History and Human Emancipation: Struggle, Uncertainty, and Openness

Werner Bonefeld

I     ‘All emancipation is the restoration of the human world and of human relationships to Man himself’ (Marx). 

‘Class’ is not an affirmative category but a critical concept. The critique of class society finds the positive only in the classless society, in communism. Communism means ‘communis’ – the commune or association of the direct producers, where each contributes according to her abilities, and where each receives according to her needs. This, then, is the society of the free and equal – a commune of communist individuals who exercise their own social power directly.(1) Instead of counter-posing ‘society’ as an abstraction to the individual, the communist individuals recognise and organise ‘society’ as their own social product.

Class analysis is therefore not a flag-waving exercise on behalf of the working class. Indeed, ‘to be a productive labourer is…not a piece of luck, but a misfortune’.(2) Affirmative conceptions of class, however well-meaning and benevolent in their intensions, presuppose the working class as productive force that deserves a better, a new deal. What is a fair wage? Marx made the point that ‘”price of labour” is just as irrational as a yellow logarithm’.(3) The demand for fair wages and fair labour conditions abstracts from the very conditions of ‘fairness’ in capitalism. Marx’s insight according to which ‘a great deal of capital, which appears today in the United States without any certificate of birth, was yesterday, in England, the capitalised blood of children’, remains a powerful judgement on contemporary conditions of capitalistically constituted fair and equal exchange relations.(4)

Theory on behalf of the working class leads to the acceptance of programs and tickets whose common basis is the everyday religion of bourgeois society: commodity fetishism. Chapter 48 of Volume Three of Capitalprovides Marx’s critique of the theory of class proposed by classical political economy (and shared by modern social science), according to which class interests are determined by the revenue sources (or, in Weberian terms, market situation) of social groups, rather than being founded in the social relations of production as Marx argues.(5) Political Economy is indeed a scholarly dispute how the booty pumped out of the labourer may be divided (6) – and clearly, the more the labourer gets, the better. After all, it is her social labour that produces the ‘wealth of nations’. Even on the assumption that when hiring labour, equivalent is exchanged for equivalent, ‘the transaction is all that only the old dodge of every conqueror who buys commodities from the conquered with the money he has robbed them of’.(7) The critique of political economy is not satisfied with perpetuating the labourer. Its reasoning is subversive of all relations of human indignity. Subversion is not the business of alternative elites that seek revolution as a mere conformist rebellion – a revolution for the perpetuation of wage slavery. Their business is to lead labour, not its self-emancipation. Subversion aims at general human emancipation.

II    History does not make history

The second and third Internationals subscribed to naturalised conceptions of society and history. Their equally ‘naturalised Marxism’ argued that capitalist economic categories have a trans-historical validity, that distinct modes of production are distinguished by the way in which these cSubverting the Presentategories manifest themselves in historically concrete societies, and that history contained a objective developmental logic, which in critical expansion of Smith’s stages theory of history, moves relentlessly through the ages until transition to socialism becomes an ‘objective possibility’. The revisionists did so to argue that revolution was unnecessary, and the orthodoxy that revolution was a product of natural necessity.(8) I am not at all certain that history contains this teleology and note that erstwhile proponents of this view, see for example Wolfgang-Fritz Haug, now think so too, declaring that such belief in the objective necessity of state socialist transformation has revealed itself as a ‘child’s dream’.(9) If, however, history is not the consequence of either divine revelation or abstract historical laws, what is it?

History does not make history. That is to say, ‘[h]istory does nothing, does not “possess vast wealth”, does not “fight battles”! It is Man, rather, the real, living Man who does all that, who does possess and fight, it is not “history” that uses Man [Mensch] as a means to pursue its ends, as if it were a person apart. History is nothing but the activity of Man pursuing its ends’.(10) Historical materialism is not the dogma indicated by clever opponents and unthinking proponents alike, but a critique of things understood as dogmatic. That is to say, the ‘human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape’, but not conversely, the anatomy of the ape does not explain the anatomy of Man.(11) If the anatomy of the ape would really explain the anatomy of Man than the ape would already possess Man as the innate necessity of its evolution – a natural teleology or an already written future. The future, however, has not already been written. Nor will it be the result of some abstractly supposed objective logic of historical development. History does not unfold, as if it were a person apart. History has to be made, and will be made, by Man pursuing her ends. The future that will come will not result from some objective laws of historical development but will result from the struggles of today. The orthodox argument about the objective laws of historical development does not reveal abstract historical laws. It reveals accommodation to ‘objective conditions’, and derives socialism from capitalism, not as an alternative but as its supposedly more effective competitor.

There is no universal historical law that leads human kind from some imagined historical beginning via capitalism to socialism. Neither is history on the side of the working class. History takes no sides: it can as easily be the history of barbarism as of socialism – yet, against the background of three decades of sustained attack on the working class, and in the face terror, war, global financial meltdown and  – the threat of – global depression, barbarism seems the more likely alternative, and it seems more likely today than only yesterday. Yet, the fact that monetary accumulation (M…M’) is dissociated from productive accumulation (M…P…M’) is testimony to the radicality of the challenge to capitalist power, and of the fear that follows from it that every upturn in the economy would reactivate conflict.(12) Over the last 25 years, capitalism created its own virtual reality, accumulating fictitious wealth, mortgaging the future exploitation of labour. This mortgage has now broken down. The pace of crisis-ridden change in the world has accelerated to such a degree that a considered judgement on the future is quite impossible. Nevertheless, and especially in the misery of our time, it is worth to recall Marx’s insight that ‘all social life is essentially practical’. Just imagine, I say that contemporary conditions make revolution impossible, and then it breaks out, say, in Paderborn or Mainz of all places!

III    Objective Condition – what is that?

Man has to eat. This is a natural necessity, from which derives neither capitalism nor socialism. To say that capitalist economic categories are categories of natural necessity, entails not only the naturalization of essentially social categories and therewith also the ontologization of capitalist economic categories as self-active things, that, posited by nature, appear to develop according to their own innate logic, as developed nature. Such naturalisation of social categories also entails the derivation of class struggle from assumed structural properties. This, then, is the argument that objective laws of development structure the behaviour and actions of social classes and set the general framework within which class struggle unfolds. Joachim Hirsch has formulated this point succinctly when he argued that ‘within the framework of its general laws, capitalist development is determined … by the actions of the acting subjects and classes, the resulting concrete conditions of crisis and their political consequences’.(13) That is to say, the laws of social existence impose themselves ‘objectively’ on the backs of the protagonists.(14) It is true that in capitalism, the constitution of the world occurs behind the backs of the individuals, yet – critically – it is their work. This approach, then, represses the whole issue of social-historical constitution. Instead, it elevates the ‘laws’ of second nature, the existence of which depended on the continued existence of specific social relations, into general historical laws.(15)

Louis Althusser, who needs to be credited with transforming Soviet Marxism into an academically viable branch of Western Marxism, could therefore argue that the critique of political economy is not a critique of capitalism but that it rather ‘develops the conceptual system’ of scientific Marxism.(16) According to Althusser and his school, it shows the capitalist anatomy of trans-historical laws of economic necessity but does not analyse capitalism as a living process. Deciphering the natural basis of the capitalist mode of production requires therefore microscopic attention, abstracting the enduring structures of economic necessity from their over-determined mode of historical appearance, of their capitalist substantiation. Struggle for socialism would thus require not only a revolutionary vanguard in the form of the party, but also a scientific vanguard that, independent from tactical and strategic struggles, provides socialism with scientific insight into economic nature, including the technical knowledge that the regulation of a socialist economy of labour requires. The orthodox endeavour to trace capitalist social categories to their trans-historical natural basis says more than it cares to admit. On closer inspection its endeavour seems in every respect tied to capitalist realities, including its conception of progress. By naturalising capitalist categories, it elevates them into laws of history in general. It thus represents history as a history of capitalism’s becoming, and conceives of socialism as a derivative of capitalism.(17) That is to say, and drawing on Marx’s critique of the ‘economists” naturalisation of economic categories, it presents the capitalist mode of production as ‘encased in eternal natural laws independent of history’. It is this presentation that allows them, the economists and scientific socialists, to smuggle capitalist relations in as the ‘inviolable natural laws on which society and history in the abstract are founded’.(18) There is no such thing as abstract history. History does not make history.

In distinction to the second and third Internationals and its benevolent academicians and resourceful technocrats, capitalist economic categories do not have a trans-historical validity. They belong to the society from which they spring. Capitalist laws of social reproduction are finite, transient products of the finite and transient reality of capitalism. Whether the struggle for human emancipation goes beyond these categories is a matter of communist social practice. Nature, or the so-called objective laws of historical development, has nothing to do with it. That is to say, the future has not already been written, social structures are valid only for and within human social relations, capitalist economic categories manifest the laws of necessity in capitalistically constituted forms of social relations, which ‘Men have entered into’ historically (19), and history does not impose itself objectively on the acting subjects, as if it were a person apart. History does not happen by itself. Whatever history there will be, it will have been made by the acting subjects themselves. The future is made in the present, it is as much a present-future as a future-present.

IV    In capitalism, every progress turns into a calamity

The working class struggles not because of Marx’s critique of political economy, but because it is an exploited and dominated class. It struggled against capitalism before Marx put pen to paper, and struggles against capitalism until this day not because but despite of Marx. One could argue, as indeed Johannes Agnoli has, that it is ‘Man, who, as a single individual, as a group, or as a mass, understands himself as subject and who defends himself against a merely objective existence – in politics, in religion, in philosophy. One can say that subversion is a truly human phenomenon. Man objects to be a mere football of the almighty. Here he is mere object. Similarly, as a servant of the master he is mere object, regardless of whether we conceive this in social or religious terms. Man is never at the centre of politics (as the political parties say), but he is a means of politics…And an object he remains most of all when he is kept in a state of ignorance…Subversion operates against systems of thought, against political and economic systems, that threaten nature and therewith always also Man’.(20) Subversion is able to negate the established order because it is ‘man’ made.

Marx’s relevance to contemporary class struggle is simply this: his critique of political economy reveals the genesis of existing social relations in human practice – this at least is its critical intension -, and his argument shows that existing relations of misery develop by force of their negation: in order to posit surplus labour capital has to posit necessary labour. The ‘relation between necessary labour and surplus labour…is… the relation between the constitutive parts of the working day and the class relation which constitutes it’.(21) Capital depends on the imposition of necessary labour, the constituent side of surplus labour, upon the world’s working classes. It has to posit necessary labour at the same time as which it has to reduce necessary labour to the utmost in order to increase surplus value. This reduction develops labour’s productive power. That is, less social labour time is needed to produce an equivalent amount of use-values. Increased labour productivity tends thus to increase material wealth. The circumstance that less and less socially necessary labour time is required to produce, for want of a better expression, the necessities of life, limits the realm of necessity and so allows the blossoming of what Marx characterised as the realm of freedom.(22) Yet, given the capitalist form of wealth, this increase in ‘material wealth may correspond to a simultaneous fall in the magnitude of its value’.(23) Accumulation for the sake of accumulation thus tends to push the capitalist mode of production beyond the limits of its social form. Containing it within its form requires force (Gewalt), including not only the destruction of productive capacities, unemployment, but also the destruction of human life through war and ecological disaster. Every social progress turns into a calamity. In capitalism, every increase in labour productivity shortens the hours of labour but in its capitalist form, it lengthens them. The introduction of sophisticated machinery lightens labour but in its capitalist form, it heightens the intensity of labour. Every increase in the productivity of labour increases the material wealth of the producers but in its capitalist form makes them paupers. Most importantly of all, greater labour productivity sets labour free, makes labour redundant. But rather then shortening the hours of work and thus absorbing all labour into production on the basis of a shorter working day, freeing life-time from the ‘realm of necessity’, those in employment are exploited more intensively, while those made redundant find themselves on the scrap heap of a mode of production that sacrifices ‘“human machines” on the pyramids of accumulation’ (24).

V     There is only one human measure that cannot be modified. It can only be lost (Max Frisch)

The class struggle over the capitalist attempt at reducing the workers’ life-time (Lebenszeit) to work-time, takes place in the hidden abode of production, behind the factory gate on which is written ‘no entry except on business’. Is this a struggle between mere agents or bearers (Träger) of objective economic laws and structures? Unsurprisingly, the bourgeoisie endorses this notion of the working class, and demands that it behaves well as a bearer of economic resourcefulness, that is, as a compliant, effective, efficient and resourceful factor of production. It also tells the working class to tie its interests to the expanded accumulation of capital so that it obtains its just reward by means of the so-called trickle down effect. However, for itself, the bourgeoisie rejects such notions. Instead it demands respect and celebration of its purposefulness and overall humanity. The saying that Man is by nature lazy tells us nothing about human nature. However, it tells us a lot about bourgeois society. There is no doubting the fact that quite a few of those who have never worked have historically been wined and dined rather well. The supposition that the working class lacks humanity because in reality it is just a productive agent reveals therefore a certain class standpoint.(25)

The orthodox tradition of Western Marxism belittles the idea that society has to do with Menschen in their social relations of production. Louis Althusser argued that one can recognize Man only on the condition that the philosophical myth of Man is reduced to ash. Nicos Poulantzas radicalized this view when he argued that Marx’s theory amounts to a radical break from the ‘historical problematic of the subject’.(26) Althusser was however right to argue that Man does not exist. In the topsy turvey world of capital, Man exists indeed as a personification of economic categories. However, does it therefore follow that the critique of political economy is really no more than a secularised mythology of the ‘logic of things’? Does it really make sense to say that workers personify variable capital? Variable does not go on strike. Workers do. Wherever capital goes, capitalist class conflict occurs, and wherever class conflict occurs, capital seeks flight, though not always successfully.(27)

The emancipation of the working class can only be achieved by the working class itself. But how? The simple idea of human emancipation is difficult to conceive in practice. According to Georg Lukács the worker can resist reification because, as long as he rebels against it consciously, ‘his humanity and his soul are not changed into commodities’ (Lukács, 1970, p. 172). Lukács derives the revolutionary subject, he calls it the totality of the proletarian subject represented by the party, from the humanity and soul of the worker – the party is the soul and presents the humanity of the otherwise reified worker. Ernst Bloch (2000) talks about the ‘inner transcendence of matter’; Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge (1993) about ‘materialist instinct’, and Antonio Negri (and his co-author Michael Hardt) about the bio-power of the multitude.(28) These differentiations of society into system and soul/transcendent matter/materialist instinct/bio-power separate what belongs together. Indeed, whichever formulation is favoured, they all insist on a subject that is conceived in contradistinction to society – all seem to favour a subject that possesses either a theological (soul), material or biological residue that as the (invisible) essence of resistance has not been fully absorbed by capitalism.

The theologized or biologized subject is not a social subject. It is an asserted subject. It is meant to do what the antagonistic society is no longer assumed to be able to do, that is, to realize the social subject in battle against its own perverted mode of existence. Really? It is quite possible that the history as we know it has come to an end. ‘Of one thing we can be certain. The ideologies of the twentieth century will disappear completely. This has been a lousy century. It has been filled with dogmas, dogmas that one after another have cost us time, suffering, and much injustice’.(29) For every history that comes to an end another history comes to the fore. The 20th Century was also a century of hope in the alternative entelechy of solidarity and human emancipation – from Mexico (1914) to Petrograde (1917) and Kronstadt (1921), Berlin (1918), Budapest (1919) and Barcelona (1936) to Berlin (1953) and Budapest (1956), from Paris (1968), Gdansk (1980) Chiapas (1994) to the Argentinean piqueteros (2001).(30) These, and many more, have been the intense moments of the struggle for human social autonomy, constituting points of departure towards the society of the free and equal.

VI        Realism and Class Struggle

The difficulty of conceiving of the self-emancipation of the working class has to do with the very idea of human emancipation. In distinction to the pursuit of profit, seizure of the state, pursuit and preservation of political power, and economic value and human resource, it follows a completely different entelechy of human development. Quite reasonably, the labour movement strives for the so-called emancipation of labour and concerns itself – commendably – with the improvement of the quality of life for workers. There is however more to this concern than it appears on first sight.

There is thus need for a realistic conception of the struggle for human emancipation. Class struggle has to be rediscovered as the laboratory of communism – this movement of the working class in and against capitalism. This struggle does not follow some abstract idea. Nor does it target capitalist society from some sort of external vantage point. Class struggle is a struggle in and against capitalism. Its dynamic tends to push beyond institutionalised forms of class incorporation and regulation. Whether it does can neither be predicted nor organised from above. That is to say, class-consciousness cannot be brought to the workers from without – the communist party does not commandeer the unconscious. It is partial to the class struggle. In this, the communists ‘express the actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, form a historical movement going on under our very eyes’.(31) The idea that workers lack class-consciousness entails not only the notion of the Party as the vanguard bearer of that consciousness. It entails also the accusation that workers lack understanding of what is best for them, and that they therefore need to be led. This justification of the form of the party rests on the so-called objective character of conditions. According to this view, the working class is the revolutionary class because of its objective position in the production process. It is by virtue of its ‘objective’ position that the working class is the revolutionary class. Objective does not mean subjective. That is, objectively, the working class exists in-itself and, in order to realize its potential as a revolutionary class, it has to be transformed into a class for-itself, into a class subject. This transformation requires ‘leadership’. ‘In-itself’ the working class can only develop economic consciousness, not political consciousness. Class in-itself thus means that its consciousness is tied to capitalist realities, and that in-itself the working class is unable to look beyond capitalism. What however is the working class ‘in-itself’ struggling for?

‘In-itself’ the working class struggles for better wages and conditions, and defends wage levels and conditions. It struggles against capital’s ‘were-wolf’s hunger for surplus labour’ and its destructive conquest for additional atoms of labour time, and thus against its reduction to a mere time’s carcass.(32) It struggles against a life constituting solely of labour-time and thus against a reduction of her human life to a mere economic resource. It struggles for respect, education, and recognition of human significance, and above all it struggles for food, shelter, clothing, warmth, love, affection, knowledge, and dignity. It struggles against the reduction of its life-time to labour-time, of its humanity to an economic resource, of its living existence to personified labour-time. Its struggle as a class ‘in-itself’ really is a struggle ‘for-itself’: for life, human distinction, life-time, and above all, satisfaction of basic human needs. It does all of this in conditions (Zustände) in which the increase in material wealth that it has produced, pushes beyond the limits of the capitalist form of wealth.(33) Every so-called trickle down effect that capitalist accumulation might bring forth presupposes a prior and sustained trickle up in the capitalist accumulation of wealth. And then society ‘suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence; too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does bourgeois society get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones.(34) In conclusion, ‘freedom is a hollow delusion for as long as one class of humans can starve another with impunity. Equality is a hollow delusion for as long as the rich exercise the right to decide over the life and death of others’.(35) The existence of the labourer as an economic category does therefore not entail reduction of consciousness to economic consciousness. It entails the concept of economy as an experienced concept, and economic consciousness as an experienced consciousness. At the very least, economic consciousness is an unhappy consciousness.(36) It is this consciousness that demands reconciliation: freedom turns concrete in the changing forms of repression as resistance to repression.

The understanding of class struggle has thus to be brought down, away from the ‘lofty’ sphere of scientistic supposition of ‘objective conditions’ and ‘objective laws of historical development’, and towards ‘the real life-activity’ of the real individuals, their activity and the conditions under which they live.(37) What needs to be attained, then, is a conception of struggle that is in keeping with the insight that for the oppressed ‘the “state of emergency” in which we live, is not the exception but the rule’.(38)  Upon reaching the factory gate with its inscription ‘no entry except on business’, one has to enter to appreciate the daily struggle over the reduction of the worker to personified labour-time, over the appropriation of atoms of additional labour time. This also entails that instead of succumbing to the imaginary of globalisation as some sort of deterritorialised and dematerialised cyber-space, it would make sense to develop a conception of struggle that understands that the ‘everyday struggle over the production and appropriation of surplus value in every individual workplace and every local community…is the basis of the class struggle on a global scale’.(39) The world’s proletariat cannot be taught to be emancipated, nor can it be forced to be free. It has to be free for its liberation so that it is able to become free. Sustained mass demonstrations and social struggles, and therewith the politicisation of social labour relations, are the laboratory of the society of the ‘free and equal’.

VII    Idealism is the true Realism

Those to whom human emancipation has meaning should not dread to be called idealists. They are. Idealism is the true reality of the spectre of communism. Reason without imagination creates monsters. Imagination without reason creates useless things. Reason wedded with imagination creates the beauty of communist struggle: ‘all emancipation is a return of the human world and human relationships to humans themselves. Political emancipation is the reduction of man, on the one hand, to a member of bourgeois society, an egoistic and independent individual, on the other hand, to a citizen of the state, a moral person. Not until the real individual man has taken the abstract citizen back into himself and, as an individual man, has become a species-being in his empirical life, in his individual work and individual relationships, not until man recognises and organises his “forces propres” as social forces and thus no longer separates social forces from himself in the form of political forces, not until then will human emancipation be completed.'(40) This, then, is the conception of communism as social autonomy where no-thing exists independently from the social individual, where the associated producers are in control of their own social forces. Social autonomy is not some sort of distant future. It is at issue in every struggle over the capitalist reduction to human purposes to some abstract labour, to cash and product. It is the means towards its end. In his introduction to his critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, Marx formulated the categorical imperative of human emancipation when he argued that all relations have to be abolished in which Man is a degraded, exploited, debased, forsaken and enslaved being’.(41) Communism is the practical movement of this imperative in and against bourgeois society. At times this movement is clearly visible to everybody who wants to see, at other times it is visible only to those who dare to see it.


Human emancipation, communism, is not a condition that needs to be created in some future society. It is the real negation of existing conditions from within these conditions themselves. The communist individual is someone who lives the communist imperative in everyday life, from mundane routines to the most refined expressions. The communist individual is someone who understands the practical meaning of the struggle for a society in which the ‘free development of each is the condition of the free development of all’. The communist individual cannot be derived from hypothasized, objective conditions and structures. The communist individual has no price. The community of communist individuals does not derive from capitalism. It does not compete with capitalism. It struggles against it. Nor is this community a mere idealist hypothesis. Its reality is neither given nor assumed. Its reality is its own reality. Nothing is as it seems. There is no certainty.

Werner Bonefeld
 specialises in critical political economy and social theory. He teaches at the Department of Politics, University of York (UK). Before coming to York he taught at the Universities of Frankfurt and Edinburgh. He has authored and edited numerous books that have contributed in the development of the Open Marxism school. Recently, he edited Subverting the Present – Imagining the Future (Autonomedia, 2009). He is currently working with Michael Heinrich on a book on critical theory and political economy, to be published in German in 2009.


(1) Cf. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1983, p. 85.

(2) Karl Marx, Capital, op.cit., p. 447.

(3) Karl Marx, Capital, vol. III, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1966, p. 818. On class as a negative concept, see Werner Bonefeld, ‘Capital, Labour and Primitive Accumulation. On Class and Constitution’, in Dinerstein, A.C. and M. Neary (eds.), The Labour Debate, Aldershot, Ashgate.

(4) Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, op.cit, p. 707. On the permanence of primitive accumulation and associated forms of exploitation, see, for example Mariarosa Dalla Costa, ‘Capitalism and Reproduction’, and Midnight Notes, ‘The New Enclosures, both in Werner Bonefeld (Hersg), Imagining the Future – Subverting the Present, Autonomedia, New York, 2008.

(5) See Simon Clarke, Marx, Marginalism and Modern Social Theory, second edition, Palgrave, London, 1992, for a an account of Adam Smith’s conception of class and modern sociology, including one has to add, its analytical and structuralist Marxist off-springs. See Werner Bonefeld, ‘Capital, Labour and Primitive Accumulation’, in Ana Dinerstein / Mike Neary (Hersg), The Labour Debate, Ashgate, Aldershot, 1992.

(6) See Karl Marx, Capital volume I, op cit., p. 559.

(7) Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, op.cit., p. 546.

(8) See Hans-Jürgen Krahl, Vom Ende der abstrakten Arbeit, Materialis MP 23, Materialis Verlag, Frankfurt, 1984, pp. 115-16. ‘Objective possibility’ is of course a Weberian term: objects have no possibilities, subjects do. Objective possibilities are a product of social relations, and possess their validity only for and within these relations. The human subject objectifies herself in the object, however perverted (verrrückt) this object might be in the form of capital.

(9) Wolfgang Fritz Haug, Vorlesungen zur Einführung ins ‘Kapital’, 6th Ausgabe, Argument Verlag, Hamburg, 2005, p. 11.

(10) Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels, Die heilige Familie, MEW 2, Dietz, Berlin, 1980, p. 98.

(11) Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin, London, 1973, p. 105.

(12) In the 1980s, Ernest Mandel illustrated this dissociation by speaking about an upside down pyramid, in which an ever-increasing credit-superstructure is supported by a receding base – productive accumulation. This upside down pyramid presents a huge, potentially irredeemable mortgage on the future exploitation of labour. The ‘golden age’ of post-war capitalism is now a memory, as is the blood-letting through war and gas. What the resolution to irredeemable debt can mean, stands behind us as a warning of a possibly nightmarish future. See Ernest Mandel Die Krise, Konkret, Hamburg, 1987. I have analysed this development in The Recomposition of the British State During the 1980s, Dartmouth, Aldershot, 1993, and updated in ‘Human Progress and Capitalist Development’, in Andreas Bieler et al., Global Restructuring, State, Capital and Labour, Palgrave, London, 2006. The argument on the radicality of the challenge draws on Ricardo Bellofiore, ‘Lavori in Corso’, Common Sense, 22, 1997.

(13) Joachim Hirsch, ‘The State Apparatus and Social Reproduction’, in Holloway, J. and S. Picciotto (eds.)State and Capital, Arnold, London, p. 75, emphasis added.

(14) See Joachim Hirsch / Roland Roth, Das neue Gesicht des Kapitalismus, VSA, Hamburg, 1986, p. 37.

(15) It would be unfair to attribute this point to Hirsch. It belongs to the second and third Internationals, and the structuralist traditions, most prominently Althusser, upon whom Hirsch draws. See Alfred Schmidt, History and Structure, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1983, for a critique of structuralist theories of history. See John Holloway, Change the World without Taking Power, Pluto, London, 2nd ed., 2005, for an account on the making of history.

(16) Louis Althusser, ‘Averstissement aux lecteurs du Capital’, Preface to the paperback edition of Le Capital I, Paris, Ed. Sociales, 1969, p. 7.

(17) Marx’s mockery is as topical now as it was then: ‘what divides these gentlemen from the bourgeois apologist is, on the one side, their sensitivity to the contradictions included in the system; on the other, the utopian inability to grasp the necessary difference between the real and the ideal form of bourgeois society, which is the cause of their desire to undertake the superfluous business of realizing the ideal expression again, which is in fact only the inverted projection [Lichtbild] of this reality’ (Marx, Grundrisse, op. cit., 1973, pp. 248-49). Communism does not derive from capitalism. Nor does it compete with capitalism. It is an alternative to capitalism. On this see Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1999. See also Simon Clarke, Marx,Marginalism and Modern Sociology, Palgrave, London, 2nd ed. 1992. Clarke argues that orthodox Marxism derives its concepts and analysis from classical political economy, by-passing Marx’s critique of political economy.

(18) Karl Marx, Grundrisse, op. cit., p. 87.

(19) Karl Marx, Zur Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, in MEW 13, Dietz, Berlin, 1981, p. 8.

(20) Johannes Agnoli, Subversive Theorie. “Die Sache selbst” und ihre Geschichte, Ça ira, Freiburg, 1996, p. 29.

(21) Antonio Negri, Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse, Bergin and Garvey, Massachusetts, 1984, p. 72.

(22) In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production…Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised Man [Mensch], the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by the blind forces of Nature…But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis’. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. III, op.cit, p. 820. See the exchange between Wildcat and John Holloway for an assessment. Wildcat and John Holloway, ‘Wildcat (Germany) reads John Holloway – A Debate on Marxism and the Politics of Dignity’, Common Sense, no. 24, 1999.

(23) Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, op.cit., p. 53. See Simon Clarke, Marx’s Theory of Crisis, Palgrave, London, 1993, for a succinct treatment of this point.

(24) Ferruccio Gambino, ‘A Critique of the Fordism of the Regulation School’, in Werner Bonefeld (Hersg.),Revolutionary Writing, Autonomedia, New York, 2003, p. 104. The social calamity of capitalist development is taken from Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, op. cit., p. 416.

(25) As the father of modern utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, put it when recommending that children be made to work at the age of four rather than fourteen: ‘ten precious years in which nothing is done! Nothing for industry! Nothing for improvement, moral or intellectual!’ Quoted in Michael Perelman, The Invention of Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2000, p. 22.

(26) Louis Althusser, For Marx, trans. B. Brewster, Verso, London, 1996. Nicos Poulantzas, ‘Theorie und Geschichte. Kurze Bemerkung über den Gegenstand des “Kapitals”’, in Walter Euchner / Alfred Schmidt (Hersg.) Kritik der politischen Ökonomie. 100 Jahre Kapital, EVA, Frankfurt, 1968.

(27) See Beverley Silver, Forces of Labour, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003. Wildcat, Unruhen in China, Beilage der Wildcat No. 80, Dezember 2007. John Holloway, ‘Zapata in Wallstreet’, in Werner Bonefeld / Kosmas Psychopedis (Hersg.) The Politics of Change, Palgrave, London, 2000; and Werner Bonefeld / John Holloway ‘Money and Class Struggle’, in ibid. (ed.) Global Capital, National State and the Politics of Money, Palgrave, London, 1996.

(28) Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, Merlin, London, 1970, p. 172. Ernst Bloch, Logos der Materie, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 2000. Oskar Negt / Alexander Kluge, Public Sphere and Experience, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1993. Michael Hardt / Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin, London, 2004. Negri’s biologised subject complements Althusser’s naturalised objectivity. On this, see my ‘Human Practice and Perversion: Beyond Autonomy and Structure’, in Werner Bonefeld (Hersg), Revolutionary Writing, op. cit.

(29) Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Newspaper Interview, El Nuevo Diario, Managua, April 25, 1990.

(30) See Michel Löwy, ‘Dialectica de civilizacion: barbarie y modernidad en el siglo XX’, Herramienta, no. 22, 2003. For a conceptualization of the means and ends of human emancipation, see the collection of essays published in Werner Bonefeld / Sergio Tischler (Hersg) What is to be Done? Leninism, Anti-Leninist Marxism and  the Question of Revolution Today, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2002. For an account on the fate of workers’ self-organisation in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, see Simon Pirani, The Russian Revolution in Retreat, Routledge, London, 2008. See Ana Dinerstein ‘Lessons from a Journey: The Piquetero Movement in Argentina’, in Werner Bonefeld, Subversion…, op. cit., on the incorporation of the majority of the Piqueteros into the state under the first Kirchner administration.

(31) Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Pluto, London, 1996, p. 28.

(32) Karl Marx, Capital, vol. I, op. cit., p. 233.

(33) See note 27.

(34) Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, op.cit., pp. 18-19.

(35) ‘Die Freiheit ist ein leerer Wahn, solange eine Menschenklasse die andere ungestraft aushungern kann. Die Gleichheit ist ein leerer Wahn, solange der Reiche mit dem Monopol das Recht über Leben und Tod seiner Mitmenschen ausübt’. Jacques Roux, ‘Das “Manifest der Enragés”’, in Jacques Roux, Freiheit wird die Welt erobern, Reden und Schriften, Röderberg, Frankfurt/a.M., 1985, p. 147.  Roux belonged to the Enragés, the Reds of the French Revolution.

(36) Enlarging on Agnoli’s argument on subversion (Thesis IV), Man objects to be treated as a mere economic resource.

(37) Karl Marx, Die deutsche Ideologie, op.cit, p. 26.

(38) Walter Benjamin, ‘Geschichtsphilosphische Thesen’ in Zur Kritik der Gewalt und andere Aufsätze Suhrkamp, Franfkurt, 1965, p. 84.

(39) Simon Clarke, ‘Class Struggle and the Global Overaccumulation of Capital’, in Robert Albritton etal. (Hersg), Phases of Capitalist Development, Palgrave, London, 2001, pp. 90-91.

(40) Karl Marx, Zur Judenfrage, in MEW 1, Dietz, Berlin, 1964, p. 370.

(41) Karl Marx, Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie. Einleitung, I MEW 1, Dietz, Berlin, 1956, p. 385.

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