of the proletariat and they will only wither away — like the state — when the classless society wholly in the control of mankind comes into being. What is novel in the present situation is merely — merely!! — that … the proletariat has the opportunity to turn events in another direction by the conscious exploitation of existing trends. This other direction is the conscious regulation of the productive forces of society. To desire this consciously, is to desire the ‘realm of freedom’ and to take the first conscious step towards its realisation“ . This is a confession that the alleged overcoming of reification through the conscious creation of a labour-mediated society is pure fiction.Lukács is consistent enough in his thinking to grant a trans-historical character to the fetishist dynamic of capitalism as well as to labour. That is why the power of the ruling proletariat is restricted to cleverly taking advantage of the “objective laws” and thereby possibly directing them, exactly replicating what the “actually existing socialism” and the Fordist regulation state did.

Assigned Class Consciousness

As Lukács romanticises the historically specific category of labour as the perspective of emancipation and the proletariat as the liberator of mankind, his attempt to demystify the reification process produces the opposite result. The real metaphysical character of the universe of the commodity society and its transcendent forms are not deciphered, but unconsciously affirmed. Instead of overcoming Hegelian historical metaphysics, Lukács just reproduces them in “materialistic” manner: Labour takes the place of rationality and the proletariat takes the place of the Geist as the subject of history. It is no coincidence that this proletariat thereby has all the features of the bourgeois subject, including its contradictory structure that claims omnipotence while being powerless. (Incidentally, Lukács does reflect this consistently in conceptual terms, as he defines the proletariat as the subject-object of history.) This is because it is not free in its decisions about social matters, but is completely subjected to a presumed trans-historical development in its level of consciousness and possibilities of acting, which Lukács identifies with the “development of productive forces”. As has been pointed out, these ”objective laws” would still be in effect after the revolution and would only become invalid in a classless society of the distant and uncertain future. Thus it is explained as a kind of ontological destiny that the subject is at the mercy of the commodity-producing society’s objectivised logic, with its compulsive expansion dynamic. His “freedom” is reduced to the famous insight into necessity. Lukács is absolutely right when he describes the proletariat as beeing subject to abstract compulsions and constraints, but they are historically specific to the commodity-producing society and not a transhistorical reference for overcoming it. The subjugation of the subject by the fetish structure is not, however, only expressed in those ideas of an alleged post-capitalist society. As subject of the revolution, the proletariat is also thoroughly dependent. This becomes more than clear with the definition of “class consciousness”. It is by no means defined as what the members of the working-class actually think, but rather what they inherently ought to think. Lukács struggles with the contradiction that the proletariat, which “in-itself” should hold an anti-capitalist standpoint, is by an empirical majority completely unsympathetic to revolution, and he resolves this contradiction in a classically metaphysical way. Class consciousness, as he understands it, “consists in fact of the appropriate and rational reactions ‘imputed’ [zugerechnet] to a particular typical position in the process of production“ . As such, it can only be defined “scientifically” in an objectifying manner: “By relating consciousness to the whole of society, it becomes possible to infer the thoughts and feelings which men would have in a particular situation if they were able to assess both it and the interests arising from it in their impact on immediate action and on the whole structure of society. That is to say, it would be possible to infer the thoughts and feelings appropriate to their objective situation“ . Thus the clinking “subject-object of history” is incapacitated a priori and put under custodianship. As it is obviously unable to realise its “true consciousness” under the circumstances, this has to be taught from authorised quarters: the theorist and the party. Both specifically know the historical mission of the working-class, which doesn’t know it on its own, and therefore give it a great deal of help in its development from a consciousness “in-itself” to a consciousness “for-itself”: “The Communist Party must exist as an independent organisation so that the proletariat may be able to see its own class consciousness given historical shape. And likewise, so that in every event of daily life, the point of view demanded by the interests of the class as a whole may receive a clear formulation that every worker can understand. And, finally, so that the whole class may become fully aware of its own existence as a class“ . The grand consequences of this thinking are highly obvious: The party is appointed as educational authority, a status that is further augmented because it is allegedly carrying out its task in the best interest of its pupils. So there is nothing to challenge. The proletariat has to subject itself, in its own name, to the representative of the assigned class consciousness: “The conscious desire for the realm of freedom can only mean consciously taking the steps that will really lead to it. … It implies the conscious subordination of the self to that collective will that is destined to bring real freedom into being and that today is earnestly taking the first arduous, uncertain and groping steps towards it. This conscious collective will is the Communist Party“ Lukács not only shows himself to be a dyed-in-the-wool Leninist, but puts himself entirely, consciously, and unbowed within the Enlightenment tradition. The echoes of Rousseau’s volonté générale or Kant’s categorical imperative are anything but coincidental. Like them he holds on to abstract, transcendental principles that exist over and above empirical knowledge and reduces the latter to something insufficient. Therein he reflects the practical subjection of human beings to the real-metaphysical form of value and its abstract domination, which never works smoothly but is always in need of mediation. For the particular interest of the working-class, the party only acts as representative of the “general interest” that allegedly results from its class standpoint and, as an instance of mediation, it plays exactly the same part that the modern state does for the creation and maintenance of the social universality of commodity production. Thus Lukács unintentionally legitimates the role of the party as a disciplinary authority within the process of capitalist totalisation.

Narcissistic Fantasies of Omnipotence

Critiquing the metaphysical character of Lukács’s class theory and its grand implications might appear to be old news. Didn’t postmodernism smash metaphysics a long time ago? And isn’t the critique of metaphysics a part of the standard repertoire of reflected (postmodern) Marxism? According to its own self-definition, the more recent discourse of the class struggle goes far beyond Lukács’s historical philosophy. The editorial in the previously cited issue of the Fantômas magazine reads, “The withdrawal, or rather the elopement, of many leftists from the ancestral cockpit of socialistic, social revolutionary, and communist politics is for the most part a consequence of the failure of their class struggle concepts given class reality. The core reason for this failure is the double mistake in the definition of the subjectivity of class struggles: On one hand, the ’proletariat’ was sociolog(ist)ically reduced to the employees of the Fordist factory, the white, male, skilled worker. … The resulting trimmed-down proletarian was hypostatized in terms of the philosophy of history and transfigured into a secularized Weltgeist”. However this critique ignores that the metaphysics of class are inseparably bound to the mystification of this immanent social category of capitalism as a revolutionary subject and therefore can’t simply be overcome by turning the lion’s share of mankind into the proletariat or the “world working class” . In doing so, the rightly criticised sociological reduction is forced open only to grotesquely overstretch the idea of an anti-capitalist collective subject that is not conscious of itself. The definition of class is indeed implicitly extended ad absurdum. But instead of drawing the appropriate response, which would be to get rid of it, it is only equipped with new quasi-religious consecrations. Class theories like those prominently advocated by authors like Hardt/Negri and John Holloway play a prominent role here. Although both distance themselves from traditional Marxism, this is basically only in relation to its positivistic concept of “objective development tendencies”. However they grandiosely hypostatize the Marxist topos that the working-class is the true subject of capitalism and the class struggle its motor. For Lukács, this subject (as demonstrated) is by no means autonomous; its scope is defined by the “objective economic laws” and their historical development (hence the productive forces), which Lukács describes as trans-historically valid . The historical superiority of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie lies in its ability to realise these laws and to use them “consciously,” as its class standpoint is potentially universal, in contrast to the particular, restricted class standpoint of the bourgeoisie. After all, Lukács points out that the subject is constituted and restricted by its objectified social context within capitalism, whereas Hardt and Negri cross this out completely. What remains is a completely self-constituted subject that is therefore credited with an even more fantastical power. Everything, really everything becomes a product of this class subject, even the conditions of its own subjugation to capital. The essence of this working class, mutated into a “multitude,” is its autonomy and an enormous, exuberant creativity that originates entirely within itself. Accordingly, Hardt and Negri operate with a tremendously exuberant concept of labour. They attribute to it the character of a divine Creation act (by which the mythical appellate authority would be Dionysus) and at the same time define it so universally that it allows the whole of mankind to be incorporated into their class concept. By this means, they mystify and ontologise the productive forces as the exclusive property of the collective subject known as “the multitude,” whereas capital, i.e., Empire, seems to be a purely external power that lives on the exploitation of this “living energy”: “The multitude is the real productive force of our social world, whereas Empire is a mere apparatus of capture that lives only off the vitality of the multitude … by sucking off the blood of the living” (Hardt/Negri 2001, p. 62). In contrast to Hardt and Negri, Holloway describes capital as the objectified side of commodity fetishism, and he particularly expounds on the problems of the category of labour as a reified form of activity. However, as its true substance, as its essence, he identifies the living activity of “doing,” which shows all of the features of that Dionysian power of Creation. It is described as a living flow of human creativity that is interrupted and objectified by capital; appropriately, the aim of the emancipative struggle is ”to recover or, better, create the conscious and confident sociality of the flow of doing” (Holloway 2002, p. 210). Completely analogous to Lukács, Holloway is interested in the process of becoming conscious of a presumed essence, except that he (like Hardt and Negri) describes the “creative energy” as an ontological attribute of the subject that is only shaped and exploited externally by capital: “In that sense, there is at every moment a clash between the development of the forces of production (our power-to) and its capitalist integument” (Holloway 2002, p. 192; emphasis added). Such a metaphysics of “essence” contradicts the argument that capital is a set of social relations that involves “all of us,” as has been repeatedly stressed by Holloway. Hence it is absolutely in line with his argumentation when he finally speaks of an “antagonistic relation … between humanity and capital” (Holloway 2002, p. 190). Instead of deciphering the contradictory relation between subjectivity and objectivity as a constitutive attribute of a historically specific social structure, as one would expect from a Marx-based social critique, he resolves it on the side of the subject and simultaneously equips it with consecrations of transcendental dignity. This metaphysical character is expressed quite visibly in the use of language that bubbles over with religious metaphors (by the way, in this regard there is no difference to what Hardt and Negri do when they go so far as to refer to Saint Francis at the end of their book): “There are no ‘objective contradictions’: We and we alone are the contradiction of capitalism … There are no gods of any sort, neither money nor capital, nor forces of production, nor history: We are the only creators, we are the only possiblesaviours, we are the only guilty ones“ (Holloway 2002, p. 178).

Metaphysical Pole Swap

There is an entirely plausible historical explanation for the shift of focus in the fundamental metaphysical context. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Lukács was confronted with a situation in which the working class in fact still had to fight for its recognition as a social subject. Accordingly, he could not simply assume this status, but had to deal with it as a forthcoming development amalgamated with the objectified side of the social process. He thereby supports the erroneous idea that the recognition of labour as the central principle of society means the overcoming of capitalism and not its totalisation. The current representatives of the class standpoint face a situation in which existence as a seller of labour power as well as modern subjectivity, with its illusion of complete independence from any social conditionality, have become universal. Therefore it is no coincidence that the book by Hardt and Negri in particular reads in many parts almost as a subtext of narcissistic existential orientations. Fantasies of omnipotence take turns with fits of powerlessness; megalomania turns abruptly into depression. On one hand they celebrate the subject “multitude” as Creator of everything; on the other hand it is put down again and again by an incomprehensible power of capital or “Empire,” which turns all of its attacks into defeats. The reason for the failure of this autonomous subject, which originates entirely within itself, to liberate itself entirely from this power, which depends on it, cannot be established coherently within the framework of Hardt and Negri’s argument; it can only be deciphered by a critique of ideology. The authors fail to analyze the contradictory unity of the modern subject and objectification as a hallmark of capitalist society , and therefore constantly see-saw between the two poles of subjectivity in which this contradiction is mirrored. Similarity to Nietzsche’s delusion of an eternal struggle between “active” and “reactive forces,” which can be decoded as mystified auxesis of capitalist rivalry relations, is highly visible. In this respect, Hardt/Negri and Holloway, like postmodernism in general, have by no means for overcoming metaphysics, but performed a pole swap within the field of metaphysical thought. The Hegelian philosophy of history, with its affirmation of “objective laws”, has been replaced by the diffuse and no less affirmative metaphysics of the “will” and “life”. Whereas Lukács sees an objectively definable, trans-empiric “class consciousness” that originates from the idea that the standpoint of labour and of the proletariat (potentially) represents the social totality, Hardt/Negri and Holloway see an existential and ontological energy that they identify as the nature of the class struggle: the vital flow of creativity and its own urge for liberation and for the universal appropriation of the world. This will be the universal motor leading to an unconscious connection between all disparate struggles, yet before any reflection and before any organisational fusion. Thus every social conflict can be defined a priori as class struggle. There is the tautological equation: Every social struggle is class struggle, therefore the class struggle is universal. The question Lukács struggled with, namely how to overcome the empirical bias in the struggle of particular interests, has simply been crossed out. They consider it resolved. The common anti-capitalist nature of the struggles manifests itself directly in their spontaneity, which has always been unconscious-consciously present. Indeed, this metaphysical pole swap makes it possible to part from the dominant construct of the omniscient party that represents “objective consciousness” and is therefore allowed to teach the proletariat the right line. However it is replaced by fantasmatic wishful thinking that obstructs the view of social reality at least as much as the old glorification of the historical subject-object. Not only does it mystify any impulse of resistance or protest, however small, into a part of a global anti-capitalist rebellion without explaining concretely what the connection is; the entirely empty abstractness of the metaphysics of the will also allows it to interpret ad libitum any social phenomenon as evidence of the presence of class struggle. Thus migration, for example, is a “powerful form of class struggle within and against imperial post-modernity” for Hardt and Negri (Hardt/Negri 2001, p. 213) – an ideological construct that, as an “autonomy of migration,” has become a leitmotif of a post-operaistic scene in the meantime. That way, the millions of human beings who are forced to abscond from the cataclysms and devastations of the crisis in capitalism are additionally objectified and discursively exploited for the fantasmatic projections of metropolitan intellectuals and movement activists. Finally, this also means, that the destructive revelations of modern subjectivity in the context of capitalist crisis are deemphasized and euphemised quite thoughtlessly . When the struggle as such is defined as the urge for liberation, then it is in principle also valid for social Darwinist rivalry struggles, for regressive and fundamentalist movements, or for outbreaks of sheer autotelic violence. Even though Hardt/Negri and Holloway don’t call these forms of expression of the “struggle” emancipative, they do appear, in the light of these theories, as a quasi-barbarically twisted expression of that alleged anti-capitalist nature: “Often the No is violent or barbaric (vandalism, hooliganism, terrorism): the depravations of capitalism are so intense that they provoke a scream-against, a No which is almost completely devoid of emancipatory potential, a No so bare that it merely reproduces that which is screamed against. … And yet that is the starting-point. … The starting-point is the scream: the dangerous, often barbaric No” (Holloway 2002, p. 205 f.). One can sense at this point in the text that Holloway himself is uneasy with this consequence. But it is built into the logic of his argumentation (as well as in that of Hardt and Negri) because simple abstract negation of the construct of “objective class consciousness” without breaking up the metaphysical frame of reference inevitably lead to the mystification of capitalist immediacy and thus contribute, although unintentionally, to its legitimation. If the (completely right) insistence on the pluralistic and heterogeneous character of a potential global emancipation movement is not to lead to relativisation and the extenuation of the atomised rivalry struggles, it must be formulated from a standpoint of determined negation that is based not on positive principles or an assumed “essence” but on the critique of capitalist totality. A central part of this is the critique of the modern subject. The spreading irrationality and destructiveness are by no means the misdirected or malformed will for liberation. Far from it: they are expressions of the historically specific “essence” of the bourgeois subject, which is to be overcome and not realised. It is fatal not to see these tendencies; they must rather be interpreted as being a part of the dynamic of the crisis of the commodity-producing system. To understand this, a farewell to the metaphysics of the subject is required .

Farewell to Metaphysics

The argument that class struggle is at heart a purely immanent struggle of interests and a modernisation movement on its way to establishing and universalising the commodity society, which frequentlywas exposed in krisis magazine, has often been criticized as objectifying. I agree with this criticism insofar as the struggles of the labour movement have never been wrapped up in this objective function within the historically specific developmental logic of capitalism. The revolutionary ideas that were tied to these struggles cannot be simply dismissed as irrelevant illusions and mere blindness. Many of the protagonists did take their own ideas seriously: They wanted to be the gravediggers of capitalism and not simply its obstetrician. This impulse should not be dismissed as merely a functional camouflage or as a kind of “trick of history”. Surely it is not very difficult to show that even this willremained within the limits of the commodity-producing society once it became concrete. This becomes particularly clear in the positive reference to the state as the alleged non-economic authority of the consciousness (“primacy of politics”) or in the continual affirmation of labour as the central social category. Upon closer examination, almost all “socialistic perspectives” emerge as crypto-idealised forms of capitalist reality. However there is always something left over that isn’t wrapped up in this immanence. Last but not least are those (mostly short and passing) phases in social movements during which forms of social cooperation and organisation have developed (e.g., in the council movement or in the kibbutz) and that constitute reference points for emancipative efforts to this day. Such emancipative overflows can be found in principle in any solidaric resistance against domination and repression, e.g., in many contemporary social movements against the living- and working-conditions in the crisis of globalised capitalism, which is becoming more and more intolerable. Sure enough, they do not express a pre-existing “essence” that insists on its liberation; rather, they are nothing more and nothing less than the starting point for a potential social organisation that can no longer be integrated into the forms of capitalism. It is impossible to establish a fixed criteria and a privileged social location to determine where and how such beginnings will appear and develop. Social movements do not emerge from the abstract understanding of the necessity of change, but are always ignited by concrete events and in particular situations of collective concern. Increasing social polarisation and exclusion are certainly among these, too. A meticulous analysis of these and other conflicts is doubtlessly important for the concretion of a radical critique of contemporaneous capitalism. Its task is to demystify the fetish forms of the commodity-producing society both in its objectified processes and on the side of its subject in order to open up a perspective of its overcoming.


Fantômas. magazin für linke debatte und praxis, Nr. 4, Hamburg 2003

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2001): Empire, Harvard University Press 2001.

John Holloway (2002): Change the World Without Taking Power, Pluto Press 2002.

Anselm Jappe (2002): Des Proletariats neue Kleider, in krisis 25, Bad Honnef 2002

Karl Heinz Lewed (2005): Schopenhauer on the Rocks, in krisis 29, Münster 2005

Ernst Lohoff (2005): Die Verzauberung der Welt, in krisis 29, Münster 2005

Georg Lukács (1919 – 1923): History and Class Consciousness, http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/history/index.htm

Moishe Postone (1993): Time, Labor and Social Domination, Cambridge University Press 1993

Thomas Sablowski (2004): Fallstricke der Globalisierungskritik, in: Wissenschaftlicher Beirat von Attac (Ed.): Globalisierungskritik und Antisemitismus, Frankfurt am Main 2004.

Marcel van der Linden (2003): Das vielköpfige Ungeheuer. Zum Begriff einer WeltarbeiterInnenklasse, in: Fantômas, Nr. 4/2003.

Translated by Jo Keady