Critique and theory: Postone special


Thinking the global crisis

South Atlantic Quarterly: Perspectives on the Global Crisis Volume 111, Number 2, Spring 2012 Moishe Postone, Special Issue Editor. Includes Moishe Postone: Thinking the Global Crisis Full Text (PDF). Also: Duncan K. Foley (Abstract/Full Text (PDF)), Michael Hardt (Abstract/Full Text (PDF)) and others.

More and more labor is being rendered superfluous, even as the organization of capitalist society remained predicated on its existence. One result is a growing maldistribution of labor time between an overworked segment of society and one that is essentially without work. This is no longer a conjunctural question as it, perhaps, had been during the Great Depression, but it has become a structural one.

These brief considerations suggest that a future beyond capitalism would require a fundamental transformation of the division of labor and that, without movement in that direction, increasing numbers of people will be rendered superfluous, susceptible to hunger, disease, and violence. They will increasingly become the objects of militarized control. On this level, the current crisis can also be understood as a crisis of labor interwoven in complex ways with a crisis of the natural environment. Against this historical background, the old slogan of “socialism or barbarism” acquires new urgency, even if our understanding of both terms has been fundamentally transformed.

(hat tip)

Also, for the pointiest of pointy heads: Keith Hart versus Brian Holmes on money, Carole Reddleman on Alberto Toscano on Alfred Sohn-Rethel, and the opera of the Grundrisse.

Reloading Marxism: time, value, capital

At Marblepunk, video of Postone on Time, Labour and Social Domination: a 2007 lecture given by Moishe Postone, value form theorist, that provides an overview of his arguments on how Marx should be read and our present social relations understood. Click here for parts two, three, four and five respectively.

Jews and the left

Coverage of the YIVO conference, including mention of Postone’s contribution, at the Jewish Tribune (also at Henry Srebrnik’s blog), American Thinker. Here‘s information on a podacast of Postone, Mitchell Cohen, and Barbara Epstein on the same topic, at a symposium at Madison:

Postone in his presentation on “Israel, the Left, and the Crisis of the Late 1960s” tried to set the phenomenon in a larger “theory of capital” and 20th century history context.

He also contended that much leftist “critique of Zionism goes beyond Israeli policies” and “attributes a unique malevolence” to Israel and Zionism, treating them as “powerful purveyors of evil” and an “invisible international conspiracy.”

In fact, as anti-Semitism was once characterized as “the socialism of fools” (attributed to 19th century German social democrat August Bebel), Postone declared some anti-Zionism to be “the anti-imperialism of fools.”

In response to a question about whether a Jewish state can be a democracy, Postone contended that an “ethnic dimension” exists in the very concept of a nation state, and that other countries have laws similar to Israel’s Law of Return that allows any Jew to claim Israeli citizenship.

Anyone of Italian ancestry, for example, can claim Italian citizenship, and any Arab can claim Syrian citizenship, he said. Yet critics of Israel claim there is “something uniquely weird” when Jews do this, he said.


“After the failure of the 1960s New Left, the underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency, in a historical situation of heightened helplessness, became a self-constitution as outsider, as other, rather than an instrument of transformation. Focused on the bureaucratic stasis of the Fordist, late 20th Century world, the Left echoed the destruction of that world by the dynamics of capital: neoliberalism and globalization.

The idea of a fundamental transformation became bracketed and, instead, was replaced by the more ambiguous notion of ‘resistance.’ The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted, or of the politics of the resistance involved.

‘Resistance’ is rarely based on a reflexive analysis of possibilities for fundamental change that are both generated and suppressed by the dynamic heteronomous order of capital. ‘Resistance’ is an undialectical category that does not grasp its own conditions of possibility; it fails to grasp the dynamic historical context of capital and its reconstitution of possibilities for both domination and emancipation, of which the ‘resisters’ do not recognize that that they are a part.”

— Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism” (Public Culture¸ 18.1: 2006)

This quotation was the launchpad for a Platypus discussion in NY, featuring Todd Gitlin, Russ Wolfe and others, which you can see some video of here.

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