Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Notes on Chris O'Kane's "Fetishism and Social Domination in Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre", Part 4

Section 2: Lukacs

"The reason that this point is crucial is because Lukács conceives of the dialectical method as being constructive of history and capitalist social totality. He refers to this in Hegelian terminology as the ‘dialectical relation between subject and object in the historical process.’  This means that the dialectical method grasps historical development. As a consequence, Lukács grasps capitalism’s operation through a Hegelian prism as a dialectical totality that consists in the objectified
separation between subject and object."

Arguably even Lukacs' treatment of Marxism as a method already succumbs to a certain kind of metaphysics, one which is not Hegel's at all, much less Marx's.  Method in the sense Lukacs employs already smells of methodology derived from neo-Kantianism, and critiqued by Richard Gunn rather effectively in his "Marxism and Philosophy" in Capital & Class #35(?).

For example, I would argue that neither Hegel's Logic nor the Phenomenology of Spirit are historical or historicist texts.  Neither is about the 'dialectical relation between subject and object in the historical process' (History and Class Consciousness, 1972, p. 3), at least not in any temporally linear or simply historically referential sense.  History in Hegel does not provide a "general logic" or methodology in the way it seems to do in Lukacs, leading to his teleology and his replacement of Spirit with the Proletariat in a particularly un-Hegelian manner.

I would also point out how infrequently Hegel uses the term "dialectic" and even less frequently the term "dialectical", and typically in constructions that speak of a "dialectic of X", that is, a dialectic of the object, rather than to some manner of generic "dialectical" process or method.

I don't think that one can talk of "a dialectical totality that consists in the objectified separation between subject and object" as Hegelian, either.  It does use a certain "Hegelian terminology" in the same manner that crude Marxisms use a "Marxian terminology", without it being much related to Marx.

Here, while I am partially indebted to Gillian Rose's Hegel Contra Sociology, the larger part of my reasoning relies on my own more than a decade-long close reading and engagement with Hegel's Phenomenology.

As such, I am less criticizing any particulars about the verity of O'Kane's critique Lukacs' views, than taking issue with what counts as "Hegelian" because it has definite philosophical commitments that impact conceptual development, interpretation and analysis.

Methodological fetishism
In this account, the scientific method is engendered by the fetishistic and fragmented outward appearance of capitalism constituted by the objectification – ‘the reification of all human relations’ – and fragmentation of totality: ‘the constant expansion and extension of the division of labour.’268 This appearance harmonises with specialisation and becomes the basis of scientific methodology. As a result, the objectified aspects of totality are conceived as ‘things’ that are independent of totality.269”

In Lukács’s Hegelian interpretation of Marx’s theory of fetishism, everyday conceptions of capitalism rest on the latter’s immediate appearances, and fail to grasp the material substratum of the class relation that constitutes this objectified, thingified appearance. The Marxist method, however, for Lukács, by virtue of its dialectical apprehension of totality, can grasp this substratum.”

“In a further instance of Lukács’s Hegelian interpretation of Marx’s theory of fetishism, the naturalisation of capitalism is shown to occur because people’s everyday perceptions do not grasp how or why capitalism functions as a dialectical social totality. As a result, the thingified appearance of capitalist society generates the conception that it is natural: ‘With the totality out of the way, the fetishistic relations [Erscheinen] of the isolated parts appear as a timeless law valid for every human society.’277 The Marxist theoretical method de-naturalises these trans-historical assumptions. Capital’s fetishistic forms of objectivity are derived from its immediate appearances and they generate the assumption that capitalism is in some sense ‘natural’; yet the dialectical method links these immediate forms of appearance together, and reveals their basis within the historically rooted substratum that they serve to veil.”

“Rather than providing a fully explicated theory of social constitution, this ‘method’ tends to: (a) presuppose that capitalism functions as a dialectical social totality without offering a detailed explication of how it actually functions in that regard; (b) defines the basis of the constitution of this totality by resorting to the Marxian terminology of relations between people and class relations, but without a detailed explanation of what these relations are, or indeed of how they constitute totality; (c) tends to fall back on a ‘Hegelian’ conception of the historical evolution of society as the interaction between subject and object, and on an account of objectification as the ground for a conception of social dynamics…
Instead of consisting in an aspect of a theory of the constitution of abstract social domination that explains the role that personified things play in the social constitution and reproduction of capitalist social production, Lukács’s conception of fetishism in his theory of social domination is thus concerned with objectification per se [Bold mine – CDW].283 In the above examples, theoretical instances of fetishism are consequently conceived as forms of thingified false objectivity that is characteristic of scientific and everyday forms of understanding.”

This seems quite correct.  Well put.

“…conceives fetishism as a naturalisation fallacy, and thus as an epistemological illusion of thingification that serves to veil the underlying class relations of capitalist totality.”

It will be interesting to see where this goes.  After all, O’Kane seemed to reject the idea that fetishism applies to most people, as opposed to “ideologists” for want of a better term at the moment.  

And yet, the consciousness produced by capital certainly invokes a naturalization fallacy, though it cannot be reduced to it, nor does awareness of the fallacy necessarily entail any actual overcoming of it, even in any day-to-day sense, since the problem is not consciousness, but one of social practice.  To be more precise, the self-consciousness of individuals in capitalist society is both true and false insofar as it is a consciousness conditioned by the contradictions of this society, but it also allows individuals to function more or less objectively within the society.  The consciousness is false insofar as the society is false, and this would be so for all classes, though not necessarily for all individuals (because social being is not a closed, seamless circle but "flawed"), and that self-consciousness would only change on a social level as a part of the development of practical oppositions indicative of a more generalized crisis of the limits of capital.

O’Kane notes Lukacs’ notion of fetishism in ‘Class Consciousness and the Proletariat’ as follows:

“This is done in Lukács’s definition of the commodity form, in which we can see (1) his Hegelian-Marxian conception of fetishism as the autonomous thingified false objectivity of ‘phantom objectivity’; (2) his Simmelian and Weberian conception of reification as autonomy, which is premised on a formal rationality that cannot grasp its own content; (3) that he bases the constitution and the constituent properties of these two facets on the mode of objectification that takes place within a social relation between people that takes on the character of a thing, and which thereby veils the social relations that constitute it. Thus:
The essence of commodity-form [translation amended] has often been pointed out. Its
basis is that a relation between people takes on the character of a thing and thus
acquires a 'phantom objectivity', an autonomy that seems so strictly rational and all embracing
as to conceal every trace of its fundamental nature: the relation between

Maybe I am wrong here, but I am reading the notion of fetishism in point 1 as reification (autonomous thingified false objectivity). (see fn 289)

If reification is “the autonomous thingified false objectivity of ‘phantom objectivity’”, then we can read point 2 as “the autonomous thingified false objectivity of ‘phantom objectivity’” [reification] “as autonomy, which is premised on a formal rationality that cannot grasp its own content”, so that the premise of fetishism is actually “a formal rationality that cannot grasp its own content”.

“In order to demonstrate how abstract labour attains and exerts this influence, Lukács moves to production in the factory. Here, Lukács can be seen to draw on the Simmelian and Weberian aspects of his definition of the commodity form in his ‘strictly rational and all-embracing’ analysis of the object-forms of reification that are constitutive of the pervasive rationalisation of human activity in reified totality. As was the case in his earlier work, this Simmelian and Weberian conception of reification is premised on: (a) his conflation of alienation and objectification and (b) an opposition between the pernicious effects of the quantified and fragmented rationalisation of the division of labour and a qualitative notion of wholeness.”

The objection to workers’ consciousness suffering from commodity fetishism in Lukacs certainly seems tied to his mixing of Hegelian-Marxian and Simmelian-Weberian elements, which depend on conflating alienation and objectification and fragmented rationality of the parts in relation to a whole that is irrational but which should be rational in socialism.

I see no contradiction in objecting to Lukacs’ conception without drawing the conclusion that only the consciousness of the ideologists and/or capitalists is mystified, however.

“Proletarians are commodities that produce…”
Does Lukacs see proletarians as commodities or as the owners of a commodity?  Big difference.

It strikes me that part of the problem in Lukacs is his positive conception of Totality.  “The Truth is the Whole”.  The comprehension of Totality is possible and it leads to Truth.  Fragmentation and rationalization of fragments is bad and it makes correct comprehension impossible unless it is somehow superseded.

Conclusion to the Lukacs section.

Marx’s theory of the fetish characteristic forms is part of his larger theory of the means by which the particular social form of capitalist social production distributes labour through personifying things as the bearers of value.  This theory of fetish-characteristic forms is therefore a central part of Marx’s theory of value, which attempts to explain the perverted and inverted social constitution, reproduction and distribution of the social character of capitalist labour as it occurs in terms of the relation between things.” 

This continues to bother me.  I have to get at why I don’t much care for it. 

1)    Is Marx’s “larger theory” a theory of “the means by which the particular social form of capitalist social production distributes labour”? 
2)    Or does he mean that “the fetish characteristic forms” are a piece of a piece, a part of a part… the whole of which is the critique of political economy and of capital as a whole, of which “the means by which [it]… distributes labour” is a part and the fetish characteristic forms are relegated to the distribution of labor?

Put this way, I think neither one can be satisfying. 

Further, why is the focus “capitalist labour”?  Why not “social production”?  Is there a fixation on labour, in what feels like a kind of ontological commitment to capital, for lack of a better term at the moment, ‘corrupting’ or ‘perverting’ labour as the central theme?  This is a difficult issue.  It has to be addressed, but I am not certain that the references to the actually quite limited comments by Postone in TLSD is adequate.  There are two lengthier and more focused essays on Lukacs by Postone that strike me as more substantive.  I will take those two essays up in a separate post.

In one sense, both are merely technical and would seem to ignore Marx’s own confidence that he had done two new things:

"Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within this form. But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the value of the product. These forms, which bear the unmistakable stamp of belonging to a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite, appear to the political economists’ bourgeois consciousness to be as much a self-evident and nature-imposed necessity as productive labour itself." Marx, Capital, vol.1 (MECW35), pp.91-2 (translation amended by Endnotes Journal).

Very important claim about what Marx’s work entails:
“1 It is also a central part of Marx’s account of how this process of social constitution consists of a mode of social domination, in which the personified character of these things compels and determines individual actions. 2 It is not a theory of illusory false consciousness in which things veil underlying relations but it rather describes how social categories are embedded in things, and the social characteristics that these things possess. 3 Furthermore, it is not a theory of dehumanisation per se, but articulates a theory of how individual actions are structured and dominated by the social imperatives they collectively constitute.” [numbering mine]

Lukacs’ account cannot deal with these aspects.

“As I have shown, Lukács’s conception of fetishism substitutes the Simmelian and Hegelian notion of social objectification for Marx’s account of the social constitution of the autonomous and personified fetish-characteristics of things. As a result, this account of fetishism and the ensuing theory of social domination that he develops from it, rely upon perceiving fetishism as thingification (the objectification of human activity into things that possess false objectivity and which veil real processes) rather than on offering an explanation of how these things possess abstract, autonomous and personified properties, relate to each other as bearers of value by virtue of these real processes, and dominate and compel individual actions.”

Not clear that what O’Kane identifies as Hegelian is from Hegel per se, but from a Hegelianized neo-Kantianism (this is Gillian Rose's specific claim, that Lukacs receives his Hegel and his Marx from Simmel, among others.)  I don’t think that Hegel’s notion of “social objectification” is much like Lukacs’ and in fact in the introduction to the English translation of Hyppolite’s book on the Phenomenology of Spirit, the translator notes that Hyppolite feels that it is Marx who conflates objectification and alienation, a distinction drawn first by Hegel.  Genesis and Structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, Jean Hyppolite, xxxviii-xxxvix

That said, there is no problem with arguing as O’Kane does in fn 348, as long as one recognizes that Lukacs’ appropriation of Hegelianism (more than Hegel) and neo-Kantian informed sociology (Simmel and Weber in fact both do their work with an eye to overcoming some of the dilemmas of neo-Kantianism) should not allow for an original sin reduction of Lukacs’ dilemmas to this or that philosophical position.  His position is its own even as it is the appropriation of elements from both.  Further, in her critique of sociology (Hegel Contra Sociology) Rose will argue that Lukacs actually arrives at a kind of Fichtean point and is thus not simply another neo-Kantian, unlike say Habermas or Althusser. (30-31, see her comment on the Proletariat as social subject qua Fichtean subject.  She cites Adorno's original critique of Lukacs in exactly these terms as well.)

Fn 349
Rose is quite insistent not merely that Lukacs left out elements of the development of Marx’s theory of value, but that Lukacs abandons Marx’s development in Capital as a whole in order to approach Marx methodologically.  "As a result, 'reification' and 'mediation' become a kind of shorthand instead of a sustained theory."  This last sentence to the paragraph quote indicates that Rose has much more in mind than the end of chapter 1 or 2 or 3.

The result is that one would have to follow Marx’s development and construct the further work, e.g. the State and the Market would have to be outcomes of that development, hence Vol. 4 of Capital is volume 4 and is work to be done, work Lukacs certainly thought he was doing that surpassed 'base-superstructure' antinomies.  Modern bureaucratization would also require analysis of the transformations of the labor process and the state, and thus a working up of these aspects of the sort taken up in various ways by Hans-Dieter Bahr, Negt and Kluge, Serge Mallet, Andre Gorz, etc.

Also, as a matter of form, you should not bring up Postone and Elbe as having the same basic critique and then only critique Postone.  Either the mention of Elbe is irrelevant and then should be dropped or it is meaningfully different from Postone and that would have to be contrasted with Postone.  There should also be clearer references to Lukacs when one is citing whole books, especially when making a claim about such a specific point.  For example, this point seems rather obscure:
"However, Postone seems to assume that grounding this theory of constitution on the opposition between concrete and abstract labour might account for the Simmelian and Weberian strands of Lukács’ thought. I see no reason for such confidence."

Fn 351
This is not very curious at all.  Abstraction is a common thread in any serious Marxists work.  Autonomy?  This is a very common term across many different strands of Marxism, from operaismo and autonomia to Andre Gorz.  Personification is a whole different issue, as Postone is very distrustful of personification and certainly does not use it in a manner like Lukacs.  I don’t see the intellectual basis of the poke at Postone, though maybe I am missing some combination of graduate school staking out of uniqueness and inter-Marxist churlishness involved.  In any case, it reads rather poorly because it contributes to the treatment of Postone in the thesis as a whole as both boogeyman and straw man.


No real disagreement with many of the criticisms of Lukacs, but on another level it ends up being hard to see why Lukacs should have been so influential if he is so impoverished.  At the very least, one has to recognize that Lukacs addressed things that traditional Marxism either could not or could only do so in a way that was often embarrassingly naïve and beneath the level of Weber, Simmel, and Durkheim, rarely exceeding the level of a sociology based on 18th century French materialism (see Engels’ Dialectics of Nature or The Family, Private Property and the State or Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism or Imperialism or State and Revolution, keeping in mind that these are by no means the worst, as one could cite all manner of works by Plekhanov, Kautsky, etc.)  The importance of Lukacs’ intervention at a moment of intensive social crisis, not to mention his long-standing influence, feels under-explored and under-developed.

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