Moishe Postone, 1942–2018 (english)


When we, a small group of theorists with a commitment to the renewal of radical social critique, first encountered Moishe Postone’s then still little-known essay on the logic of antisemitism in the late 1980s, it struck us like a thunderbolt. The critique of value was still incipient and had struggled to establish itself against the guardians of traditional Marxism with whom we would engage in polemical skirmishes—and suddenly there was somebody else who thought in such a compatible way. His analysis of antisemitism as a form of fetishistic ‘anti-capitalism’ was of course a groundbreaking, completely new insight for us. But it didn’t stop there. The underlying way of reading Marxian theory, the centring of the critique of labour and of value as social relation, struck almost exactly to the core of the theoretical developments that we had made to find our way out of the cul-de-sac of critical stagnation. This moment of joy at the fact that someone else had pursued such a similar way to the reinterpretation of Marxian theory shaped my relationship to Moishe, even if it would be a few years before I would meet him in person and come to cherish him.

No less decisive was my later participation in the translating into German of his seminal book Time, Labor, and Social Domination, which could never have succeeded without the most intensive grappling with the conceptualities and lines of thought that are developed within it. I still feed on this task today. It helped me like very little else to clarify my own thinking, including where I didn’t agree with Moishe. It was a disappointment for us that the publication of Moishe’s book only made a small contribution to arousing  comprehensive and more profound understanding of his theoretical approach among the German left. Moishe’s German-language reception saw him primarily as the initiator of a new perspective on antisemitism, that was critical of fetishism—and this was unquestionably correct. But in this reception this perspective remained almost completely separate from his critical theory of capitalism. That this form of socialization rests on mediation through labour and is subject to a historically specific, goal-driven dynamic—and that the vanishing point of this dynamic is the suspension of precisely that mediation through labour—remained a closed book to the German left, and above all for its academic offshoot. This was visible from the sparse criticism of Moishe’s book, which consistently revealed incomprehension and resistance.

This was not the case in other countries, such as Brazil and France, perhaps because there there was already a context of value-critical discourse which had been established through the reception of Krisis texts. The curiously abbreviated reception of Moishe’s work within the German-speaking discourse is nonetheless vexing. To break through this and to establish for Moishe’s theoretical approach the prestige that it merits remains to be accomplished. That in some respects we had our theoretical differences (above all Moishe was never in agreement with our crisis-theoretical interpretation of the goal-oriented dynamic of capitalism) is of no consequence here. Our paths—those of Krisis, and of Moishe Postone—were never the same, but in many respects they ran alongside one another, and crossed frequently. Personally too. With Moishe Postone we thus lose a companion. His death fills me and us with grief.

Norbert Trenkle (Gruppe Krisis)

Nürnberg, 24. März 2018