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We are everything 

The misery of (post-) operaism


Robert Kurz


“Just because your are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you.”
Woody Allen

   The turn taken by Western Marxism towards the theory of action, a turn that in postmodern ideological praxis was disconnected from Marx’s theory in general, instead of continuing to develop that theory, left a skeleton in the closet, that is, the critique of political economy, the critique that is concerned with the complicated “law-governed structures” of the capitalist social machinery that is based on the fetishist constitution, the continued analysis of the “society-changing” capitalist process, its unity of objectivization and (subjective) treatment of the contradiction, including its murderous ideologies. The apparent solution of this unresolved problematic produced what was perhaps the most important current in the New Left, a current that emerged in Italy, in parallel with an Althusserian “structuralist Marxism” and the Foucaultian atomization of critique: so-called operaismo. Its starting point was the specific situation of the young workers who came from the Mezzogiorno and flooded the Fordist industries of Northern Italy in the 1960s and had not yet internalized the factory discipline of “abstract labor”. While the regimes of “catch-up modernization” of State Capitalism, on the peripheries of the world market, had imposed this kind of disciplinary regime at gunpoint in the name of a “Marxist” legitimizing ideology, in Italy, starting from a similar situation, a resolute “workers militancy” developed against the Western-Fordist factory regime; a legitimate resistance, from our perspective, but it was immediately also a specific form of the limited treatment of the contradiction, which, in its immediacy, could become a theoretical field of reference for left wing intellectuals.

   The reflections of operaismo (“workerism”) which therefore emerged as an ideology of legitimization for this direct militancy, have now taken a peculiar turn. The struggle against the Fordist regime of labor was presented as the “struggle against work”; but this was false advertising. Ultimately, the target was only a specific manifestation of Fordist discipline, not the modern ontology of labor as such, as in the case of the situationists; in fact, the phenomenologically limited “struggle against work” never departed from the bounds of the traditional paradigm of the (ontological) “liberation of work”. Having taken as a starting point a direct connection with the treatment of the contradiction “by the working class militant” (who, unsurprisingly, was soon supposed to arise), a critique of the ontology of labor was not at all possible. All that remained was a specific ideological praxis of operaismo that pursued the truncated understanding of the theory of action to an extreme, transforming the capital relation into pure subjectivity, and which, beginning in the 1970s, has exercised a major influence on the “movement left” in many countries.

   The old shopworn idea of the ontology of labor, that the “working class”, as “working class subjectivity”, is an “alien element that is always present in the system” (Negri 1977, p. 41), that is, it simultaneously exists “within” capital, as servitude, and “outside” capital, as the ontology of labor, rules out from the very start any critical concept of the constitution of the modern commodity producing patriarchy that overlies the classes. Disconnected from its limited function and rendered historically superfluous as a “struggle for recognition” in relation to capital, the concept of the class struggle undergoes a process of de-historicization and, in a manner similar to what happened with the philosophers of praxis, it receives a dose of the mythology of the abstract subject, beyond its old domain of the real object. Now that there is no more (negative) objectivity of capitalist development, there is only the class struggle, “left high and dry”. As Mario Tronti says: “We too have considered in first place capitalist development, and only afterwards the workers struggles. This is an error. It is necessary to invert the problem, change the sign, and begin again: and the beginning is the struggle of the working class” (quoted by Birkner/Foltin 2006, p. 11). According to Martin Birkner and Robert Foltin in their essay on the topic, this is “the connecting link of the different nuances of operaismo … which represents the basic difference in relation to the objectivism of orthodox Marxism” (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 24). However, the objectivism of the old metaphysics of law-governed structures is not criticized as a positivist and consequently affirmative understanding of the fully real capitalist objectivization; to the contrary, that objectivism is simply immanently inverted in the subjective theory of action.

   In and of itself, this is nothing new. Operaismo, however, takes a decisive step compared to Western Marxism. It does not set aside the categories of the critique of political economy (and consequently the real categories); to the contrary, it directly integrates them as part of its turn towards the theory of action. Social classes and their immanent “struggle” (the mere treatment of the contradiction within capitalism) no longer arise constituted by the categories of the a priori matrix developed and objectified in a historical process, as in Marx; quite the contrary, because now it is thought that these categories are for their part subjectively constituted by the “class struggle”. This means (based to some extent on Althusser) instituting the “class struggle” as a principle, which from the beginning uninterruptedly generated and still generates the “classes”, as its starting point (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 58). It is quite paradoxical: the “class struggle” must therefore exist prior to and independently of classes; it is elevated to the status of a constitutive metaphysical principle, thus taking the place of the fetishist constitution. This “principle” is positivized and ontologized, exactly like the old “objective social laws”, but precisely in a subjectivized guise, which only occupies the other pole of the real capitalist metaphysics.

   The dissolution of the fetishist objectivization into mere relations of will of ontological “subjects”, is consequently not susceptible to investigation concerning its constitution and ends up becoming the tacit a priori, consistently embracing the form of the market itself. Thus, with reference to Marxist theory, there is “the famous first chapter of the first part under the title, ‘The Commodity’, as an analysis and critique of the political power (!) of one class over another” (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 81). Here, the authors are alluding to the position of Harry Cleaver’s American “autonomist Marxism”, but their characterization is valid for operaismo as a whole. In a certain way, the Marxian critique of political economy is distorted by the theory of action, and the starting point of the Marxian critique of the commodity form, of money and abstract labor is simply turned upside down. The result is the integral subjectivization of capitalist categories, as the “crowning” achievement of the turn towards the theory of action, celebrated by the operaistas as a “Copernican revolution” of critical theory. “The relevance of subjective moments”, Antonio Negri claims, “and the emergence of the subjective class point of view are now becoming the most important elements” (Negri 1977, p. 38). Thus, while the fetishist constitution is caused to disappear in the most decisive way we have yet observed, the last narrow path towards the formulation of an “ontological break” directly with the categories of capitalist reproduction (which in Foucault are merely concealed and silenced) is completely blocked.

  In the pure struggle of “subject against subject”, however, the metaphysical subject known as the “working class” possesses an ontological advantage, the ontology of labor; absurdly, it is named as the demiurge of the constitution as well as of the continued development of capitalism. It is both “bee” and “architect” at the same time, for all of eternity. All “law-governed structures” dissolve into functions of the “class struggle”, whether that of the commodity form as such, abstract labor and the valorization process, or the organic composition of capital, the tendency of the falling rate of profit, etc. The “silent coercion of competition” (Marx) disappears as an overarching systemic category in the simple “class struggle”; the competition between capitals and national economies is obscured, or set aside as a mere confounding variable, as is competition among wage workers.

   The ontologized “working class”, always seen as “combative”, is considered the central “motor force” of “development” (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 82); indeed, it is considered to be the only such motor force. Ultimately, capital, as “counter-subject” (instead of a fetishist social relation), is supposedly always and in every circumstance only reacting to “struggles”, and as a result these “struggles” are the ultimate cause of “everything”. The existence of an undeniable participation of the “class struggle” in the process of capitalist modernization, as the “struggle for recognition” and the immanent treatment of the contradiction, is not only inordinately hypostasized, but it is also interpreted in a totally a-critical way (once again, like the situationists) as the immediate positive identity of immanence and transcendence. It is in this construct, too, that the false concept of “autonomy” is rooted, which has spread like wildfire throughout movement ideology since the 1980s.

   Thus, the metaphysical subject, “working class”, is the author of not only its own actions, but also those of its adversaries and of the entire historical-social process in general; it has become henceforth the subjective “last instance”, replacing the objective “economy”—a no less reduced and one-dimensional interpretation, only turned upside down. “We are everything”: that is how the profession of faith of this hallucinated, or, more accurately, paranoid, meta-subject would be formulated; from the perspective of Adorno’s theory, an attempt to assume a position in the most extreme form of the logic of identity, and a clownish misrepresentation of the Marxian critique of political economy and an incredible inflation of the power of will without any presuppositions. In a way, the “class” plays the role, as in Lukács, of the subject-object of history, but, unlike Lukács, as a more extensive dissolution of historical-social objectivity in the subject without presuppositions. The fact that this demiurgic “working class”, as superman of history, is in some way incorporated by and subject to its own metaphysical principle of “class struggle” (which was smuggled as contraband into operaismo along with Althusserian structuralism), only vaguely reminds us of the problem of the fetishist constitution, as, so to speak, a “reified remnant”.

   No wonder Negri, like Althusser, simply declared that the fetishist problematic is obsolete, even going so far as to proclaim “the end of the rule of the Marxian law of value” (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 88). What remains, as abstract social generality, is the eternal “parallelogram of forces” of mere power relations, as in the philosophers of praxis and Althusser; and, moreover, the flux of an ontology of power, as in Foucault, which is ideologically conceived as being emancipated from the categorical laws of the form of the capital relation. Here we must recall that the old Marxism of the workers movement had already reduced the capital relation essentially to the juridical-political power of the “capitalist class”, determined only sociologically, over the ontological subject of labor (as the “private ownership of the means of production” and “appropriation of surplus-value”, etc.). Here, too, the famous “Copernican revolution” of operaismo gave the finishing touch to the theory of action, when Foucault’s concept of power was directly transferred to the capital relation, which for Foucault was simply of no interest: an understanding that is not situated in the tradition of Marxism, but rather in that of Heidegger.

   The old Marxist politicism and “statism” had long ago paved the way for this dissolution, in the context of the positivist understanding of political economy: beginning with the social democratic concept of “organized capitalism”, formulated by Hilferding in the period between the World Wars, the State was no longer conceived as a “relatively non-autonomous” factor of capitalist reproduction, but as the all-embracing “sovereign” of the categories of capitalist reproduction, with an unlimited power of command. The theory of “integral statism” and of the alleged elimination of the sphere of circulation, an idea proposed by Horkheimer under the influence of Stalinism and the National Socialist “planned State”, also contributed to this trend; although it was implicitly frustrated by Adorno’s insistence on the theme of “false objectivization” and the problematic of the fetish. Even though the Keynesian regulatory State of the postwar era was never more than a feeble reflection of this kind of statism, which would soon be exhausted in the new dynamic of the world market, the politicism of the left became attached to this ideological interpretation, up to the point of completely dissociating itself from the critique of political economy. When operaismo began to inject this current with Foucault’s Heideggerian ontology of power, the State then totally became the direct expression of the rule of “power”; and no longer as the absolute “sovereign” over the categories of reproduction, but as the pure will of the capitalist “subject” in opposition to “workers struggles” and reacting to the latter, and therefore beyond all fetishist objectivization.

   For Negri, this means that the State, under the postulate of the dissolution of the capital relation into an immediate struggle of “subject against subject”, ceases to be the “internal regulator”, and he then goes on to say that “its function consists in substituting itself for the automatic relation of capital” (Negri 1977, p. 23). The “automatic subject” disappears and therefore so, too, does any possible critique of such a subject. According to Negri, “capitalist valorization”, “the reproduction of capital, circulation and realization tend to be identified in the category of political domination” (ibid., p. 25); capitalism is nothing but a form of “direct domination (!) of the state apparatuses” (ibid., p. 28), and even of a “political valorization” (ibid., p. 47). The Marxian concept of crisis also disappears: “The relationship between development and crisis is reformulated in terms of a relation that is wholly political, with no residual illusions of objectivism….” (Negri 1972, p. 73). In their subsequent development, according to operaismo, crises are merely “specific means of class struggle from the top down” (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 80); the world economic crisis of 1929 is understood, in an interpretation that borders on the grotesque, as “the delayed response to the Russian Revolution of October 1917 and the class struggles of the 1920s” (ibid., p. 80), that is, as the function of the “workers struggles” and as the reaction to these struggles which supposedly always take a position in advance that is “against the capital relation, leading it to a situation of crisis” (Negri 1977, p. 23). As it was for the young Offe, the crisis arises as the mere expression of the clash between intentions of subjective will.

   Consequently, operaismo also completely dissolved theoretical elaboration in “workers struggles” and radicalized the postulate of the a priori “unity between theory and praxis”, instead of questioning it. Theory was reduced to “workers analysis”, “workers science”, or a sociologically reduced “militant analysis”, which eternally reflects upon or ponders the “cycles of struggles” and the “recomposition of the proletariat”, or the reconfiguration of capitalism that resulted from those phenomena, without being able to develop any concept of a break with the underlying social relation, “within” whose categories these “struggles” take place. Thus, once the old debates about the objectivist transformation of the theory of structure had finally come to an end, the concept of the “supersession” of capitalism was totally eviscerated and transformed into merely an expression deprived of any content. Something had to issue from these “struggles”, which might even last for a thousand years; the ontological “subject” only needed to assert its will enough, when it was actually still bound to its constitutive conditions. Theoretical reflection is thus even connected, even more than in Western Marxism, to the routine of the eternal treatment of the contradiction, and degraded (again with reference to Foucault) to a mere condition of “means and instrument of labor”, as “part of the class organization” (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 8), in immediate immanent “counterpraxis”. Operaismo thus also determines the character of any allegedly radical critical reflection as “instrumental reason”, thus inadvertently belying its superficial critique of “law-governed structures”.

   If, with the theory of action, operaismo dissolves the historically specific categories of capitalism as such, including the economic ones, into the subject and into Foucault’s Heideggerian ontology of power, then what remains, unlike the case of Foucault and his atomization of critique into “local critiques”, but like Western Marxism in this respect, is the metaphysical subject of “class”, as the sole reference for all of society; a concept that was initially formulated in the manner of party-Marxism and in connection with attempts to found parties. In the process of the Third Industrial Revolution, however, the obsolescence of this old meta-subject could not pass unnoticed. By way of diverse intermediate steps, in which the operaista ideology broke apart the paradigm of factory production in order to fall back on diverse “social spheres”, the meta-subject was gradually transformed. The “adoption of post-structuralist theories, among which we may mention those of Foucault and Deleuze/Guattari” (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 33), henceforth complemented the general ontology of power with the particularization and fragmentation of the class subject, as well, which was formerly understood to be “unitary”.

   “Post-operaismo”, as it was then called, did not supersede the old paradigm of the class struggle in the sense of the critique of fetishism, but, by merely dispersing it into a superficial plurality of immediate “social situations” and starting to make arrogant declarations about the “inescapable multiplicity of subjects” (Birkner/Foltin, ibid., p. 34), managed, on the one hand, to perform a Foucault-style atomization of critique, which, on the other hand, nonetheless continued to exist under the aegis of a concept in the logic of identity: in their empirical disconnection (whose real connection remains, without reflection, in the relation of value-dissociation and in universal competition), the indistinctly incorporated social “subjectivities” must be connected, in a purely external way, in the new ahistorical and diffuse meta-subject of the so-called multitude (Hardt/Negri 2002). African migrants who drown in the Mediterranean Sea in their quest for capitalist “job” opportunities, people who perform the service of “emotional labor” with a forced smile on their lips, the “digital Bohemia” of Internet capitalism, wage workers engaged in a neo-nationalist defensive struggle to preserve their jobs in the arms industry, or the low-level beneficiary of the patronage of an oil Caudillo like Chavez—all of them are always integrated in the “multitude in struggle”. Now, however, it is not the (nation-) State that they have to confront, but a global Empire with an equally diffuse character (Hardt/Negri 2002), since the new “ideal global capitalism” (cf. Kurz 2003) is not analyzed in the dialectic of the crisis of the nation-state and capitalist globalization in the Third Industrial Revolution, but immediately arises as the direct global expression of the ontology of power.

   On the basis of this position, the critique of ideology and even the positivist theory of ideology are rendered totally impossible, just as they are for Foucault, since there is no longer any reference to the social constitution, which is transformed into a plurality of mere acts of will, against the background of the ontology of power. Nonetheless, when this empirical “multiplicity” of “subjectivities”, unlike the case in Foucault, is once again submitted to a connection with the vacuous expression of the multitude in the logic of identity, not only are social incorporations made possible, but so are entirely arbitrary incorporations from the point of view of ideological content, including murderous Islamic subjects. There is no longer any criterion for the distinction between contents. Everything that moves is “accepted” almost without distinction: even “social-critical” anti-semites, should there be any doubt, are the children of the great mother, the multitude! In this absurd, consciously and explicitly anti-dialectical additive logic, it is a matter of indifference whether the barbaric terrorist attack of September 11 was perpetrated by an Islamic member of the multitude or (following the conspiracy theory) was a “reaction” on the part of the Empire, which had to itself destroy the Twin Towers as a “response” to the glorious “struggles” of the multitude: now it is the multitude itself that always does, and provokes, “everything”. “We are everything”—the hallucinatory de-historicized meta-subject becomes, in its multiplicity, definitively paranoid.

   If operaismo transforms the categories of the critique of political economy into the mere subjectivity of “class struggle” and brings the turn towards the theory of action to its culmination, postmodernism continues, on the same basis, the “binding” of theory to a pre-established praxis, even to the point of complete disarmament in the face of murderous ideologies, which sprout up in the multiple “diversity” of the “subjectivities” of crisis. In this process, the real crux of the matter is constituted by the explicit repudiation of the concept of fetishism, which is a threat representing the last “ghost of Marx”, after the dissolution of the categorical context of capitalist reproduction in the metaphysics of intentionality. To give the coup de grâce in this scandal was the goal assumed by another variant of post-operaismo, represented above all by John Holloway. In his book, Change the World without Taking Power (Holloway 2002), the author first of all draws the contrast between, once again, to recapitulate, the traditional Marxist connection of the metaphysics of law-governed structures (objectivism), the seizure of political power, and state planning, as opposed to the metaphysics of intentionality of movement ideology. Unlike Negri’s postmodernism, however, the author makes use of the concept of fetishism, as the essential determination of capitalist relations, and attempts to formulate this same concept post-operaistically; and it is precisely to Adorno that he turns in order to do so.

   In Holloway’s argument, the development of the concept of fetishism takes a strange turn. On the one hand, like all operaismo, by extending the traditional Marxist concept of capital in the theory of action, he starts from the basis of the direct juridical-political domination of the capitalist subjects: “Capital is that: the assertion of command over others on the basis of ‘ownership’ of the done and hence of the means of doing, the preconditions for the doing of those others who are commanded” (Holloway, ibid., p. 44). In a markedly Proudhonian way, he speaks here of “robbery” (ibid., p. 46) that is perpetrated against the workers. On the other hand, almost in the same breath, he concisely verifies the fetishist objectivization in the Marxian sense: “The subject in capitalist society is not the capitalist…. It is value” (ibid., p. 48). Both affirmations are uninterruptedly maintained, without mediation.

   Like the philosophers of praxis, Holloway works here with an ontological ahistorical concept of (social) “doing”, whose “creative force” was permanently broken in capitalism by “power-over” (ibid., p. 41). This constantly invoked “creative activity” is based, in principle, on a concept of labor which is ultimately removed from the determination of the fetishist relation. The commodity fetish arises in the totally truncated sense of the Marxism of the workers movement as the mere concealment of the origin of the formation of value by never-ending labor: “The commodity takes on a life of its own in which its social origin in human labour is extinguished” (ibid., p. 62). As is also the case with Negri & Co., here Holloway’ attachment to the ontology of labor is expressed in an equivocal manner. The result is an opposed social formulation, entirely in accordance with the juridical-political understanding (and later, the understanding of the ontology of power) of the ideology of the class struggle: “Power-over breaks mutual recognition: those over whom power is exercised are not recognised….” (ibid., p. 43). Here, Holloway inadvertently alludes to the “struggle for recognition” within capitalist categories, a struggle that is now historically without any reason for existence and one that has long since been exhausted, which renders unviable precisely the perception and the critique of the fetishist constitution.

   Holloway’s defective definition of the concept of fetishism is also applied to a positive ideology of the subject, which also follows the general development that proceeds from the “objective class subject” of party-Marxism to the pure and definitively fragmented subject of movement ideology. Structuralism’s critique of the subject, insufficient and following a merely particularized objectivism, is, once again, not superseded by the critique of the fetishist constitution, but simply divided into pieces, in order to come to the rescue of the “subject”; it was in fact “possible to understand” structuralism’s “attack on subjectivity”, which Holloway claims is valid only for the bourgeois concept of the subject, as an “identity” with “instrumental rationality” (ibid., p. 89), and the subject does not coincide with this identification: “To identify the bourgeois subject with subjectivity as a whole, however, is a most murderous (!) throwing of the baby out with the bathwater” (ibid., p. 89). Just what could this “subjectivity as a whole” even be, however? Holloway juxtaposes the subject constituted in the form of Modernity and an existential subject that supposedly somehow “underlies” the former, which takes the place of “class”; that is, a kind of ontology of the subject of a more Heideggerian cast. Thus, the “subject form” is also excluded from the concept of fetishism; no wonder that Holloway’s approach, based on the ontology of labor and of the subject, remains on the androcentrically universalist horizon, and that gender dissociation on the conceptual level of “value” (and consequently also capitalism as the commodity producing patriarchy) should be unthinkable for him. The capitalist relation between the sexes is continually buried in the contents and only arises generically in the elocution of political correctness [in English in the original—American Translator’s Note], as an unimportant adjunct.

   In this type of thought, the concept of fetishism not only remains androcentrically universalist; it also does not imply an analysis of the context of the fetishist form and its negatively objectified laws of motion, in the sense of the “automatic subject” of Marx, which Holloway diligently avoids discussing. Once the mediation between objectivization and intentionality is abolished, just as in the rest of the (post-)operaista current, the discourse of “the fetishised, perverted, defining forms of capitalism” (ibid., p. 165), although utilizing a high-caliber rhetoric, remains entirely vacuous and indeterminate. Where are these “perverted forms” even seen? Were they imagined by “schizophrenics”, did they arise from the will of appropriation of non-constituted subjects of domination, or does the subject of “existential”-ontological authenticity somehow deceive itself, in a kind of accident of historical labor? When Holloway formulates his critique characteristically with the postulate that we have to “free ourselves from the witch’s curse” (ibid., p. 109) (perhaps women are to blame for everything?), then he thereby demonstrates only his complete lack of ideas with regard to the fetishistic constitution, which as such does not really interest him at all.

   The “fetish”, whatever that is, is used again and again as a hollow phrase. Basically, what he means by “fetish” is something of an entirely different kind: according to him, negative objectivity must never be critically analyzed for the purpose of its historical supersession, but “dissolved”. For this purpose, he marshals the critique that Adorno directed against the logic of identity and “the process of identification”. In Adorno, the logic of identity, entirely corrosive to all content and negatively “defining”, is epistemologically derived from the fetishist form of value (we have already referred to the ideology of circulation that is comes into play here). In a kind of subtle sleight of hand trick, Holloway now attempts to “apply” the critique of the logic of identity to the constituent connections of the form itself: negative objectivity, for its part, must not be “identified” as such, for now that would involve a “hard fetishism approach” which is “a rigidified and rigidifying concept” (ibid., p. 101) and a “fetishisation of fetishism” (ibid.). Indeed, what this involves is the “self-contradictory nature of fetishism” (ibid., p. 101). The unfolding process of self-contradiction of capitalism is not perceived as such within the fetishist constitution (or, consequently, within the logic of identity), but instead is divided, on the one hand, into the “alienated form” and, on the other hand, into the self-negation of that form, which is supposedly immediate and opens up an emancipatory way forward per se.

   After having thus “opened” the concept of the fetish with conceptual reductions, Holloway pursues the bastardization and affirmative retro-reflection of the Adornian critique of the logic of identity, by turning against each and every “separation of constitution and existence” (ibid., p. 99): “The value-form, money-form, capital-form, state-form etc. are not established once and for all at the origins of capitalism. Rather, they are constantly at issue (!), constantly questioned (!) as forms of social relations….” (ibid., p. 109). The historical constitution of capitalism, from the 16th century to the 19th century, was really a struggle for its imposition that was marked by countless ruptures, which nonetheless led over the last two centuries to a process of internalization, in which the modern fetishist constitution was instilled as “second nature”. With false immediacy, Holloway establishes a short-circuit between the incessant suffering entailed by this negative socialization and the supposedly constant “questioning” of that negative socialization, now as the function of the mere “existence” in their forms. The fact that he places the “constitution” that is historically “at issue” on a terrain that is directly identical with that of “existence” (which is now always supposed to be “resistant” per se) in a capitalism that was imposed long ago, just as “experience … is at once fetishising and de-fetishising” (ibid., p. 101)—this is itself a definition of the highest degree of the logic of identity.

   Thus, insofar as the capitalist categories are “opened to reveal that their content is struggle” (ibid., p. 114), Holloway equates the deep layer of the constitution with every movement on its surface (institutional changes, for example), that is, with “changing the world”, the immanently capitalist real interpretation and permanent treatment of the contradiction; a context concerning which he has not the least idea. He deludes himself with the struggle of real interpretation, as if it were precisely a “site of struggle” of the categories themselves, which is obviously not the case. This is also displayed in his quite foolish examples: “Every time a small child takes sweets from a shop without realising that money has to be given in exchange for them, every time workers refuse to accept that the market dictates that their place of work should be closed or jobs lost … value as a form of relating to one another is at issue….” (ibid., p. 109). Neither the socialization of little children within the value form, nor much less the “struggle for jobs”, has the least to do with the categorical critique. As in the case of the philosophers of praxis, what Holloway interprets or assumes in an illusory way is the eternal treatment of the contradiction as “radically different”, the unsuperseded categories that, having to always immediately represent their own opposite, can be arbitrarily “reinterpreted”: “Money”, Holloway claims, “is (!) a raging battle of monetisation and anti-monetisation” (ibid., p. 110).

   Once Holloway equates, in the logic of identity, the contradictory self-mediation of the fetishist relation with an allegedly constant latent contradiction affecting the categories of that relation, he thereby also eliminates the mediation of radical critique, which can only be constituted in a historical counter-process, on the basis of the experience of suffering. For Holloway, in a Heideggerian type of concept of “existence” as “the ubiquity of resistance”, the “defetishisation” that takes place “daily” can at any moment turn the corner in “a whole storm of unpredictability” (ibid., p. 118). This can only take place, of course, because he, despite his constantly repeated declaration that there is no “innocent subject” (ibid., p. 167, among other instances), actually presupposes, as we have already pointed out, an ontological subject-“existence” (whose masculinity is hardly concealed) concealed “under” the categories, thus promising “to recuperate the lost subjectivity” (ibid., p. 131).

   With his claim that “existence” in capitalism per se has to always entail “defetishization”, Holloway contributes all the more to the disarming of critique in the face of murderous ideologies that emerge from the treatment of “existential” contradiction; in this respect, he totally conforms with the tendency of the rest of (post-)operaismo. “The current development of capitalism”, Holloway claims near the end of his essay, “is so terroristic that it provokes a terroristic response … which, although quite comprehensible (!), merely reproduces the relations of power which it seeks to destroy (!). And yet that is the starting point (!): not the considered rejection of capitalism as a mode of organisation (!)” (ibid., p. 236). Radical critique and Islamic or any other kind of terrorism, emancipation and barbarism, are now almost equated in the existential “scream of refusal” (as would appear to be the case on the basis of Holloway’s uninterrupted stream of vacuous metaphors), which can by no means be justified with any alibi-formulas.

   Holloway puts a final point, and now it is really the last one, on the long process of the turn towards the theory of action, such as it has been elaborated first by the philosophers of praxis, and then by the post-structuralist obscuration of the capitalist categories, and finally to the kind of subjectivization to which it was subjected by operaismo, which existentially subjectivized the very concept of fetishism which had previously been rejected. Having done this, Holloway has not thereby shattered, as he claims, the old dualism of “objective laws” and “subjective struggles” (ibid., p. 143), or of “determinism and voluntarism”; instead, he exorcised the last specter of “fetishised Marxism” on behalf of an ideologically radicalized voluntarism of immediate “existence”.

   In this way, Holloway furnishes the raw consciousness of the movement with a real theory of hostility towards theory, once he, going beyond the rest of (post-)operaismo, not only binds theoretical thought to the immanent treatment of the contradiction, but immediately degrades it to “part of the articulation of our daily existence of struggle” (ibid., p. 125). For Holloway, theory can only be “part of (!) (and not ‘based on’) practice” (ibid., p. 37). In this empiricism of “existence”, “knowledge about” is per se “simply the other side of ‘power over’.” (ibid., p. 78). In fact, in this respect he still falls short of instrumental reason, because reflection is not even instrumentalized for an immanent social goal, but instead by the immediate being-thus [Sosein]. Even the height reached by the flight of a chicken is now considered to be a reproachable “ascent”, and the effort of conceptualization, which cannot coincide with “existence” as it is found, is at the mercy of being denounced as an allegedly arrogant pretention to “omniscience”. Thus, “reflection on” the social constitution itself is also stifled, as theoretical elaboration is prohibited from any distancing from its object.

Robert Kurz in Grey Is the Golden Tree of Life and Green is Theory. The Problem of Praxis as a Recurring Theme of a Truncated Critique of Capitalism and the History of the Left

Originally published under the title : “Grau ist des Lebens goldner Baum und grün die Theorie. Das Praxis-Problem als Evergreen verkürzter Gesellschaftskritik und die Geschichte der Linken”, in EXIT! Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft, No. 4, 2007 (ISBN: 978-3-89502-230-2, Horlemann Verlag, Postfach 1307, 53583 Bad Honnef, http://www.horlemann-verlag.de/).

  • Birkner, Martin and Foltin, Robert (2006): (Post-)Operaismus. Von der Arbeiterautonomie zur Multitude, Stuttgart. [(Post-)Operaismo. From Workers Autonomy to Multitude]
  • Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio (2003): Empire, Frankfurt am Main.
  • Holloway, John (2002): Die Welt verändern ohne die Macht zu ubernehmen, Munster. [Change the World without Taking Power]
  • Kurz, Robert (2003): Weltordnungskrieg, Bad Honnef. [The War for World Order]
  • Negri, Antonio (1977): Staat in der krise, Berlin. [The State in Crisis]
  • Negri, Antonio (1972): Zyklus und Krise bei Marx, Berlin. [Cycles and Crisis in Marx]

Other texts :

- Foucault's pendulum. From party-Marxism to movement ideology (Robert Kurz).

- "Structuralist Marxism" and the politicism of the theory of action (Robert Kurz)

A new direction for the direction of action.Western Marxism and the « philosophy of praxis » (Perry Anderson, Ernst Bloch, Antonio Gramsci, & cie), by Robrt Kurz.

A propos de Empire. Le monde en crise comme disneyland de la "multitude" (Robert Kurz)

- Lubies métaphysiques de la lutte des classes. A propos des présupposés tacites d'un étrange rétro-discours (Holloway & cie) (Norbert Trenkle)


Tag(s) : #Critique de l'anticapitalisme tronqué de la gauche
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