Moishe Postone on history, the Holocaust and the anti-capitalist Left

Anti-capitalist discourse has become personal. Moishe Postone, Professor in the University of Chicago’s History Department, is an intellectual historian who explains this well. Unless I’m mistaken, he also edited His work is also published in what for me is one of the most important texts to come out of the small section of the radical left which fights antisemitism – the reader Why Your Revolution Is No Liberation (all links point here, but it’s gone – I’ll see if I have a copy on file to upload).

His presentation at SOAS on June 15th outlined with great clarity the origins of the weaknesses of thought on the radical left which are preventing it from reckoning with antisemitism. He explains difficulties both universalist and particularist ways of looking at the world have had accommodating Jews since the rise of Fascism in the ’30s. This is not an optimistic presentation, but it does set out and clarify our problem: radical anti-capitalist critique has taken up antisemitic ways of thinking.

My jots:

~~~~

Buchenwald and Hiroshima was dealt with by Left; but the left has not managed to deal with Auschwitz.

The Age of Catastrophe in the 30s and 40s gave way to High Fordism’s state centred synthesis and its welfare states; in turn this yielded to Post-Fordism with its social differentiation and unemployment, downturns in some parts, undermined welfare state.

USSR as development of capitalist social formation, no matter how antithetical. It was a response to capitalism, not an independent movement.

Antisemitism understood widely as variant of racism. But modern antisemitism treats Jews not as a racially inferior group to be kept in place but as dangerous, destructive and powerful in an intangible, global, abstract way. Jews as vast modern conspiracy.

Antisemitism is populist, counterhegemonic, claims explanatory power. Modern a/s purports to explain the modern capitalist world. Misrecognises the global domination of capital. Freeing the world involves freeing it from the Jews. Emancipatory. Blurs differences between reactionary and progressive/emancipatory. Bebel. Antisemitism today understands capitalism as a Jewish conspiracy.

Is the reactionary critique a first step to a progressive critique? No, not historically.

Left responses to the Holocaust.

As fetishised form of anticapitalism.

Nazis were recognised first as anti-modern, then fundamentally modern. A problematic reversal. Anti-capitalism was an effort to overcome a huge historical change which seems to be beyond people, impersonal. Reimagine the struggle against capitalism as a struggle of wills. But that world view faded for decades after the Holocaust. History faded as an issue for a while. Beginning in the mid 50s, rapid economic growth enveloped Stalinist East and Keynsian West and seemed to be an age of universal progress. History seemed tame. Nazism seemed like an aberration, an incongruity – anti-modern at a time when affirmations of modernity were hegemonic.

Shift to particularism saw Nazism as extreme eg of rationalised bureaucratised modernity. But still counter-hegemonic.

The Holocaust was marginalised between ’45 and ’60s, after which it became centralised in discourse. But the centrality of antisemitism to Nazism was completely bracketed. Fascism was understood as a tool of capitalism used against working classes; antisemitism was seen as a variation. USSR monuments to the Holocaust didn’t mention the Jews, or else they listed them as one of many nationalities victimised by Nazis. Ruling elites were prepared to curry favour with groups who remained antisemitic. Neither Churchill nor De Gaulle avoided this. So Jewish children sent to Auschwitz were officially described as ‘political deportees’ – the different reasons for being sent to Auschwitz were conflated. This constituted a submergence of specificity of the Holocaust. It was a form of universalist colour blindness which viewed any mention of Jews-as-Jews as unacceptably particularistic. After ’45 each country formerly occupied by Nazis presented itself as a briefly-occupied nation of resisters; this nationalist self-regard suited the emerging Fordist-Keynsian capitalist configuration.

In the USSR there were show trials; the Jewish Doctors’ Plot; in the US, McCarthyism. Each configuration viewed its foe as abstract and intangible. In each, Jewish identity was not treated as contingent, but central. Soviet show trials described Jews as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ and ‘Zionists’. The Doctors’ Plot led to preparations in ’53 to round up Soviet Jews, abandoned on Stalin’s death that year. The turn against ‘cosmopolitanism’ was also seen in McCarthyism, a move against “international communism”. After 53, Cold War ‘regularised’, with blocs presenting fetishised values of alternatively liberty or equality, actualised according to universalised principles.

New movements – for the liberation and emancipation of women and other minorities – criticised abstract universalism and there was a shift towards a politics of recognition and of particularistic specificity. But anti-imperialism has reproduced old dichotomies by taking one particularist side against another.

A new conceptualisation of the world became diverted into an attack on the concrete – a turn from terra incognita and towards the conceptually familiar. Concrete forms of anti-imperialism occlude the nature of abstract domination of capitalism.

Much of the New Left became involved in an anti-colonialism which was a failing as well as an expression of solidarity. Anti-colonialism was also a displaced way of expressing a radical critique of Western society, translated into other terms which fail to mount opposition to capitalism.

Anti-Iraq war demonstrations were not, after all, supporting a progressive force in Iraq, but the Baathist regime. Resistance to the US in and of itself is now viewed as counter-hegemonic. This is a reactionary, rather than progressive, form of anti-imperialism.

The conflation of Israel and US re-articulates old discourse of European political right about Britain and the Jews. The constitution of anti-hegemonic politics and movements was afflicted by this way of thinking in the 20th century, with the eventuality of the Holocaust.

Left cannot formulate an adequate radical critique of capitalism today. This absence of radical critique breeds fetishised forms of anti-capitalism which are essentially antisemitic.

Questions

Qu

Why do you want to avoid conflating mass extermination with mass murder?

Nazis wanted to kill many Poles and Russians and enslave the rest. But there was a will to kill all Jews, old and young. The killing of children demonstrated the hugeness of the threat that the Nazis assumed the Jews to be. Mass murder does not imply the destruction of evil; extermination does.

Book 2003 Jonathan Brent. ‘The plot against the Jewish doctors’

Qu

Equation of Israel with Nazism is a product of Soviet propaganda post-67 when Zionism became once again an international conspiracy, particularly in Pan-Arab discourse.

The focus of attention on Israel could make more immediate problems recede. Anyway, until that time, Nazism wasn’t such a bad word. It was simply expedient to use it as a gold standard of evil at the time.

Qu
Under Tsarism?

Soviet messages from 60s include cartoons which cast Jews as complicit in Jewish crimes. Perdition – according to somebody who read a draft, Perdition lost incendiary lines in the editing process, about Jews, as culprits for the death of Jesus, nailing the Christ to the cross and similar or worse.

Qu

What resources has the left lacked to allow it to get into this state. Moral perspective lacking? Match-up between straightforward utilitarian consequentialists who are at the same time advancing antisemitism eg Ted Honderichs, and, on the other hand universalists. Critique of anti-capitalism which comes from a milieu without the moral resources to develop the politics of recognition into a truer critique.

Calling into question of a form of universalism which rejects difference – but incoherent because some diffs were liked and some not. A form of universalism which encompasses difference is required. In the US on the academic left there is a reification of difference which either negates or affirms eg Islam as a unitary other, a form of orientalism.

Qu
Why are we surprised by discoveries of antisemitism in one or other section of thought?

Left doesn’t understand a/s. Understands it as being anti-Left, anti-gay, anti-black. But a/s is a particular challenge for the left, at the time when the left is largely unmoored.

Qu
Why do we persist with umbrella term of antisemitism? Why not say anti-Jewishness?

Antisemitism, the term coined by antisemites, has never referred to semites – it has referred to a world conspiracy.

Qu
Herzl was the first to brag about the international Jew. He sold out on the Armenian revolution. What is the Jewish contribution to antisemitism? [this man blames the victims. The “Jewish contribution to antisemitism” is to be the target of it].

There was no answer; a polite deferral.

Qu
Anti-imperialism grew out of attempt to explain why Marxist predictions didn’t come to pass. The concept of imperialism exists for the marxist left to explain the failings of marxism.

As long as there is capitalism there is the necessity of understanding it. Communist revolutions were about taking ‘imperialised’ countries and have them develop national capital along statist lines. At the same time the Arab Middle East and Sub Saharan Africa have declined drastically, with people looking for responsibility – and hitting on the US and Israel as the culprits.

Qu
State capitalist antisemitism desecrating cemetery with bulldozers in (I think) Eastern Europe. Hamas was being socialist in Gaza even as Muslim nationalists, while the PLO were doing nothing. Maybe a left view of universalism which could address US’s allies Saudi while being pro-public…?

That space is occupied by Islamic fundamentalists. Not optimistic Not seeing possibilities. One of the best things that could happen would be an even shaky resolution between Israel and Palestine, removing one excuse for antisemitism.

~~~~

You can read an article of his, History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism, and encounter some of these thoughts as the author intended.

Update: Here’s a copy of Why Your Revolution Is No Liberation [PDF]


The dominant anti-globalisation grievance against capitalism goes something like this. Money- and market-orientated processes have reduced human beings to commodities, robbing them of any means of existence except the sale of their own labour-power in exchange for tokens of commodity-value: money. Value therefore comes to be overwhelmingly predetermined by the concrete terms of money. Money comes to dictate social relations with human and environmental degradation as an inevitable consequence. Money is therefore the essence of capitalism and capitalism’s overthrow will hinge on the rejection of money and money-grubbing and the adoption of more natural, authentic, humanising forms of capital – craft and agricultural. Here the discourse becomes personalised.
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26 thoughts on “Moishe Postone on history, the Holocaust and the anti-capitalist Left

  1. Pingback: Particularism on the left, and its critics « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism

    1. Mira Vogel Post author

      Terribly helpful, Mod. Again no recording (again, not my gig). Maybe next time I’ll just buy the effing recorder and ask permission on the night. Only the active cooperation of the speakers will guarantee that it will catch everything, but it should be better than a poke in the eye.

      Reply
  2. modernityblog

    Mira,

    Isn’t it all so basic?

    It is a bit like people spending hours composing expert lectures then throwing the contents into the gutter.

    Unless, the opponents of antisemitism become organized and make a very conscious effort to gather together material, then they might as well sit at home writing worthy pamphlets and leaflets, only to tear them up a few minutes after completion.

    If so much of this fine material is lost and wasted thru elementary neglect then it is not surprising that we can not reach outside of our traditional constituency.

    When a meeting is advertised or notification comes in, then a polite email should be dispatched requesting that an audio is made for the records. A cheap £50-60 Olympus digital recorder from Argos will do the job.

    Alternatively, get a student to do it ? They do it everyday with their lectures.

    I am really astonished at the conservative thinking that goes on amongst the opponents of antisemitism and the inability to do the basics.

    We are both exasperated 🙂

    Reply
  3. les

    i’m glad there’s at least a summary of postone’s talk. the q & a session looks pretty good too. his remarks on the reification of difference and “vulgar” anti-imperialism are very much to the point. but, if you ever do record another engage event, and want to post it, let me suggest the internet archive website

    http://www.archive.org/web/opensourcemedia.php

    since you can post an entire video or mp3 without having to break it up into inconvenient 10 minute chunks, as on youtube. and, just as important, it’s a public website, whose purpose is not only to preserve information, but to foster debate.

    Reply
  4. Mira Vogel Post author

    Hiya Les, it wasn’t an Engage event, but a joint event hosted by two academic depts – Engage does record its events. But thanks for the pointer. Yes, the Q&As were extremely interesting.

    That’s about right, Mod. I think it’s a basic requirement to get this stuff out of the academic institutions and into the public domain. It’s important to keep in mind, though, not everybody wants to be recorded, and outside of educational programmes’ curricular events (where the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act applies), there is no right to record without the consent of the presenter. On the other hand, for public meetings on the topic of this kind of problem, I reckon most people would be willing. The Olympus WS-331M has 6 different recording settings, so shouldn’t hamper a presenter if left at the front.

    The other thing I’ll do is see if I can get a copy of the paper.

    Reply
  5. modernityblog

    Mira

    Looks good, I had a quick look at them, whatever one you finally pick I’d go for one with a dual mic if possible, and a pair of machines.

    One of them could run out of batteries or get muffled sound, two sound sources will ensure that a better rendition of events can be made, and is an insurance policy against human error. Always have a backup and spare batteries to hand.

    Agreed about consent, etc, but if we don’t ask they won’t give it.

    I suggest saying something like:

    “We are putting together a sound archive of key lectures with relevance to the struggle against modern-day antisemitism, would you like to contribute ?”

    I doubt that many speakers or academics would refuse such a request. In fact most would probably love the idea of addressing an audience of 10,000, not just 60 bods in a lecture theatre.

    Reply
  6. Mira Vogel Post author

    Hello WS, nice to see you here – often read your comments at Bob From Brockley.

    Thanks for the link, I will try to read it. I don’t know this aspect of Postone’s work although if this is the case, the revolutionary left is unlikely to have any time for him, may widely consider him a traitor. Apart from that, I’d be interested to hear your views on what bearing you think his position on class struggle has on his arguments about antisemitism.

    Reply
  7. Waterloo Sunset

    Hi Mira. Thanks for the welcome.

    I don’t know that many people would consider Postone a traitor as such. More that a lot of us simply wouldn’t consider anyone who negates class has much bearing on the current attempts at left recompasition going on.

    In terms of your specific question, the issue is that Postone’s position on class struggle (and the proletariat as an existing force) heavily inform his arguments about antisemitism. And I think they lead him to several errors, particuarly in his analysis of the anticapitalist movement.

    Firstly, he actually manages to completely miss that one of the big arguments within the anticapitalist movement was between those who wanted to take a class approach and those who were keener on the post-left critique. The complication for Postone is that most (not all) of the tailending of nationaism, and the antisemitism he outlines actually came from the latter group. Which is not to say that everyone who took a post-left approach fell into this, obviously. But that means that Postone misses a crucial factor here. Because the rise of left antisemitism has actually mirrored the abandonment by much of the left of a class analysis- the replacement of “anti-capitalism” by “anti-imperalism” is a perfect example of this.

    The second would be his belief in “structural antisemitism”. This stems from Postone’s heavy tendency to treat social forces in a mechanistic way, which shows in his analysis of capitalism. For me, the term merely obfuscates the issue. If something is antisemitic it is so without any qualifer. And to add one actually lets antisemites off the hook. If however something is not antisemitic, than to suggest it is so “structurally” is highly unhelpful.

    A specific example of this happening comes from the introduction to “Your Revolution is No Liberation”. (While I don’t know if Postone wrote this himself, the fact he was very much involved in the reader means I think it’s fair to assume he shares its politics unless he says otherwise).

    Moreover, the personalisation of the capitalist socialization creates the structure of modern anti-Semitism. Value, money and trade as abstract homeless and exploitative forms are being ascribed to particular persons: Bankers, Fat Cats and capitalists. The step then to the personalisation of anti-Semitism, to the Jew, which most globalisation critics have not taken yet, is only a small one.

    Cheap rhetorical posteuring. It argues that any critique of capitalism that recognises that the ruling class are individuals, as opposed to taking Postone’s prefered method of treating people entirely as abstract concepts, is automatically antisemitic, even while it has to admit that it is not in any way a critique related to Jews. I know there’s an argument that antisemitism can exist without Jews being present, but to argue that something can be antisemitic while having no relation to Jews at all strikes me as making the term utterly meaningless. And the piece doesn’t actually give any specific examples of this supposed causual link between a personalised critique of capitalism by the left and antisemitism. Apart from a reference to the Nazis, which strongly implies that the Nazi’s critique of “Jewish capital” sprang from an anticapitalist viewpoint, rather than antisemitism!

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Notes on Moishe Postone in London | Contested Terrain

  9. doesn't mind

    Hello Waterloo Sunset,

    I guess, the rhetorical posturing is on your side here. But first, let me say that I try to use hegel-marxian term within the latter, which I only know in german, an maybe I’m translating them a little bit too literal. Please be kind with this and ask if I trashed them too much.

    But about your point: Nothing inside the quoted Text says anything about the ruling class not being individuals. The sentence talks about „value, money and trade“ being personalized,and I guess we can agree that those are not individuals, but, referring to the analyses of commodity-fetishism in „The Capital“, thing light occurrences of the abstract social relationships within capitalist societies.

    There is nothing antisemitic about saying that the boss of a company acts the way, a boss of a company is forced to act: Make people work harder/more efficient, try to buy labor forces as cheap as possible and so on. What the quoted passage refers to is attributing him in a way which describes his capability of exploiting labor to a personal power of his individuality, for example his selfish personality. He may be selfish, but that doesn’t matter. His capability lies within the form of the relationship of this society and nobody owns this as personal power. The ownership of the means of production is just the legal form of him beeing bound to the accumulation of capital.

    It is in no way coincidentally that this way of personalization is bound to the seemingly opposite wish of being forced by “real” power, not an illusoryful economic one. People who personalize the abstract power of the economic forms within capitalist societies in a structurally antisemitic way, always tend to the wish of being part of a productive collective with a strong leader. Not “we are exploited by our company” is the way of thinking here, but “our company/nation with us as its parts is exploited” by foreign forces, which is of course the opposite of class consciousness.

    Reply
  10. Waterloo Sunset

    Hi doesn’t mind. Thanks for your reply. To try and reply to your points:

    I guess, the rhetorical posturing is on your side here.

    Shall we cut to the chase and start accusing each other of being petit bourgeouise? 😉

    But first, let me say that I try to use hegel-marxian term within the latter, which I only know in german, an maybe I’m translating them a little bit too literal. Please be kind with this and ask if I trashed them too much.

    That’s entirely reasonable. I’m completely reliant on English translations of German texts for this kind of discussion, which obviously isn’t a perfect situation.

    I should make clear however that, while I’m heavily influenced by the left communist tradition, I’m an anarchist not a Marxist, so my views should be understood in that context. In particular, I don’t take a dialectical approach.

    But about your point: Nothing inside the quoted Text says anything about the ruling class not being individuals. The sentence talks about „value, money and trade“ being personalized,and I guess we can agree that those are not individuals, but, referring to the analyses of commodity-fetishism in „The Capital“, thing light occurrences of the abstract social relationships within capitalist societies.

    I wouldn’t agree with that entirely, actually. Yes, those things are abstract social relationships within capitalism. But, as exploitative social relationships, they are also personalised. Those doing the exploitation are individuals. One of the ironies of this argument is that on one hand we are being told that a more moral analysis is needed, while the proponents of that argument are going out of their way to absolve individual members of the ruling class for any moral responsibility for their involvement in exploitation. There is a quote from the cited introduction that illustrates my point perfectly:

    As depressing as it may be anticapitalist criticism always has to target the entire structure and must always consider the totality of societal relations. In those, capitalists are nothing but a another form of workers, neither better nor worse.

    I utterly reject the theory that there is some kind of moral equivalence between those who exploit and those who are exploited, let along that they are identical in the role they play.

    People who personalize the abstract power of the economic forms within capitalist societies in a structurally antisemitic way

    Again though, you are arguing that this analysis is structurally antisemitic as if that is a given that everybody agrees on. It isn’t, and I certainly don’t think that it has yet been proven.

    It may make sense, considering the nature of this disagreement to look at individual cases.

    Let’s take two examples where not only was capitalism was seen in a personalised way, but action was taken on it on that basis. The attack on Frick by Berkman. And Lucy Parson’s “behold your future executioners” slogan.

    Now, we can certainly critique the concept of ‘propaganda by the deed’- http://libcom.org/library/you-cant-blow-up-social-relationship does exactly that, and very well. However, unless you can demonstrate actual antisemitism on the part of either of the activists mentioned, I think it is reasonable to conclude that the term “structural antisemitism” is more of a propaganda tool than it is a serious ideological analysis.

    Mira- Heh. Sorry for dragging your journal into the realms of obscure ultraleft theorising!

    Reply
  11. Mira Vogel Post author

    WS, I am very content with the theorising – won’t be able to join in much though. I will have to follow up the links to provided for Doesn’t Mind at a later date. Returning to your post of June 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm, I want to pick up on a couple of your points.

    First, you excerpt a passage of MP’s from WYRINL, and call it “Cheap rhetorical posteuring”. A good while ago I read a Guardian opinion piece, a condemnation of Facebook, which made me uncomfortable in the same way that much ‘Jewish power’ allegations do. The piece had an idea of the natural which it contrasted with the technical, a worry about the erosion of “national boundaries”, and it also feared a small cadre of power-holders taking control of our lives. At the time I remember thinking that antisemitism embodies the same ways of thinking, with the significant difference that, in the case of antisemitism, these ways of thinking attach to Jews. And at that time I remember thinking that the attachment to Jews is only one significant factor in antisemitism – a large part of the problem is with personalising and difference-fearing ways of thinking about social phenomena.

    I’ve dug out the piece: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/jan/14/facebook. (I don’t at all want to argue that the author is an antisemite, but that his analysis has ways of thinking in common). So when you claim the entitlement to “recognise that the ruling class are individuals, as opposed to taking Postone’s prefered method of treating people entirely as abstract concepts”, I think that the challenge then is to do it in ways which avoid mystifying the power of a small group of people, demonising them, whipping up hatred against and fear of them, and seeking to flatten them. This also relates to the part of your reply to Doesn’t Mind (thanks for your good and learned points, Doesn’t Mind) that touched on individual responsibility.

    I don’t think I’ve fully addressed the point you make – I have to think about it some more to work out whether what I’m arguing here is consistent with or inconsistent with what I know of Postone – but this to me is the essence of structural antisemitism.

    Reply
  12. Mira Vogel Post author

    Secondly, and also further to WS’s June 22, 2009 at 6:48 pm post, WS says, “If something is antisemitic it is so without any qualifer. And to add one actually lets antisemites off the hook.”

    So don’t you then hold with the idea of indirect discrimination? The inflexible working hours of yore were not anti-women, even though they primarily disadvantaged women (making up the overwhelming proportion of carers), because they were not actively directed at disadvantaging women?

    Reply
  13. doesn't mind

    Hello Waterloo Sunset and Mira,

    first, Waterloo Sunset, thanks for your answer and let me apologise that I can’t really write about the examples you suggested to discuss about. First thing is missing knowledge, the stories and traditions told within the german an the british radical left seem to be different, what a big surprise. But I googled a little bit and also found out that we seem to think about different issues if we say “structural antisemitism”. Berkman seems to be an anarchist who tried to kill a manager during a strike, and “behold your future executioners“ a slogan aiming to a part of(?) the bourgeoisie possible role while defending social order. The paper you linked to discusses militant actions, which to my mind is absolutely not the topic we should discuss. ( I just had a quick look at it.) Maybe the analyses, which led Berkman to his plan, or the ideas behind the slogan, contain such topics I would call “structural antisemitic”, maybe not, I don’t have any source to answer this. But what we should talk about are the ways of thinking of what is going on within capitalist societies, who is doing what, or better who or what rules how, and to which results does this doing lead, and not about what is or is not to be done to stop someone doing something. Of course in a second step there is a connection, but we shouldn’t take the second step first.

    Mira, you already made this point, and I think your link is a much better example. In fact, this article about facebook covers most of the topics I have in mind when I say something is structural antisemitic. And even it is as clear as possible with sentences like this:

    “We are seeing the commodification of human relationships, the extraction of capitalistic value from friendships.”

    Commodification, in this way of thinking, is something powerful geniuses with much money think of and afterwards realize by acting behind the scene. Their power seems to have nothing to do with the so called “real world”, much further it is said that it would act against it.

    This way of thinking turns the world upside down, within which human relationships can’t be commodified, because the commodities are already and where from the beginning of this way of production thing light occurrences of these relationships. The immaterial power, the powerful individuals are accused of, are nothing else than the very own material forms of existence of the accusers, so this is more than a false assumption about society, but also derealization of what is really happening with the consequences of affirming it.

    It is not coincidentally, that at the end the author says he would try to “remain as unplugged as possible“, while during the the whole text he defends the „real-world“, „old-fashioned“ state of things, he is already deeply plugged to:

    “Facebook pretends to be about freedom, but isn’t it really more like an ideologically motivated virtual totalitarian regime with a population that will very soon exceed the UK’s? Thiel and the rest have created their own country, a country of consumers.”

    A country of consumers may be boring, unsatisfying, at least it is impossible within capitalism as work needs to be done, but of course compared to the “real world” countries with their forcing work, their armies, their national ideologies and so on, it could be imagined as heaven. Of course, one should criticize producing imaginary possibilities, but these sentences don’t do that. They don’t tell something about outer reality and its laws, but about the inner fear of loosing the given (UK) form of rule and power. In psychological terms, the wish of keeping it is projected as a thread to the outside.

    The antisemitic way of thinking about jews, and I guess I totally agree with Mira here, is the traditional form of this “outside”. This is why it is useful using the term “antisemitism”.

    Coming back to the topic of exploitation, on a lower level normally the same thing happens as with “commodification” in the example above. Becoming exploited again is nothing which is done by someone personally, but it happens within the totality of social relations.

    What is done personally by the owner of the means of production is trying to keep their own possibility of acquiring the surplus value. He has to make his workers act in a way that he his capable of surviving within competition, otherwise he would loose his class membership. So he makes use of their (!) very own existence as value of use to capital (as such, not to the capitalist), which contains the possibility of producing surplus value, but he never has the power of putting someone into an exploitable state.

    Exploitation has nothing to do with what is mediated individually, which is the height of the wages or the circumstances of concrete production, cause otherwise there would be non exploitative wages and circumstances. As within the direct relationship between boss and worker there only seem to be a just trade/exchange (value of working forces against value of money), this idea again, as in the example above, affirms the real relationship instead of criticizing it.

    I think this is meant by the sentence about “the totality of societal relations. In those, capitalists are nothing but a another form of workers”, you quoted. It says “in those”, and not in every aspect they are the same. I personally wouldn’t use the term worker here, but a more abstract one than “subject, being forced by the same social relationship”, but I think the idea expressed is correct. They are not identical in the role they play, but are forced by the same rules/laws.

    You may want to stick to the idea, that there is a moral difference between the roles, but I think this idea doesn’t lead very far. If you mean moral in the sense of being nice to each other (which I don’t think you do), this difference smashes being confronted with the next asshole department manager working on it’s own career. Without any doubt he or she is exploited, but she could be much worse as the real boss. Or you need to say that he is doing exploitive work, but in this case exploitation would be a complete emanation of bad will.

    If you think the subject of moral are principles which need to be generalizable (in the well known Kantian sense), which I do, it is obvious that the business we are dealing with doesn’t have anything to do with moral at all. Simply because none of the both roles we are talking about are generalizable, as one role needs the other to be in existence. This of course is the reason why morality only can apply to abstract forms of law, under which everyone is treated alike. It’s, again, just about unreal possibilities, not about real relationships.

    All this with the hope to explain the thoughts, which lead to the usage of the term “structural antisemitic”. But at the end, I additionally would like to stress that all this stuff doesn’t explains how this way of thinking comes to existence. Here in germany Postones text is often used to state the necessity of antisemitic thinking and “structural antisemitism” as a way which leads to this. I don’t think this is true, it just explains what is thought. Composed to the “Elements of Antisemitism” within the “Dialectic Of Enlightenment” Postone lacks of the historical and the psychological part, but as he admits this constriction on the “what” at the beginning of his text, I guess he would agree to this.

    Reply
  14. Waterloo Sunset

    Hi all. I’m afraid I’m going to have to bow out of this discussion for now. Some personal stuff has come up that needs attention ASAP…

    Reply
  15. Mira Vogel Post author

    Thanks for letting us know WS. I hope that things work out OK.

    Doesn’t Mind, I’m actively thinking about what you have written (I have to confess it is at a difficult level for me, hence my lack of response). Many thanks for your contribution.

    Reply
  16. doesn't mind

    Hello Mira,

    maybe some of the problems are results of my missing knowledge of terms I use in english, and my english in general. So feel free to ask for an alternative formulation if some of the sentences seem to be nonsense to you. Maybe they didn’t make sense before translation, but I think they do 🙂

    Reply
  17. lostinthemidlands

    Hi Mira, hi all,

    I am pretty baffled that the work of people is discussed here simply on the basis of an, in my view, not just incomprehending, but vicious and distorting review (linked to in Waterloo Sunset’s first post from 22 June). The author of the review makes it clear right at the beginning that he/she hates the book – shouldn’t that be reason enough to not take every word for granted, but read the original text for yourself? Even many of the quotes in this review itself should tell reader that the allegation that Postone has made his peace with capitalism doesn’t stick. His point is neither that capitalism should not be overcome nor that the struggle for workers’ rights and a better life is meaningless, but simply that class struggle does not in and of itself point *beyond* capitalism, but is a struggle *within* capitalism, that we have to think again if we want to overcome it. I also wasn’t sure, Waterloo, what your claims from June 22 (2nd posting), e.g. that ‘postone negates class’, are actually based on. The ‘Aufheben’ review?

    I was even more shocked by the fact, though, that Waterloo quotes a passage from the introduction to the ‘Your revolution is no Liberation’ reader (also in the second post from 22 June) and simply attributes it to Postone. The only justification is the claim that Postone “was very much involved in the reader”, which is quite simply pure invention. The reader has been written by a bunch of German radical left-wing activists, some of whom happen to be friends of mine, and they simply re-published texts that were in the public domain and that they thought were interesting and important – on the same grounds, you could have blamed Horkheimer and Adorno for the introduction. (Incidentally: Mad Köln has just reproduced it, the reader was originally produced by ‘Bad Weather’ in Hamburg.) I think once we start throwing all scruples to the wind and simply making up things in this way, we might as well throw in the towel now.

    Apart from that, the passage you quote from the introduction does not say – as you claim -, that “any critique of capitalism that recognises that the ruling class are individuals […] is automatically antisemitic” but – as you have just quoted yourself – that once you start seeing alienating, oppressive and exploitative social structures only as the doing of specific individuals, “the step then to the personalisation of anti-Semitism, to the Jew, which most globalisation critics have not taken yet, is only a small one.” Not the same thing.
    But apart from that, what is actually won by establishing that ‘the ruling class are individuals’ for an understanding of anything, or for any action that might point toward emancipation? Unless, of course, you really believe that it is Messrs Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Ingvar Kamprad, Lakshmi Mittal or whoever else tops the list of the world’s wealthiest men (and women – though they start a bit further down) who have invented capitalism and keep it going, and if we could just send those people to the rice fields, we’d live in a free society. (Thanks, ‘doesn’t mind’, for your comments on this and other points, by the way!) Marx is pretty clear about the fact that it is capitalism that produces capitalists, not the other way round, and that matters to me not because I think ‘Das Kapital’ is a holy text, but because I think he is right and has some rather interesting things to say about it.

    And by the way: the term ‘structural antisemitism’ also isn’t Postone’s, as Waterloo claims, but a term that has been used – and debated – a lot within the German Radical Left, see e.g.
    http://deu.anarchopedia.org/struktureller_Antisemitismus
    http://home.pages.at/lobotnic/oekoli/archiv/rad000319.html
    and many other places (sadly all in German), or, in English,
    http://balkans.puscii.nl/?q=content/text-structural-antisemitism

    But anyway – as there seems to be some interest in the ‘Your revolution is no Liberation’ reader (I am afraid some of the translations into English are a bit shaky, if I remember correctly, but there are still some good pieces in the collection), I happen to know that the people who have produced it still have quite a few copies and would send them out for free, also in larger quantities, if postage is paid. If anybody is interested, I could try to put you in touch (not sure how best to do that without posting people’s email addresses on the web?).

    Reply
  18. Pingback: New Israel Fund needs international solidarity; non-Israeli Jews need theirs « Greens Engage

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