Critique & theory


At, an interesting feature, the tankDo We Need Adorno? By , Emory University,, Case Western Reserve University, , UIC, , UIC, , School of the Art Institute of Chicago and , Yeshiva University. First up, a review by Todd Cronan of Adorno and Horkheimer’s  Towards a New Manifesto by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Translated by Rodney Livingstone. Verso 2011, reprinted from Radical Philosophy  issue 174 (July/August 2012): 31-33. Followed by a series of responses.

Raphael Schlembach was one of the was one of the editors of the excellent social movement magazine Shift. His page has links to several papers by him, which look well worth reading. Here they are:

A new blog: Margate Sounds. So far, features a review of the crap BBC documentary about Marx, and a requiem for Principia Dialectica, featuring dub vendor Ronnie from Brixton. Here is Reificationofpersonsandthings’ brief obit for Principia D.

Via the latter, I see this new Alfred Sohn-Rethel Online Database, “currently under construction, but will ultimately provide a variety of resources useful to those studying the work of the German sociologist and fellow-traveler of the Frankfurt School Alfred Sohn-Rethel.” One to watch.

In similar terrain, Pogo Principle reflects on Moishe Postone v Robert Kurz, following this interview with Kurz at Principia Dialectica.

SPME publishes a text by Luis Liendo Espinoza criticising an article by Clemens Henri (alternative version here) attacking Bahamas, Thomas von der Osten Sacken and other pro-Israel groups in Germany as “anti-Jewish” because of their criticisms of the pro-circumcision side in the Beschneidungsdebatte (circumcision-debate) in Germany. Bahamas et al take a line against religion in general and against any Jewish-Muslim alliance under the rubric of  “intercultural dialogue”. They (and Liendo) are particularly opposed to any claim that Islamophobia is equivalent to antisemitism. In my view, both Henri and Liendo, as well as Bahamas, should be treated with large pinches of salt. Henri’s claim that these groups are antisemitic is, as Liendo says, laughable, but Liendo’s defence is a wrong-headed one – although they are of course both right in opposing the circumcision ban. (On the issues, read the discussion here.) Henri, incidentally, has a rarely updated English blog here, a mostly German blog hereoccasionally writes for PJMedia and the Algemeiner; you can read an interview with him here.

Heathwood is an independent press. “Formed in a similar spirit to the Frankfurt School of old, Heathwood is an entirely independent, non-profit academic project which looks to carry (post-Adornian) critical theoretical traditions forward into the 21st Century.” One feature on the site is a guest article by Glenn RikowskiCritical Pedagogy and the Constitution of Capitalist Society. Rikowski leans heavily on Moishe Postone in the section “The Constitution of Capitalist Society”:

For me, a critical pedagogy should have at its foundations the critique of capitalist society. However, at the core of this enterprise is a critique of what Moishe Postone (1996) takes to be the basic structuring features of capital’s social universe. These phenomena constitute the ‘fundamental core of capitalism’ (pp.24-29). However, Postone argues that for Marx, the category of value is key:

“… for Marx, the category of value expresses the basic relations of production of capitalism, – those social relations that specifically characterize capitalism as a mode of social life – as well as that production in capitalism is based on value. In other words, value, in Marx’s analysis, constitutes the “foundations of bourgeois production”” (Postone, 1996, p.24).


“… value does not refer to wealth in general, but is a historically specific and transitory category that purportedly grasps the foundation of capitalist society” (p.25).

Thus, the critique of capitalist work as the production of value as well as of use-values (useful things) as commodities is essential, and from this it follows that critical pedagogy should be concerned with the analysis and critique of work in society today – and this includes the work of teachers and all those involved in education and training. Indeed, later on I shall argue that the labour of teachers has a special status as an object of critical pedagogy.

Postone goes on to uncover other aspects of the basic structuring features of capitalist society. The commodity, incorporating exchange-value as well as value and use-value is important. Surplus-value is important for understanding the form that labour exploitation takes in capitalist society. However Postone includes a long list of other categories: abstract and concrete labour; socially necessary and surplus labour; abstract time, historical time and socially necessary labour time; money; and capital – and many others, and their relations and configurations in capitalist. Finally, how these relations are effected via various social mediations is explored. It is the critique of all these categories and their relations that should be at the heart of a truly critical pedagogy. In this way can we can come to comprehend the nature of social domination in capitalist society – all the better to terminate it, for:

“In Marx’s analysis, social domination in capitalism does not, on its most fundamental level, consist in the domination of people by other people, but in the domination of people by abstract social structures that people themselves constitute” (Postone, 1996, p.30).

Thus, social emancipation for Postone, and for me, consists in liberating ourselves from these abstract social structures. It is imperative that we understand them; a key task for critical pedagogy.

Though Postone works through many of the basic structuring features of capitalist society, in my view he does not address sufficiently one of the most significant: labour power. As I have argued elsewhere (in Rikowski, 2006, labour power is capitalism’s ‘weakest link’. This is so as:

“It is the only commodity in the social universe of capital that can create, sustain and expand capital through surplus-value production. This establishes its supreme importance in the firmament of commodities. In addition, this magical commodity resides in the personhoods of labourers, and is ultimately under the jurisdiction of their wills. Thus: labour power is the supreme value-creating power on which capital depends for its existence, and it is incorporated within labourers who have the potential to withhold this wonderful social force (through strikes or leaving the employment of a capital) or worse, to use labour power for anti-capitalist activity and ultimately for non-capitalist forms of production. Together, these features make labour power capital’s weakest link. Capital depends on it, yet has the capacity to be used by its owners against capital and to open up productive forms which capital no longer dominates. Marx and Marxist analysis uncovers this with a great force and clarity as compared with any other critical social theory. In indicating the fragility of capital in this way, and in pinpointing its weakest link, Marxist analysis is vindicated and justified” (Rikowski, 2006, p.8).

In contemporary capitalist society, education and training play a crucial role in the social production of labour power – the single commodity on which the expansion of capital and the continuation of capitalist society depend. Thus, a truly critical pedagogy that has political resonance should uncover this fact of life in today’s capitalism – with many examples and studies and debates and discussions, drawing on people’s everyday experience of education and training in capitalist society. Hence, the process of education itself, and its role in reducing human life to labour power, should become leading topics in any worthwhile critical pedagogy.

2 Responses to “Critique & theory”

  1. “In my view, both Henri and Liendo, as well as Bahamas, should be treated with large pinches of salt.”

    What the fuck? Do you think the EDL should be treated with “large pinches of salt”?

    Bahamas are nasty racist scumbags. Drop trying to legitimize shit like that in the English-speaking world, or pretend it legitimately belongs within the discursive space of inner-left debates. Nobody in Germany even thinks that anymore.

    It’s not 2002, let alone 1990. That ship has long sailed. Only you and Platypus seem to think that vicious racists are legitimate partners of a left dialogue.

  2. Sorry for slow reply.

    I don’t have any stake in deciding who are “legitimate partners of a left dialogue”, whatever that would be. I don’t particularly identify with the left, nor care what sort of “dialogue” it should engage in. I am particularly not interested in policing who might or might not be “legitimate” speakers in this debate.

    I don’t fully endorse any of the links from this site. I’ve linked to anti-imperialist marxists without comment several times, even though I completely oppose many of their fundamental premises.

    “large pinches of salt” was of course an understatement in this case. I didn’t think my paragraph would have been taken as any kind of approval for Bahamas.

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