Blogging Moishe Postone


Who is blogging about Postone?

Things that stick

Moishe Postpone interview

[…] Moishe Postone, professor of history at the University of Chicago, gives this summary of his interests on the department web page: “My research and teaching focus on 19th and 20th century European intellectual history, with emphasis on critical social theories. I am particularly interested in self-reflexive theories of historical context — theories that seek to grasp social, economic, and cultural processes in ways that illuminate the relation of such processes to the theories themselves. My work also focuses on the problematic of modern anti-Semitism and questions of history, memory, and identity in postwar Germany, as well as on the issue of the global transformations of the past three decades and their implications for understanding the historical trajectory of the 20th century.” He presented a talk on these subjects at the IAS in May of 2008, “Theorizing Historical Change: Critical Theory and the Transformations of the Twentieth Century.” […] WATCH THE VIDEO!

Caring Labor

Jason Read: “What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Karl Marx: The Politics and Ontology of Living Labor”

[..] Moishe Postone broadly distinguishes between two different critical strategies in Marxism: the first one that makes labor the object of its criticism and a second in which labor is the subject of its criticism. To make labor an object of criticism is to criticize the reduction of all human activities to labor; in short it is to criticize the instrumentality and teleology implicit in the idea of labor. Such a criticism is situated against the idea that human beings are primarily “homo laborans” and seeks to undercover the historical, political, and cultural transformations that have reduced human beings to “organs” of labor; while a critique articulated from the standpoint of labor takes labor for granted as a fundamental element of existence and from this criticizes the relations of distribution that exploit labor, alienating it from its own activity. Labor is assumed to be productive, and creative of value, and the critical question is how this power is turned against it. These two critiques are assumed to be fundamentally opposed. The opposition between these two critical strategies generally assumes that labor itself is one-sided, thus forgetting the duality of labor. An examination of the relationship between abstract and living labor makes possible a criticism in which labor is both the object, in the sense that it is a criticism of the apparatuses and structures that constitute abstract labor, and the subject, in the sense that it places the potentiality of labor at the center of this critique. As Tronti argues, the working class must struggle against itself, against its constitution as abstract labor power as much as it must struggle against capitalism, against the exploitation of labor power.[…]

Re: The People

VII. Superfluous labor and the collapse of capitalism

[…]In Postone’s analysis, the need to reduce hours of work makes itself felt first in its negative form as superfluous labor. However, we have argued that superfluous work — work of no economic value whatsoever — owes its existence solely to the need for an ever larger market to absorb the ever increasing excess output of industry, in order to ensure the recovery of the costs of production and profits.  The potential for free time, therefore, as a practical matter, rests on precisely the same conditions as those under which it becomes impossible to further expand the market for the ever increasing excess output of industry.[…]

VIII. The collapse of capitalism, Minsky and the Great Financial Crisis

[…] Ponzi financing is not simply an increase in debt beyond some ill-defined limit, it is the increase in debts that result in no productive activity — in debts accumulated for the unproductive consumption of existing output. Minsky, therefore, leads us back to Marx’s insight, provided by Moishe Postone in the previous section, that, capitalism posits superfluous labor as the condition in growing measure for necessary labor. […]


The Transformation of Utopia under Capitalist Modernity

[…] The various social formations that existed prior to the commodification of labor under capitalism proceeded according to no inherently totalizing logic comparable to that of the latter.  “[With capitalism, w]e are dealing with a new sort of interdependence, one that emerged historically in a slow, spontaneous, and contingent way,” explains Moishe Postone.  “Once the social formation based upon this new form of interdependence became fully developed, however (which occurred when labor power itself became a commodity), it acquired a necessary and systematic character; it has increasingly undermined, incorporated, and superseded other social forms, while becoming global in scale.”[13] By the dawn of the twentieth century, capitalist relations had expanded to such an extent and its internal dynamic had developed to such a degree that it produced unmistakable changes in the constitution of utopia. […]

The internal dynamism of the value-dimension in capital also implies a directionality to its process.  That is to say, it moves along definite lines, producing drastic changes along the way (even if these changes are not traced back to their true source).  “Value, in Marx’s understanding,…comes into its own only as a structuring social category with the constitution of capital as a totalizing form,” writes Postone.  “It is…a category of efficiency, rationalization, and ongoing transformation.  Value is a category of a directionally dynamic totality.”[45] Of course, because capital lacks consciousness, this motion is hardly guided by some sort of causa finalis.  It lacks intentionality, and therefore cannot be teleological.[46] Rather, society under capitalism is governed by a set of impersonal laws following from strict dialectical necessity […]

“Modernity,” Postone asserts, “is not an evolutionary stage toward which all societies evolve, but a specific form of social life that originated in western Europe and has developed into a complex global system.”[83] This helps bring the global aspect of capitalist modernity into sharp relief.  Globality indeed belongs to capitalism as part of its intrinsic logic, and capitalism’s spread to the rest of the world has not been so much a matter of happenstance than it has been the fulfillment of its destiny. […]


If you haven’t figured it out yet, I write things on my computer and put them online when I get a chance because we don’t have Internet. Still.

[…] I feel like class is sometimes an episode of “Moishe Postone Says the Darndest Things!” He makes a lot of statements that, besides finding really interesting, I also very much so just plain enjoy. They’re cute. Sometimes what he says can be ironically reapplied to his own position as an academic telling his students what to think, at which point I chuckle to myself a little, other times they’re funny in the less pretentious (because hey, the “we’re so self-referential in a humorous ironic way” joke is definitely pretentious) sense. We finished Adam Smith today in what must be a record of two days, and I’ll admit that it was a little rushed at the end. […]

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