What do you like about Marxist criticism

John Holloway: Crisis and Criticism

Translated by Lars Stubbe

I'm on a mission, presenting a challenge, launching an attack. I come to split the atom.

Criticism is the splitting of an atom, the opening of closed categories to reveal the antagonisms they contain. (In this sense, the term “open Marxism” (coined by Bonefeld, Gunn and Psychopedis) is a (helpful) tautology).

Let's take a category and split it up. What do we see? Maybe more categories. Take, for example, the commodity, as Marx did. When we split them up, we discover the antagonistic unity of value and use-value. But that's not enough. We have to get to the core, we have to ad hominem (as Marx repeatedly put it), we have to understand the category in relation to human action and, if necessary, work our way through the concept formation layer by layer. Why? Because we can only ask the question of the nature of human action required to change the world if we understand the social world as being created by human action.

So if we take the antagonistic unity of value and use-value, split it up, we come to the core, the fulcrum, a term that relates directly to the antagonistic organization of human activity, the dual character of work as abstract work and useful or concrete work. “[… D] this point” says Marx on the first pages of the Capital, "[Is] the starting point [...] around which the understanding of political economy revolves" (1867/1984: 56). (After the publication of the first volume, he wrote to Engels (Marx, 1867/1987, 407): “The best thing about my book is 1. (based on it everything Understanding the facts) the same in First Chapter highlighted Dual character of work, depending on whether it is expressed in use value or exchange value ”(Marx, 1867/1965: 326).[1]

For the sake of familiarity, we take the goods, but we could have started anywhere. If you like, take the state, split it up and sooner or later you will get to the same point, to the same criticism ad hominem: it is the same self-antagonistic unity of abstract and concrete work that explains the existence of the state. The capital is a critique of the categories of political economy, but the same principles apply to the critique of religion, politics, the sociology of gender studies, or whatever: the question is always how do we determine the existence of categories ad hominem understand based on the way human activity is organized.

We open the category and recognize the way in which human activity is organized. The categories of thought are an expression of the social conditions on which they are based. ("They are socially valid, that is, objective forms of thought for the production relations of this historically determined social mode of production, the production of goods", (Marx 1867/1984: 90)). When we criticize the categories, we criticize the social conditions that lead to the emergence of these categories. We both open. We see the commodity and the value as social relationships and open them up in order to discover behind them the dual character of work, which forms the root of both social relationships and their conceptual expression.

So what do we see? We open the commodity and we see the value and the use-value, but at first this is not what we really see. Our focus is on value. We open up value and use value and see the dual character of work as abstract and concrete work, but the same thing happens here. In reality, our gaze is focused on abstract work. That is the reason why in the recently revived discussion about the double character of work, almost everything revolves around one side of the double character, namely abstract work.

So the first thing we see is the dominant moment of the antagonistic unity. And something terrible happens. Our criticism flattens into a theory of domination. Marxism becomes a theory of capitalist rule. In other words, reactionary rubbish, a theory that locks us in the enclosure it purports to criticize. A Cassandra theory, a theory that separates the analysis of capitalism from the movement of struggle, a theory that separates Marxism as an analysis of the Frame understands within which the class struggle develops. We don't want a theory of domination, we want a theory of struggle. We don't want to complain, we want to change the world.

Open the category and look again, take a closer look. Below and beyond the dominant moment of antagonism, we see the subordinate moment and it moves, it fights. Behind the value we see the use value, behind the state we see anti-state forms of social organization, behind the abstract work we see concrete work (or concrete action). We don't see them very clearly, we often don't have clear words to express what we see because they all exist in the form of something else. Use value exists in the form of abstract labor, social or communal organization exists in the form of the state. In other words, they all exist in the form of negation, as Richard Gunn puts it.

Negated, but not destroyed. Restrained, but overflowing. Identified, defined, classified, breaking that identity, definition, class. criticism ad hominem'Criticism that drives us to the human roots of social phenomena is inevitably anti-identitarian because it leads us to a restlessness that is unwilling to accept. criticism ad hominem leads us to ourselves, to the source of our own criticism, to our refusal, our anger, our dignity, our ineptitude, our creativity, our inevitable schizophrenia. That which exists in the form of negation fights against its own negation; it exists not only in but also against and beyond the form of negation. The power of our criticism lies in what we criticize, or rather, it lies in-against-and-beyond its own negation. The critical theorist is not the privileged intellectual, as Adorno and Horkheimer thought, but the subject, the doer, the concrete worker who not only exists in the form of being negated, but also against and beyond it.

Take a category, split it up and what we discover is not a philosophical contradiction, but a living antagonism, a constant struggle, a clash between contradicting movers. Abstract work is a constant attack, a permanent imposition of the ever-tightening constraints of socially necessary working hours on human activity. And concrete work is a constant movement in the opposite direction, a movement towards the social self-determination of our own activity, the thrust of human creativity, the driving force of human production.

We are revealing an antagonism, and our revealing is part of the antagonism we are revealing. Our opening is part of a social struggle to open. The conceptual splitting of the antagonistic term work is only possible because the struggles of 1968 split work in a practical way. And the other side, the movement of abstract work, the abstraction of our doing in work, represents a closure. The abstraction of doing to work is a closure of concepts and social relationships, the reaching for other concepts in the process of closure , a social merging of relationships between people, a push towards the formation of a system with its own laws of development, with its own identitarian logic, its own homogeneous time. The push towards formal rationality, the push towards enlightenment. A merging that gives you confidence, authority, that makes everything sound like it's the only way to go.

Consequently, genealogical criticism is the derivation of the genesis of various concepts (from Marx in the introduction to the Floor plans referred to as the return journey) no representation of how capitalism is is. Rather, it follows the movement of this closing, of moving towards a society that is subject to laws. We are not only tracking the movement of past processes, but the current struggle.

But the closure is never complete, can never be complete (because if it were, we would not criticize it here). It's the closure of a ceiling over our head, of walls around us, but we can still see over the ceiling, over the walls. The world of abstract work is a closed world, a world in which everything is suitable. But we are not fit. We are part of a world that is not fit for purpose. We mumble, we grumble, we are often incoherent, we lack confidence, but we know that we are not fit. Concrete action is unsuitable for abstract work. Our voice is that of uselessness, the voice of concrete action.

We open a category and discover the unsuitability hidden behind it. We open a category and discover the own crisis hidden behind it. Critical theory is crisis theory and crisis theory is critical theory [2]. A scourge for the preciousness of a large part of “critical theory” which believes it can keep its distance from the crisis and the social antagonism it indicates. Also a scourge for the deadly emptiness of crisis theory, which sees itself as economics that is not burdened by the headaches of critical theory.

The focus of the criticism is the opening of the most important atom of all: work. Concrete work (potentially conscious life activity) exists in the form of abstract work, but exists in-against-and-beyond-of abstract work, exists as a crisis of abstract work. The crisis is the movement of concrete action in-against-and-beyond-of abstract work, the revolution is the emancipation of concrete work from abstract work, the creative strength of human activity (productive power) from dynamic social cohesion, that of abstract work was woven.

The power of the doing-versus-work movement, that is, how difficult it is for abstract work to subordinate human activity, is manifested in the explosion of credit that is vital to the current crisis. It also manifests itself in the manifold cracks, fissures or breaks in the structure of capitalist rule, other forms of social relationships, creative activities that aim to break with capitalist rationality. These movements are at the center of the new reflection on the meaning of the revolution today.

We split the atom, the central atom of labor, the pivot, and we reveal a fundamental shift in the grammar of anti-capitalism. Once we have openly split labor, we can no longer understand revolution or class struggle in terms of the struggle between labor and capital. Work (at least if we understand it as abstract work) is, day in, day out, the creator of capital. Labor is on the same side as capital. Our struggle is the struggle of concrete action, the drive towards conscious life activity, against work and capital.

This is what the struggles in the factories and outside the factories say: we are not work, we do not love work, we fight against work, we fight to emancipate what we do from work. We want to dedicate ours to what we want to do, to what we consider important. This is the political bet that is at the center of the crisis today.

I said I'm coming on a mission. This is my mission: to make it impossible to treat labor as a unified category, to make it impossible to analyze capitalism as the struggle of labor against capital without opening up the category of labor.

Email: [email protected]


Marx, Karl (1867/1984), The capital, Vol. 1 (MEW 23) (Berlin: Dietz Verlag).

Marx, Karl (1867/1987), "Marx to Engels, in Manchester, 8/24/1867", in: MEW 31 (Berlin: Dietz Verlag), pp. 326-327.

[1] Marx continues immediately: “2. the treatment of the Added value regardless of its particularities Forms as profit, interest, rent, etc. ”, but this is not relevant to us here. It should be mentioned that Marx also saw this as his special contribution: "This twofold nature of the work contained in the goods was first critically demonstrated by me" (1867/1984: 56).

[2] Going beyond the critical theory of the “Frankfurt School”, this primarily means theory that is radical in the Marxian sense, i.e. that goes to the roots; Note of the English.