Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Postone and Lukacs

EDIT: 1/13/15
I should have prefaced this post by noting that whether or not one finds the critique of Lukacs by Moishe Postone or Chris O'Kane compelling, and which one of the two one finds more compelling, goes somewhat beyond this post.  I find Postone's critique compelling and I assume Chris O'Kane did as well, at least to the point that it is clearly one of the key critiques he hopes to surpass. However, the thesis itself does not really tell us what is so important about Postone's reading or why it has to be surpassed.

Therefore, my goal is to spend a little time with Postone's critique because I am not convinced that O'Kane represents it adequately in order to convincingly make the case that 1) Postone's view is not merely different but deficient, 2) that his view is significantly different and an improvement.  Since we don't get an adequate understanding of Postone or paginated references to what is alleged to be Postone's reading of Lukacs, I wanted to point to a single article by Postone on Lukacs that would allow other readers to judge the merits of his reading instead of trying to pick through Time, Labor, and Social Domination with it's many, many references to Lukacs, and assemble a coherent view. The simple fact is that TLSD suffers from being a collage of previous papers and a coherent idea collected into a poorly edited work with a lot of repetition.  Chris O'Kane's thesis, even though it suffers from "Doctoral style disease", has the merit of reading like a single piece with a great deal of coherence, less unnecessary repetition, and distinct points.

"The Subject and Social Theory: Marx and Lukács on Hegel"
from History and Heteronomy, 2009

The introduction seems to take up what is so important about Lukacs in a way that is... "compelling" is the word I am looking for.

"Recovering this mode of analysis, Lukács provides a social and historical analysis of modern philosophical and sociological thought. Significantly, he does not do so first and foremost with reference to  considerations of class interest. Rather than focusing on the function  of thought for a system of social domination, such as class domination, Lukács attempts to ground the nature of such thought in the  peculiarities of the social forms constitutive of capitalism such as the commodity."

"Lukács, in his “Reification …” essay, also shifts the focus of the critique of capitalism, rendering it more adequate to the significant social, economic, political, and cultural features of twentieth-century capitalism. His reading of Marx’s categories goes far beyond the traditional critical analysis of capitalism in terms of the market and private property. Instead, he regards as central the processes of rationalization and bureaucratization emphasized by Weber, and grounds those processes in Marx’s analysis of the commodity as the basic structuring form of capitalist society. Lukács argues that the
processes of rationalization and quantification that mould modern institutions are rooted in the commodity form (Lukács, 1971, pp. 85–110). Like Marx, he characterizes modern capitalist society in terms of the domination of people by time, and treats the factory as a concentrated version of the structure of capitalist society as a whole (Lukács, 1971, pp. 89–90). This structure is also expressed in the nature of modern bureaucracy (Lukács, 1971, pp. 98–100), and gives rise to a determinate form of the state and of law (Lukács, 1971, p. 95). By grounding these features of modernity in Marx’s categories, Lukács seeks to show that what Weber described as the “iron cage” of modern social life is a function of capitalism and, hence, transformable."

This is an important set of points of the shift Lukacs provides.  Postone here is not specifically concerned with the objective determinants of this shift, but one could, with some historical effort, make sense of the transformation of the phenomenal forms of capital from Marx's day to Lukacs' that would allow for this development to be made sense of, including the role of the 2nd International in World War I and the changes in the labor process identified by Hans-Dieter Bahr in his "The Class Structure of Machinery" in the 1970's.

"Marx’s identification of the identical subject-object with determinate forms of social relations has very important implications for a theory of subjectivity. With this theoretical move, Marx recasts the
epistemological problem from a consideration of the knowing individual (or supra-individual) subject and its relation to an external (or externalized) world, to one of forms of social mediation constituted
by praxis), considered as determinations of social subjectivity as well as objectivity.  The problem of knowledge now becomes a question of the subjective dimension of determinate forms of social mediation.

This reading of Capital appropriates Lukács’s understanding of  Marx’s categories as subjective and objective, cultural and social. Yet it also indicates that those categories have a different meaning than that accorded them by Lukács, who implicitly posits “labour” (labour in general, transhistorically conceived) as the constituting substance of a Subject, which is prevented by capitalist relations from realizing itself. The historical Subject in Lukács can be understood as a collective version of the bourgeois subject, constituting itself and the world through “labour.” (That is, the concept of “labour” and that of the bourgeois subject [whether interpreted as the individual or as a class] are intrinsically related.)" [Italics mine - CDW]

"A similar difference between Marx and Lukács exists with regard to the Hegelian concept of totality. For Lukács, a social totality is constituted by “labour,” but is veiled, fragmented, and prevented from realizing itself by capitalist relations. It represents the standpoint of the critique of the capitalist present, and will be realized in socialism. Marx’s categorial determination of capital as the historical Subject, however, indicates that the totality and the labour that constitutes it have become the objects of his critique. The capitalist social formation, according to Marx, is unique inasmuch as it is constituted by a qualitatively homogeneous social “substance.” Hence, it exists as a social totality. Other social formations are not so totalized; their fundamental social relations are not qualitatively homogeneous. They cannot be grasped by the concept of “substance,” cannot be unfolded from a single structuring principle, and do not display an immanent, necessary historical logic."

These quotes indicate for Postone what the key distinction is between his work and Lukacs', but there is no reason to argue that this is all of the distinctions.  Nor is it clear that Chris O'Kane's work particularly exceeds these critiques.  However, are they substantively different?

If the critique is that Postone insufficiently develops the process of constitution, that would be interesting.  In fact, I think that is the weakest aspect of Postone's work.

"Lukács then proceeds to develop a theory of the class-consciousness of the proletariat (Lukács, 1971, pp. 149–209). I shall not discuss this theory at length other than to note that, unlike Marx, Lukács does not present his account with reference to the development of capital—for example, in terms of possibilities that emerge as a result of changes in the nature of surplus value (from absolute to relative surplus value) and related changes in the development of the process of production. Instead, he outlines a dialectic of immediacy and mediation, quantity and quality, which could lead to the self-awareness of the proletariat as subject. His account is curiously devoid of a historical dynamic. History, which Lukács conceives of as the dialectical process of the self-constitution of humanity, is indeterminate in this essay; it is not analyzed with reference to the historical development of capitalism."

This is close to Rose's critique of Lukacs, taking it out a small amount further.  I believe it fails, again, to really pursue the point, but Postone is at least on the right track in discussing the importance of changes to the labor process.  I am less sanguine on the move from absolute to relative surplus value, as I think that was already largely the case in the late 19th century.

This might help us understand more concretely why O'Kane might think that Postone reduces Lukacs' limits ultimately to his absolutizing and de-historicizing the opposition of abstract and concrete labor:

"Labour in capitalism, according to Marx, then, is not only labour, as we transhistorically and commonsensically understand it, but also a historically specific socially mediating activity. Hence its products—commodity, capital—are both concrete labour products and objectified forms of social mediation. According to this analysis, the peculiar quasi-objective, formal social relations that fundamentally characterize capitalist society are dualistic: they are characterized by the opposition of an abstract, general, homogenous dimension and a concrete, particular, material dimension, both of which appear to be “natural,” rather then social, and condition social conceptions of natural reality. Whereas Lukács understands the commodity only in terms of its abstract dimension, Marx analyzes the commodity as both abstract and concrete. Within this framework, Lukács’s analysis falls prey to a fetish form; it naturalizes the concrete dimension of the commodity form."

However, while this does is specify the impact of Lukacs' fetishization of concrete labor and use-value, rather than seeing them as necessarily related to abstract labor and exchange-value, I don't think that this could be seen as Postone's argument as such.  It is part of a more developed argument focused on Lukacs' failure to follow through on Marx's development of capital and this piece focuses on Lukacs inability to understand the dynamic of capital, rather than seeing capital as a mystification and impediment of a transhistorical dynamic of concrete labor and use-value.

Postone ends with an interesting argument that Lukacs' approach results in a position that hypostatizes the state against the market and opens to the door theoretically to his later apologetics for statifcation as socialism.

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