Critical Theory & Marxism

“Marxismus als Methode? Lukács und die Grundlegung einer kritischen Gesellschaftstheorie heute,“ Lukacs Jahrbuch 2021-2023, hg. R. Dannemann, Münster: Aisthesis 2023, 87-111. [download]

Wer den Wahrheitsanspruch des Marxismus (im Verständnis von Lukács) gerecht werden will, muss ihn als Methode verstehen. Aber was heißt das genau? Wieso Methode? Was sind die Kernelemente dieser Methode? Und warum ist der Gedanke einer Theorie der Gesellschaft, die sich als Methode versteht, nicht nur ein Vergangenes? In meinem Beitrag gehe ich diesen Fragen zumindest im Ansatz nach und betrachte den Kerngehalt von Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein genauer, der sich meiner Meinung nach eben nicht einfach im Verdinglichungsbegriff oder in einer Kritik am a-historischen bürgerlichen Dualismus zwischen Sein und Sollen oder zwischen Theorie und Praxis erschöpft, sondern – Lukács selbst ernst nehmend – in dem methodischen Verständnis der Sozialtheorie besteht. Diese Fragestellung verorte ich im Lichte gegenwärtiger Debatten, und zwar im Kontext des sogenannten  „Jenaer Ansatzes“ in der Kritischen Theorie, die von Hartmut Rosa seit einiger Zeit zu Recht mit viel Erfolg verfolgt wird.

“Lucien Goldmann Redivivus. Categories, History, and Praxis in Lukacs and Heidegger,” Metodo, 9/2, 2022, 241-273. [download]

In this paper, I first argue that Lucien Goldmann’s attempt to confront Heidegger and Lukács, though it deserves to be revitalized, remains ultimately insufficient. Second, I propose that a more fruitful reading of Heidegger and Lukács should be based on three aspects: first, Lukács’ concept of social totality should be related to Heidegger’s concept of world. Second, the more meaningful way to confront Lukács and Heidegger on the level of praxis is not the everyday dealings with ready to- hand things (as Goldmann argues), but, instead, the second division of Being and Time in which a political concept of subjectivity and action comes to the forefront. Third, a proper approach to Heidegger’s and Lukács’ philosophies should be based on their respective appropriation of the concept of categories.

“Critique as Disclosure. Building Blocks for a Phenomenological Appropriation of Marx,” in Phenomenology as Critique: Why Method Matters, eds. Andreea S Aldea, David Carr, and Sara Heinämaa, Routledge 2022, 207-223. [download]

In this chapter I focus on a few selected building blocks that will pave the way for a renewed, thorough, and sober phenomenological reading of Marx’s philosophy. I intend to show here that this can be done best through 1) moving Marx away from a Hegelian framework, 2) understanding the concept of critique as an attempt to de-naturalize social phenomena and as disclosure, and 3) showing that Marx’s concept of philosophy, his method, as well as his understanding of technology, are forms of “disclosure.” This, in turn, should point us away from a dialectical understanding of Marx and open up new venues for a phenomenologically inspired critique of political economy.

“Capital as Positionality. On Marx and Heidegger,” in Marxism and Phenomenology. The Dialectical Horizons of Critique, eds. Bryan Smyth and Richard Westerman, Lexington Books 2021, 151-170. [download]

Most commentary on Marx and Heidegger has focused on their respective  early philosophies, particularly on their views of the relation between labor, reification, and how these issues are related to Being and Time, as well as on Heidegger’s sparse comments on Marx in his Letter on Humanism. In my contribution, I will go beyond this horizon and open up new venues for confronting Heidegger’s later philosophy and Marx’s later thought. I will briefly review Heidegger’s understanding of Marx as an anthropological philosopher who follows a subjectivist metaphysics and argue that Heidegger’s “version” of Marx remains shortsighted, insofar as Marx’s philosophy should be understood not only as a critique of labor but also a theory that is based on the claim that “the” human as an abstraction is an effect of the capitalist mode of production. I will then outline how we can read Marx and Heidegger together, on one level, by focusing on real abstractions, such a value, labor power and energy, which leads to the conclusion that Heidegger’s concept of enframing or positionality [Gestell] in the context of his concept of technology can be more properly grasped if we relate it to value and capital as an epoch.

“Movement or Event? Negri vs. Badiou on Politics,” in Open Borders: Encounters Between Italian Philosophy and Continental Thought, ed. Antonio Calcagno and Silvia Benso, Albany: SUNY Press 2021, 231-254. [download]

Although Negri (and Hardt) are usually identified as a “non-dogmatic” version of Post-Marxism, their position can be identified with the attempt to offering a contemporary vision of Marxist thought that, at least to some extent, remains true to its basis, namely, the connection between Marxist social theory and political philosophy. Accordingly, political thought can for them only be defined in connection with a theory of subjectivity and labor defined by recent developments in global capitalism. In contradistinction, and seen from the problem of how to combine social theory, political economy, and political thought, Badiou is furthest away from a Marxian base (broadly defined), given that one of his central claims is that politics needs to be re-thought as a “true” politics, which he conceives of as independent from questions of social form and social-economic structure. As I argue in this chapter, Negri’s concept of the political in connection with the social, even if one might disagree with his concrete analysis of contemporary forms of labor and subjectivity, is far superior to Badiou’s regressive concept of communist politics, insofar as it takes the social into account as constitutive for the political and does not lead to the consequence that we need to wait for some “truth event” that turns individuals into spiritual soldiers.

Categorial Forms as Intelligibility of Social Objects. Reification and Objectivity in Lukács, in Confronting Reification. Revitalizing Georg Lukács’s Thought in Late Capitalism, ed. Gregory R. Smulewicz-Zucker, Leiden: Brill/Chicago: Haymarket Books 2020, 25-47. [download]

The concept of categories played a crucial role in all major intellectual constellations at the beginning of the 20th Century. Major schools, such as neo-Kantianism, social theory (Durkheim and Simmel), phenomenology (Husserl and Heidegger), and early critical theory developed new approaches to the problem of categories by shifting the focus from the concept of rationality to the concept of meaning and culture. Though inherited from Kant, these philosophers are concerned with re-interpreting categories as constitutive for ontology and a theory of meaning rather than a theory of subjectivity. In this vein, Lukács’ appropriation of Lask’s theory of categories is crucial for understanding the concept of reification in History and Class Consciousness. Lukács’ relation to neo-Kantianism is obscured by the problematic translation of one of his key words, not only in HCC, but also in his later writings, particularly, “Gegenständlichkeitsform” [form of objecthood]. For Lukács, this concept indicates a new way of thinking about objects as being constituted by their “being.” The meaningfulness of objects is not established through an “application” of categories to pre-existing material or to sensual experience. Instead, objects are constituted as objects from the beginning on as meaningful objects through their categorial form. The categorial form of objects establishes their “truth” and makes them accessible to subjective acts. The crucial question of how objects are constituted in their categorial structure leads Lukács towards a new appropriation of Marx’s concept of categories in Capital, which, as a consequence, is less Hegelian than is usually thought. Indeed, Lukács is able to develop his concept of reification as the “category of categories” through the lens of a neo-Kantian-inspired reading of Marx. In this paper, I shed more light on this background in Lukács’ philosophy, especially since not only can this help us understand the methodological and philosophical premises of his social ontology, but this also opens up new venues for developing a critical theory of society as a theory of social being.

Post-Marxism Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory, volume III, ed. Best, Beverly; Bonefeld, Werner; O’Kane, Chris; Larsen, Neil, London: Sage 2018, 1332-1347. [download]

In this chapter I give an overview of “Post-Marxism.” Primary attention is paid to what should be considered the core of Post-Marxism in relation to Marxist and Non- Marxist critical theory, namely, its conception of the social. This shift is of importance for the overall post-Marxist philosophical vision of society, theory, and politics. Theorists discussed include Badiou, Honneth, Ranciere, Laclau/Mouffe, Foucault, Gorz, and Hardt/Negri.

Culture Industry Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory, volume II, ed. Best, Beverly; Bonefeld, Werner; O’Kane, Chris; Larsen, Neil, London: Sage 2018, 973-987. [download]

In this chapter I offer a critical re-reading of the Frankfurt School’s concept of culture industry by arguing that this concept can only be understood in connection with the goals of critical theory [1] as a theory of society, [2] as an extension of Marx’s critique of political economy, as well as [3] as a materialistic theory of subjectivity. These three dimensions of the concept of culture industry are tied together by Kant’s concept of schematism that Adorno and Horkheimer turn into a social-material concept in order to analyze capitalist social relations.

Alienation, Private Property, and Democracy. Why Worrell and Krier Raise Questions in the Clouds Critical Sociology, 2018, Vol. 44(2), 267-274. [download]

In this essay I argue that Marx’s philosophy does not commit us to Worrell’s and Krier’s claim that a post-capitalist society will be a social formation in which all social relations appear unmediated to their agents. Quite the opposite is true: given his Hegelian background, which Marx never gives up, social relations are in principle to be mediated by the results of human productive acts, and although a socialist society no longer is mediated by capital, it still cannot be thought without a legal, ethical, and political form of these relations. Those meditations (which Worrell and Krier do not separate clearly from social-economic aspects) will be universal. Accordingly, the author’s claim that Marx is opposed to the concept of the universal is baseless. In addition, I demonstrate that Worrell’s and Krier’s interpretation of Marx’s concept of alienation as a romantic concept is misguided and, instead, that we would do well to focus on the concept of private property. Finally, I show that they do not properly grasp Marx’s concepts of democracy and communism.

Gegenständlichkeit. From Marx to Lukacs and Back Again Theory and Practice: Critical Theory and the Thought of Andrew Feenberg, ed. Darrell Arnold and Michel, Andreas, London: Palgrave 2017, 71-89. [download]

As one of very few authors in the Anglo-American tradition Andrew Feenberg has pointed out, the early development of critical theory and Lukacs’ philosophy cannot be understood without reflecting on the historically rich network between phenomenology, Neo-Kantianism, and social theory. Moreover, in contradistinction to many contemporary critical theorists, Feenberg, following Lukacs, is not hostile to epistemological and ontological questions in social theory. In this vein, the main terms that Feenberg introduces in his interpretation of Lukacs is Gegenständlichkeit (objectivity). Although I agree with Feenberg’s claim that this term is central for understanding Lukacs’ understanding of social entities as culturally meaningful entities, I argue that we can find this broader social meaning of entities already foreshadowed in chapter one of Marx’s Capital if we read Capital as a theory of society. Unfortunately traditional Marxist discourses tend to reduce Capital to an “economic” theory and Feenberg seems to follow this tradition, i.e., he seems to dismiss the critique of political economy as the primary horizon for a critical theory of society. However, as I will demonstrate, Marx’s project cannot be reduced to a labor theory of value and, instead, it should, from the beginning on, be understood as a social theory based on social categories and Gegenständlichkeit as the central element for translating epistemological concepts into social concepts.

Fiction without Fantasy. Capital Fetishism as Objective Forgetting Continental Thought & Theory, 2, 2017, 364-382 [download]

In my paper I briefly examine three popular mystifications of the concept of capital, before I further argue that the concept of fetishism should be conceived of as a process of social forgetting. I argue that we are living in a fetishistic society insofar as fetishism is not only collective but also objective. However, I am not opening up totally new territory here, since, for example, Zizek argued that commodity fetishism is “the unconscious of the commodity form,” and Jameson expanded the idea of the objective quality of commodity fetishism towards what he calls the “historical amnesia” of consumer societies. However, I hope that my reflections can be seen as an extension of these positions in two important respects: first, they go beyond the concept of commodity and tie the concept of fetishism back to the concept of capital, and, second, they tie the problem of amnesia and fetishism back to Marx’s method.

Left Thatcherism. Recent Critical Theory and Post-Marxism(s) in the Light of Marxian Social Ontology Capitalism’s Future:  Alienation, Emancipation and Critique, ed. Dan Krier, and Mark Worrell, Leiden: Brill 2016, 93-113. [download]

By now it has become the central aim of French post-Marxist thought and critical theorists of the Frankfurt School alike to develop critical theory further towards overcoming central features of Marxian theory, especially his critique of political economy. What is at stake in both schools is the rejection of a dialectical conception of society that operates with strong assumptions about both the reconstruction of the totality of society as well as the foundations of social ontology in social-economic terms. Two other foundations of the being of the social have been put forward, namely, on the one hand, the claim found in post-structuralist inspired thought that the social is founded on the political, and, on the other hand, the claim advanced in recent Frankfurt School inspired thought that the social is founded on the ethical. This turn, I claim, leads to the consequence that Marx’s conception of the capitalist world as a historically-specific world constituted by the value form gets lost and is replaced by universal and, at least tendentiously, a-historical concepts. As a consequence, the critique and analysis of capitalism is no longer the central task, since the principle of valorized labor gets replaced by universalist principles. As a consequence, a substantial concept of the social gets lost.

Is Capital a Thing? Remarks on Piketty’s Concept of Capital Critical Sociology, 42/2, 2015. 375-383. [download]

The thesis of my remarks is that Piketty’s overall position understands capital as something that exists within society, whereas I submit (on the grounds of Marx’s theory of society) that capital is the main category that determines the existence of capitalist society. Put differently, capital in the form of valorized labor determines the specific social form of capitalist society. Whereas Piketty’s position is built upon a positivistic concept of capital, I argue that capital is not “some-thing;” rather, capital is the central category of capitalist social reproduction. Capital, in other words, must therefore describe the functioning of a social totality as a whole and cannot be related to a single aspect of it. Accordingly, though the focus on inequality is important, it tends to hide the real social organization of capitalist society.

An der Oberfläche der Tauschgesellschaft. Kritik der Kritischen Theorie Prokla. Zeitschrift für kritische Sozialwissenschaft, 180, 2015, 453-469. [download]

In diesem Beitrag lege ich dar, warum der normative „turn“ der Frankfurter Schule, insbesondere sichtbar bei Habermas und Honneth, in Engpässen endet, da eine substantielle Kritik des Kapitalismus durch den alleinigen Fokus auf Kommunikation, Normativität und Moral verhindert wird. Dagegen werde ich argumentieren, dass wir zu einer Neuaufnahme und Re-Aktualisierung einer bei Marx schon zu findenden „immanenten Kritik“ im Sinne einer Analyse der gesellschaftlichen Totalität und eines substantiellen Arbeitsbegriffes zurückkehren sollten. Das Verlassen des Produktionsparadigmas dazu führt, dass die Genese der kapitalistischen Gesellschaft und ihrer Konsequenzen vernebelt werden. Mit dem Verschwinden des Arbeitsbegriffes aus der „offiziellen“ kritischen Theorie verschwindet auch ihr kritischer Stachel. Dieser Beitrag kann als eine Erweiterung meines Beitrages in Prokla 176 (Lotz 2014b) verstanden werden.

Marx contra Negri: Value, Abstract Labor, and Money Interventions. Contemporary Political Italian Philosophy, ed. Antonio Calcagno, SUNY Press 2015, 217-343. [download]

In this essay I present critical reflections on Antonio Negri’s attempt to break out of central aspects of the Marxian legacy, in particular Marx’s concept of value. As I demonstrate, Marx’s theory of value cannot be reduced to the problem of labor time and issues related to measurement, as these terms in Marx’s mature theory indicate a specific mode of how society is constituted as a totality, which includes exchange and money. As such, we need to make distinctions between value and value form, money and money form, capital and capital form, etc. As a theory of the form of capitalist social relations, Marx’s philosophy can help us not only critically engage with Negri’s theory of (immaterial) labor, but also correct certain reductions, in Negri’s thought, such as the reduction of capital to power and control, as well as his over-idealized notion of the general intellect

The Return of Abstract Universalism. A Critique of David Graeber’s Concept of Society and Communism Radical Philosophy Review, 18/2, 2015, 245-262. [download]

In this essay I critically examine David Graeber’s concept of “everyday communism.” Graeber claims that that all societies are ultimately based and founded upon what he calls the “communism of the senses.” This “two-level” version of social reality, as I intend to show in what follows from a Marxian standpoint, should be rejected, as it operates with a descriptive concept of society that posits as the center or “essence” of society its universal and a-historical “human” base, on top of which hierarchical and economic relations are posited as “superstructures.” Graeber favors a theory that posits an ahistorical base underneath the historical. As a consequence, society disappears underneath an empty and abstract concept of the ethical. This image of society, I will argue with Marx and Engels, overlooks the categorical form of social relations, which cannot be reduced to an empty and abstract concept of sociality as “human” ethical relations. This is especially visible in the case of capitalist socialization.

Against Essentialist Conceptions of Love. Towards a Social-Materialist Conception of Love Thinking About Love: Essays in Contemporary Continental Philosophy, ed. Dianne Enns, Penn State Press, 131-148 [download] [review]

Love, as I try to develop in this essay, is not the ontological or ethical basis from which all other elements of society emerge, but it is tied to a social form that depends upon the categorial system of reproduction, which is the way in which love concretely exists under existing relations of production. Love, taken here as the sensual form of being social (which in turn depends upon reproduction), remains, accordingly, in distance from religious, romantic, anthropological or legal conceptions of love. Against such reductionisms we must maintain that love is a form of being social in which the sensual life is as complex as the social world, and not an abstraction from the latter. As Marx states in The Holy Family: love “cannot be construed a priori, because its development is a real one which takes place in the world of the senses and between real individuals” (MEW 2, 23). Love, then, is tied to real individuals and cannot be seen in an ahistorical fashion, though it needs to be grasped in its specific, i.e., its categorial form. I will first present reflections on love in pre-Marxian terms, as Marx’s break with essentialist conceptions of love depends upon his critique of Feuerbach; I will then reconstruct Marx’s early philosophy of love as a philosophy of sensuality, expanding this position by taking the “standpoint of reproduction” (Althusser) into account, before I finish with contrasting the social-material theory of love with what I conceive as regressive position in recent political philosophy, such as Negri’s and Badiou’s philosophies of love.

Klasse und Gewalt. Kritische Anmerkungen aus Marxistischer Sicht zum Verschwinden des Klassenbegriffs in Kritischer Theorie und Post-Marxismus Prokla. Zeitschrift für kritische Sozialwissenschaft, 176/2014, 383-403. [download]

In this essay I briefly analyze why the concept of class has disappeared in recent social philosophy, such as in the philosophies of Badiou, Negri/Hardt, and Honneth. I argue that a change in the foundations of their social ontologies has led to the dismissal of the concept of class and, in addition, I argue that these changes are unwarranted, since they lead to a loss of a critical concept of society. Then, in a second part, I argue that the concept of class deserves a systematic status within a theory of capitalist sociality, especially since the concept of class can be traced back genetically to violent social relations that are derived from the capitalist social order.

The Transcendental Force of Money. Social Synthesis in Marx Rethinking Marxism, 26/1, 2014, 130-139. [download]

Instead of defining money as a means or tool for social communication and exchange, Marx determines money as the really existing universal and as existing form of an abstract social mode of domination. His conception is the consequence of transforming Kant’s concept of “thinghood” into a social and material concept, which most scholarship overlooks. As such, it confronts us with the problem of how we should think of really abstract social relationships and a form of social reproduction that is itself abstract because social reproduction depends upon the money form. In this paper I first analyze Marx’s early concept of money as the thing itself, after which I reconstruct how this aspect is finally turned into a social concept in the Grundrisse.

Capitalist Schematization. Political Economy, Exchange, and Objecthood in Adorno Zeitschrift für Kritische Theorie, 36/37, 2013, 110-123. [download]

I argue that the culture industry chapter in DE cannot be properly understood if one does not take Adorno’s interpretation of the Kantian schematization concept into account, as Adorno claims that schematization of objecthood is a function of labor, which, in turn, depends upon [a] capitalist commodity exchange and [b] the “real abstraction” that occurs in exchange, which establishes value and the abstract nature of capitalist social totality. My thesis, accordingly, is that Adorno’s concept of schematization remains faithful to Marx’s Capital. Schematization of objecthood does not occur in the mind of the subject; rather, it occurs in social reality.

Reification through Commodity Form or Technology? From Honneth back to Heidegger and Marx Rethinking Marxism,  25/2, April 2013, 184-200. [download]

Heidegger’s claim that the being of beings has been reduced to standing reserve through modern technology seems to be the best expression of Marx’s concept of reification as a result of the commodity form. In my paper, after briefly criticizing Honneth’s recent reconceptualization of reification as [1] psychological and [b] non-economic, I will outline the problem of reification from the perspective of Marx, which will prepare the confrontation that I shall present between Heidegger and Marx, for the real issue is whether reification is the result of technology (which I will call “causality form”) or the result of the “commodity form.” Though I am unable to present a “final” solution for this confrontation, I claim, against Heidegger, that Marx’s concept of the commodity form is not based on subjectivity and, in addition, that Heideggerian ontology is unable to explain the connection between “enframing” and the capitalist structures that Heidegger implies in his descriptions of modern phenomena. Accordingly, this essay tries to open up a new path towards what has recently been called “Heideggerian Marxism.”

Warentausch und Technik als Schematisierung von Gegenständlichkeit bei Adorno und Heidegger Ding und Verdinglichung. Technik- und Sozialphilosophie nach Heidegger und der kritischen Theorie, ed. Christian Lotz, Hans Friesen, Markus Wolf, and Jakob Meier, München: Fink, 191-211 [download]

In diesem Aufsatz versuche ich zu zeigen, dass Adorno und Heidegger die Kants Gedanken der Gegenstandskonstitution durch den Schematismus aufnehmen und in ihren Theorien materialistisch bzw. ontologisch wenden. In einem ersten Schritt zeige ich, dass Adornos These ist, dass der Bezug auf Gegenstände eine soziale Funktion ist, die von der sich durch Individuen hindurch reproduzierenden Gesellschaft bestimmt wird. Je mehr diese Reproduktion sich im Sinne der kapitalistischen Warentausch-Logik vollzieht, umso mehr vollzieht sich auch die Schematisierung der Welt innerhalb dieser Logik, da der Warentausch die Bedingung der Möglichkeit nicht nur von Vergesellschaftung im allgemeinen, sondern auch von gegenständlicher Erfahrung ist – und letztendlich die Erfahrung außerhalb dieses Schemas – d.h. der Zukunft und des Andersseins – unmöglich macht. Der Warentausch regelt und schematisiert also den Gegenstandsbezug. In einem zweiten Schritt zeige ich, dass Heideggers These ist, dass im Schematismus vor allen Dingen Kants Begriff der Gegenständlichkeit zum Vorschein kommt. Dieser Begriff der Gegenständlichkeit aber ist nach Heidegger schon aus der Logik der Subjektivitätsphilosophie geboren, die wiederum auf der den Zugang zum Seienden bestimmenden Technik fußt. Daher ist Technik bei Heidegger imgrunde ein ins Ontologische gewendeter Schematismus, bei dem unsere Erfahrung durch eine als Wirkung und Effekt verstandene Zweck-Mittel-Kausalität es uns nicht mehr erlaubt, die Dinge als Dinge, d.h. als etwas Besonderes, und das heißt als etwas sich ereignendes Wesenhaftes, zu erfahren. In einem dritten Schritt versuche ich zu zeigen, dass Heideggers „Lösung“ einer Schematisierung moderner Erfahrung als Technik nicht überzeugt. Auf der einen Seite nämlich behauptet er, dass die moderne Technik der Rahmen aller Erfahrung ist, auf der anderen Seite aber kann er die Phänomene, die er im Blick hat, nämlich die dynamischen Phänomene des Kapitalismus, nicht mehr aus der Annahme eines metaphysisch verstandenen Gestells ableiten. Ich komme daher zu dem Schluss, dass der materialistische Ansatz – solange man seine Prämissen übernimmt – überzeugender ist.

Discipline in Encyclopedia of the Modern World, ed. Peter N. Stearns, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2008. [download]