Saturday, 10 March 2012

Habermas And Reification


Marx’s inability to determine “value” and “prices” independently of the market “mechanism” induced him to seek the “objectification” of value in the “fetishism of commodities” which served the same purpose as Weber’s “rationalization” – that of “measuring” the social synthesis, which is what Lukacs translated into the concept of “reification”. Just as with Weber’s “rationalization”, the Marxian concept of “commodity fetishism” or the Lukacsian equivalent of “reification” simply cannot account for “the social synthesis”. Marx and Lukacs understand that if this “social synthesis” is objectively valid – if, in other words, it is possible “to measure” value independently of political institutions, of violence -, then capitalism would be made “scientifically legitimate” and the only “objection” to it would rest with its “efficiency” as a mode of production of social wealth. If, on the contrary, this “social synthesis” is achieved through a “necessary illusion” (fetishism of commodities, reification, formalism), then we have a contradiction because no “illusion”, – let alone a “necessary fiction”, which is an oxymoron! - can keep a social system in “reproduction”! (We dealt before with Lukacs’s description of “necessary illusion” – which is an oxymoron because “illusions” cannot be “necessary” and “necessity” cannot be “illusory”.)



Lukacs perceives this problem when he asserts, albeit still from the viewpoint of the opposition of “fragmented alienated labor” against the “(lost!) totality of artisanal labor”, that “the limit to reification is its ‘formalism’” (in HCC, p.101). Habermas understands Lukacs’s statement to mean that workers are aware that the “reification” of labor time is “an illusion”, however “necessary” it may be “objectively” and that therefore the bourgeoisie cannot be “the individual subject-object of history”. As if “history” required anything like “individual subject-objects” for exploitation to occur! (Nietzsche would have a fit if he ever read Lukacs!) Quite obviously, Lukacs’s analysis does not deal with the problem because, as Habermas rightly notes, this “formalism” can be overcome only “philosophically” – through “class consciousness”, which entails opposing one “illusion” with another, because it is hard to see how the “necessary illusion” of reification could ever become “un-necessary”! (The old Frankfurt School realized this, only to preserve the idolatry of “[Instrumental] Reason”). [See Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, Vol.1.]



The only way to lend validity to Lukacs’s position is to reflect that the “formalism” of reification, of the mythical law of value, will defeat capitalism for the precise reason that what makes it possible is a reality of “antagonism”, of capitalist command over living labor that ensures the “abstraction” of living labor. In other words, there is no “real” or “necessary” illusion behind reification but the naked blunt violence of the capitalist – “the discipline of the factory”. This is why “formalism” is the limit of capitalism: - because “rationalization” is not an “objective” (Weber) or merely “ideological” (Marx-Lukacs, then Heidegger-Marcuse) phenomenon, but rather (with Nietzsche’s invariance, the “unreality” of values) an “arbitrary” one that responds to a strategy of command and exploitation.



Lukacs does in fact, at the page reference cited by Habermas, seem to indicate “formalism” as the internal limit of the wage relation in terms of the fact that “the market mechanism” metamorphoses living labor into a “thing” but only “formally”, only “abstractly” – not “in reality” or “necessarily” – and must therefore succumb to the “reality” of class antagonism! It is true that both Marx and Lukacs ultimately fall into this vicious circle of “market competition” leading to “abstract labor” and then to “value” as a “necessary illusion” – an operation that is impossible because “competition” cannot automatically turn living experience into a “thing”. Habermas, however, completely fails to see that this is the real political problem and engages instead in a critique of Lukacs on the ground that the reality of “reification” (which Lukacs has rendered identical with Weberian “rationalization” because of his erroneous acceptance of “market competition”) cannot be “dispelled” by a mythical “class consciousness”! By so doing, Habermas demonstrates how little he has understood where the actual problem with the wage relation and with Lukacs’s concept of “reification” (and Marx’s “fetishism”) really lies: - that is to say, in the impossibility of “reification” or “fetishism” as a “necessary illusion”! – Certainly not in Lukacs’s residual Hegelian “idealistic objectivism”!



The oxymoron of “necessary illusion” to describe the “fetishism of the commodity” and “reification” is the mirror-image of the Marxian notion of “historical materialism”: on one side the phenomenon of “value” is an “illusion”, that is, it is a subjective product of human “history”, whilst on the other side it is “necessary” because it exemplifies the objective and material “economic laws of motion of society”. Because Habermas accepts the “scientific” basis of “historial materialism” based on the mistaken distinction he draws between “instrumental action” and “interaction” or “reflection”, he can then accept this oxymoron as indicating the “historical necessity” of the “commodity form” at a given stage of “the natural history of society”! Here is the proof in his own words:



Marx did not adopt an epistemological perspective in developing his conception of the history of the species as something that has to be comprehended materialistically. Nevertheless, if social practice does not only accumulate the successes of instrumental action but also, through class antagonism, produces and reflects on objective illusion, then, as part of this process, the analysis of history is possible only in a phenomenologically mediated (gebrochen) mode of thought. The science of man itself is critique and must remain so. (K&HI, ch.3, p.62)



What this reveals, of course, is the ingrained “transcendental objectivism” – derived mainly from Neo-Kantian sources, chiefly Simmel’s “social forms“ – that afflicts Habermas’s own analytical framework! Here is Habermas again:



To the degree that the commodity form becomes the form of objectivity and rules the relations of individuals to one another as well as their dealings with external nature and with internal subjective nature, the lifeworld has to become reified and individuals degraded – as “systems theory” foresees – into an “environment” for a society that has become external to them, that has consolidated for them into an opaque system, that has been abstracted from them and become independent of them. Lukacs shares this perspective with Weber as with Horkheimer; but he is convinced that this development not only can be stopped practically, but, for reasons that can be theoretically demonstrated, has to run up against internal limits: “This rationalization of the world appears to be complete, it seems to penetrate to the very depths of man’s physical and psychic nature; but it finds its limit in the formal character of its own rationality”. [HCC, p.101]

The burden of proof that Marx wanted to discharge in politico-economic terms, with a theory of crisis, now falls upon a demonstration of the immanent limits to rationalization, a demonstration that has to be carried out in philosophical terms,” (Habermas, TCA, Vol1, p.361).



Again, Habermas is wrong because the context in which Lukacs discusses this “limit” to rationalization is precisely that of Marx’s theory of capitalist crisis induced both by antagonism in the labor process and by inter-capitalist competition in the “market”! As a matter of fact, on p.102, very shortly after the passage cited by Habermas, Lukacs goes on to cite Marx on this very point!



Division of labor within the workshop implies the undisputed authority of the capitalist over men, who are but parts of a mechanism that belongs to him. The division of labor within society brings into contact independent commodity producers who acknowledge no other authority than that of competition, of the coercion exerted by the pressure of their mutual interests,” (Marx, Capital III, quoted in Lukacs, HCC, p.102.)





Of course, neither Marx nor Lukacs will ever succeed in showing how “the market mechanism” can “function”, how “competition” between capitalists on can ever provide “the social synthesis” for the reproduction of capitalist society in any form whatsoever, least of all that of “value”! For this reason, they rely on the notions of “fetishism” and “reification”, respectively, to provide the foundation for that comprehensive “irrationality” constituted by the capitalist wage relation – which is why Lukacs can then fall prey to and swallow wholesale the “formal rationality” of a Weber, albeit to denounce its “formal limits”! It is much simpler for us, instead, to attribute the social synthesis of the society of capital to the sheer violence of the wage relation, imposed through a network of capitalist political and social institutions all of which answer ultimately to the stability of money-wages and the price and monetary system. But this does not mean that Habermas has identified this real apory in Marx’s and Lukacs’s theories – the aporetic notion of “labor value” as the foundation of the social synthesis of capitalist reproduction through market competition! And this failure, we argue, is a direct result of Habermas’s persistent wrong focus on the “philosophical”, “idealistic” and Neo-Kantian theorization of the whole quaestio of “reason and rationalization” as a discrepancy (Missverhaltnis) between “laws of nature” or epistemology and “laws of society” or social theory, rather than on the political antagonism of the wage relation!



Habermas is entirely right to chide Lukacs’s “idealistic” reconciliation of theory and practice in the “class consciousness” of “the individual subject-object of history”, namely the proletariat (p.364). But he completely misses the point that the “contra-diction” in capitalist social relations is not predominantly one that concerns “communicative action or competence”! Instead, it is one that is intrinsic to the politics of the wage relation itself! Perhaps the worst that can be said of Habermas’s “meta-critique” of Marx and Lukacs is that his own notion of “communicative action” remains trapped in the voluntarism of “consciousness”, of morality and aestheticism:



It is characteristic of the pattern of rationalization in capitalist societies that the complex of cognitive-instrumental rationality establishes itself at the cost of practical rationality; communicative relations are reified. Thus it makes sense to ask whether the critique of the incomplete character of the rationalization that appears as reification does not suggest taking a complementary relation between cognitive-instrumental rationality, on the one hand, and moral-practical and aesthetic-practical rationality, on the other, as a standard that is inherent in the unabridged concept of practice, that is to say in communicative [p.364] action itself,” (TCA, Vol.1, pp.363-4).

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Habermas on Marx: Epistemology, Social Theory, or Praxis?


Here then is how Habermas recapitulates his “animadversion” on Marx in the second part of his critical review of Marxian praxis, but note that already he has turned this praxis into “the critique of epistemology”:

Marx reduces the process of reflection to the level of instrumental action. By reducing the self-positing of the absolute ego to the more tangible productive activity of the species, he eliminates reflection as such as a motive force of history, even though he retains the framework of the philosophy of reflection. His re-interpretation of Hegel's Phenomenology betrays the paradoxical consequences of taking Fichte's philosophy of the ego and undermining it with materialism. Here the appropriating subject confronts in the non-ego not just a product of the ego but rather some portion of the contingency of nature. In this case the act of appropriation is no longer identical with the reflective reintegration of some previously externalized part of the subject itself. Marx preserves the relation of the subject's prior positing activity (which was not transparent to itself), that is of hypostatization, to the process of becoming conscious of what has been objectified, that is of reflection. But, on the premises of a philosophy of labor, this relation turns into the relation of production and appropriation, of externalization and the appropriation of externalized essential powers. Marx conceives of reflection according to the model of production. Because he tacitly starts with this premise, it is not inconsistent that he does not distinguish between the logical status of the natural sciences and of critique. (p.44)

Now, as we showed in the first part of this review, it is emphatically not Marx who “reduces the process of reflection to the level of instrumental action” – in the first place because Marx never properly understood human living activity or living labor in terms of this dichotomy that Habermas wishes to impose on it between the “instrumental” side of human activity and its “conscious” or “reflective” side! There was unquestionably a scientistic and reductive side to Marx’s work that takes us down to that most vulgar of his claims – that of having “uncovered the laws of motion of human history” or at any rate “the economic laws of motion of modern society” on which Habermas predictably lays much emphasis. Yet, as even Habermas himself concedes, there is much in Marx’s practical application of his critique to specific historical events, and most notably his insistence on the historical uniqueness of capitalist social relations of production (in contrast to Political Economy), that directly confutes Habermas’s claim of the Marxian “reduction” of reflection to instrumental action and “disproportion” between his practice of inquiry and his philosophical self-understanding of it.


Rather than carp on the all-too-easily confutable scientism of Marx’s analysis, Habermas ought to have asked himself why and how it is indeed possible for Marx to be able simultaneously to engage in the “vulgar” conception of “the laws of motion of human history” – and indeed even to indulge the claim that human history could be subsumed eventually under natural history (the infamous unification of science)! – whilst still being able to conceive of the “critique” of political economy as a form of revolutionary practice! The reason why Habermas is unable to pose himself the question is the converse of the reason why Marx was able to contradict his praxis: and the reason is that Habermas is illegitimately dissecting human living activity (the Arbeit or “labor”) into an “instrumental” or “mechanical” or, if you like “techno-scientific” aspect, and into a “reflective” or “conscious” or contemplative aspect: in short, he is accepting without hint of a doubt – unreflexively indeed! – the division of human labor into intellectual and manual labor. (Intellectual and Manual Labor is the title of the major theoretical work by Alfred Sohn-Rethel in which he introduces also the notion of “social synthesis”. This is a gallant effort from a genuinely devoted Marxist revolutionary thinker whom we hold in high esteem. It is intriguing, to say the least, that Habermas – though most probably aware of Sohn-Rethel’s theses – fails to acknowledge or even to mention them in his work! Our own divergence from the theses of this work will be the subject of a separate review, but we are happy to adopt them provisionally here.)


To say it again, when Habermas claims that “Marx conceives of reflection according to the model of production”, he is illicitly concluding that “production” is somehow “un-reflexive” and “mechanical” – that, in other words, it is possible to distinguish between a sphere of necessity, of technical and scientific instrumental action (including that of “economic science”?) and, in opposition to this, of a “reflexive” sphere of freedom or ideation that responds to symbolic interaction. In effect, Habermas is reproducing uncritically the Cartesian schema of res cogitans (“mind”, “soul”, “spirit”) and res extensa (body, matter). Indeed, so pervicaciously ingrained is this philosophical Cartesian-Kantian prejudice in Habermas’s entire worldview, that he even has the effrontery to accuse Marx of confusing “the logical status of the natural sciences and of critique” (!) when it ought to be amply evident to him by now – if indeed he had read Marx with an open mind – that no such distinction can be drawn between “the logical status of the natural sciences and of critique”!

Because he [Marx] tacitly starts with this premise, it is not inconsistent that he does not distinguish between the logical status of the natural sciences and of critique.

The cardinal sin committed by Habermas here is first to have articulated a purely fictitious and wholly phantomatic distinction between “the logic of the natural sciences” and “the logic of critique” – when he should know that there is no logic to either the natural sciences or indeed to “critique” (!); and then, Habermas compounds his temerary insolence by accusing Marx of not distinguishing between these two utterly phantomatic entities!

Here Habermas doubtless has in mind Marx’s famous statement in Capital about human beings as “species-conscious beings” – the Gattungswesen. And again we would have to concede that in this regard as well Marx displays all the scientistic prejudices, even bigotry, of the age of Darwin, to whom he intended to dedicate Capital. Nevertheless, this does not entitle Habermas to saddle Marx with a “framework” of philosophical analysis that the bearded thinker time and again challenges and even contra-dicts most notably in the Grundrisse. This is not the place to go into the merits of Marx’s explicit and implicit outline of his philosophical framework, in the Grundrisse and elsewhere; nor have we time and space to trace the historical correspondence between the division of social labor into its “directive intellectual” and its “commanded manual” aspects. But we must take time to delineate two facets of an implicit Marxian “critique of epistemology” based on a reading of Marx’s work that draws upon the Nietzschean critique of Western “values” (scientific and ethico-political) – which, again, we attribute to the political division of human living activity into intellectual labor on one side and manual labor on the other.


Here is a splendid example of Habermas’s inability to see that “science and technology” and “human history” can be at one and the same time subsumed under “social relations of production” and therefore (!) still be subsumed within a phylogenetic understanding of human being as species-conscious being. If indeed, unlike Habermas, we are able to understand “science and technology” as products of human social relations of production rather than as “autonomous, objective” entities with a “neutral logical status”, then there is no reason why the development of these social relations of production in accordance with phylogenetically defined “human interests” may clash and come into contra-diction with their actual asset under capitalism! This is not a “logical” contradiction but what Marx would have called a “dialectical” one – one that does not require a “transcendental” understanding or theory of “knowledge” that is separate from (that “transcends”) the actual social relations of production (the satisfaction of human needs and goals) - which is precisely the reason why Habermas champions Kant against Hegel! -, but rather an “immanent” one that subsumes “science and technology” to those “social relations of production”.

If we take as our basis the materialist concept of synthesis through social labor, then both the technically exploitable knowledge of the natural sciences, the knowledge of natural laws, as well as the theory of society, the knowledge of laws of human natural history, belong to the same objective context of the self-constitution of the species.

Simply breath-taking is the mulish obstinacy with which Habermas harps on this opposition that exists only in his mind and in his neo-Kantian mind alone (!) between “natural laws” and “laws of human natural history” (whatever that means!). And immediately following this sentence, just take a look at this pearl (!):

From the level of pragmatic, everyday knowledge to modern natural science, the knowledge of nature derives from man's primary coming to grips with nature; at the same time it reacts back upon the system of social labor and stimulates its development.


The knowledge of society can be viewed analogously. Extending from the level of the pragmatic self-understanding of social groups to actual social theory, it defines the self-consciousness of societal subjects. Their identity is reformed at each stage of development of the productive forces and is in turn a condition for steering the process of production….

Thus, out of his own creative imagination, Habermas has conjured up a “division”, an “opposition”, a “contrast” between “the knowledge of nature” and “the knowledge of society” which leads us back to the old confabulations about “Subject and Object”, “Mind and Body”, “Spirit and Nature”, and finally – but here is the real immanent political contrast that matters to us: - capitalist and worker, dead objectified labor commanding living labor. In vain, Habermas invokes the Marx of the Grundrisse to enlist him in this neo-Kantian folly:

The development of fixed capital indicates the extent to which general social knowledge has become an immediate force of production, and therefore [!] the conditions of the social life process itself have come under the control of the general intellect.7


So far as production establishes the only framework in which the genesis and function of knowledge can be interpreted, the science of man also appears under categories of knowledge for control (Verf├╝gungswissen). At the level of the self-consciousness of social subjects, knowledge that makes possible the control of natural processes turns into knowledge that makes possible the control of the social life process. In the dimension of labor as a process of production and appropriation, reflective knowledge (Reflexionswissen) changes into productive knowledge (Produktionswissen). Natural knowledge congealed in technologies impels the social subject to an ever more thorough knowledge of its "process of material exchange" with nature. In the end this knowledge is transformed into the steering of social processes in a manner not unlike that in which natural science becomes the power of technical control. (p.47)

Marx himself, in the quotation Habermas adopts above, commits the very vulgar error – one that Habermas, entirely innocent of economic knowledge, fails to detect – of confusing what he will later (in Capital) call “constant capital” with “fixed capital” (plant and equipment – roughly put, “technology”). But this does not entitle Habermas to conclude that by “fixed capital” Marx means “mere instrumental technology” or “knowledge for control” (my God! Where does he get these notions from?) or “Verfugungswissen” which can then be combined with “reflective knowledge” to yield finally – in a transmutation worthy of the maddest mediaeval alchemist – a magical “productive knowledge” or “Produktionswissen” (I give up!) that, according to Habermas, Marx does not “self-understand philosophically”!


At this stage of arcane nonsense we would be quite entitled to throw the whole physical weight of the book Knowledge and Human Interests at Habermas himself were it not for the fact that we owe him the stimulus of his comprehensive obtuse asininity - and, let us admit it, a great deal of intellect in the mix, for which we thank him! Again and again, Habermas goes on (as if repetition could somehow dispel his confusion) to cavil at this “dualism” of “labor” (Arbeit) as mere “instrumental action” (manual labor?) and “labor” as “reflection” or “interaction” (intellectual labor?):

Here it is from the methodological perspective that we are interested in this conception of the transformation of the labor process into a scientific process that would bring man's "material exchange" with nature under the control of a human species totally emancipated from necessary labor. A science of man developed from this point of view would have to construct the history of the species as a synthesis through social labor-- and only through labor. It would make true the fiction of the early Marx that natural science subsumes the science of man just as much as the latter subsumes the former. For, on the one hand, the scientization of production is seen as the movement that brings about the identity of a subject that knows the social life process and then also steers it. In this sense the science of man would be subsumed under natural science. On the other hand, the natural sciences are comprehended in virtue of their function in the self- generative process of the species as the exoteric disclosure of man's essential powers. In this sense, natural science would be subsumed under the science of man. The latter contains principles from which a methodology of the natural sciences resembling a transcendental-logically determined pragmatism could be derived. But this science does not question its own epistemological foundations. It understands itself in analogy to the natural sciences as productive knowledge. It thus conceals the dimension of self-reflection in which it must move regardless.


Now the argument which we have taken up was not pursued beyond the stage of the "rough sketch" ("Rohentwurf") of Capital. It is typical only of the philosophical foundation of


-- 51 --


Marx's critique of Hegel, that is production as the "activity" of a self-constituting species. It is not typical of the actual social theory in which Marx materialistically appropriates Hegel on a broad scale. Even in the Grundrisse we find already the official view that the transformation of science into machinery does not by any means lead of itself to the liberation of a self-conscious general subject that masters the process of production. According to this other version the self-constitution of the species takes place not only in the context of men's instrumental action upon nature but simultaneously in the dimension of power relations that regulate men's interaction among themselves.

This is complete and utter nonsense – because nowhere in the Grundrisse (the “Roh-entwurf”) will we find Marx indulging in the kind of academic hair-splitting exercises on which Habermas built his academic career between “labor” as “instrumental action upon nature” and “labor” as “interaction between human beings” – least of all would Marx have countenanced the “simultaneous” occurrence of these two “fictions” of Habermas’s own making. And that is because Marx knew all too well that acquiescing in such a dualism or dichotomy between “instrumental action” on one side and “interaction” on the other would have landed him straight into the Comtean positivism – indeed the “nihilism”, as Nietzsche so ably unmasked it in Gaya Scienza and in the Genealogie – for the very simple reason that once we admit that human living activity is subject to “the laws of nature”, then it follows just as “scientifically” that the “interaction between human beings” also is subject to these “laws of nature” (or “technology”) – which is exactly what every Positivism from Comte onwards has tried to establish!


So this turns into complete and utter nonsense Habermas’s absurd claim that Marx was somehow responsible for the intellectual emergence of Comtean positivism (yes, I know, it is hard to believe, but this is exactly what Habermas does!) as Habermas almost insanely, but assuredly inanely, suggests!

Marx did not develop this idea of the science of man. By equating critique with natural science, he disavowed it. Materialist scientism only reconfirms what absolute idealism had already accomplished: the elimination of epistemology in favor of unchained universal "scientific knowledge"--but this time of scientific materialism instead of absolute knowledge.


With his positivist demand for a natural science of the social, Comte merely needed to take Marx, or at least the intention that Marx believed himself to be pursuing, at his word. Positivism turned its back to the theory of knowledge, whose philosophical self-liquidation had been carried on by Hegel and Marx, who were of one mind in this regard. In so doing, positivism regressed behind the level of reflection once attained by Kant. In continuity with pre-critical traditions, however, it successfully set about the task, which epistemology had abandoned and from which Hegel and Marx believed themselves exempted, of elaborating a methodology of the sciences.

Wrong! It is Habermas’s attempt to rescue “natural science” from the practical critique of Marxian theory that delivers Habermas straight into the paws and maws and jaws of Positivism – which he himself confirms when he foolishly and absurdly concedes with the last words of his essay that positivism

successfully set about the task, which epistemology had abandoned and from which Hegel and Marx believed themselves exempted, of elaborating a methodology of the sciences. (p.63)

“Successfully”? Really? Yet to the degree that positivist methodology is “successful”, it is so not because it is “scientific” but rather because its strategy of domination on behalf of capital against living labor is effectual! Habermas again confuses “what is” with “what succeeds”, which is the very opposite of what the task of “critique” and “reflection” is supposed to do! Perhaps the singular source of Habermas’s confusion is the fact that he wishes to outline, if not even to spell out, a “positive science” that, as the English title to this chapter suggests, will serve both as “theory of knowledge” and as “social theory”. So distant is Habermas from comprehending the most basic outline of the Marxian critique of political economy that he confuses Marx’s identification of the social antagonism intrinsic to the technological means and mode of production adopted by capitalists to subjugate living labor and reduce it to abstract labor with a simple squabble between “social classes” over “the distribution of the surplus product created by labor”. By “labor”! So vulgar is Habermas’s reading of Marx that he cannot even distinguish between “living labor” and “labor power”, so that the entire problem with capitalism boils down for him to one about “the distribution of surplus product” over and above what Marx unhappily called “necessary labor” – another fable attributable to his pervasive scientism!

If production attains the level of producing goods over and above elementary needs, the problem arises of distributing the surplus product created by labor. This problem is solved by the formation of social classes, which participate to varying degrees in the burdens of production and in social rewards. With the cleavage of the social system into classes that are made permanent by the institutional framework, the social subject loses its unity: "To regard society as one single subject is, moreover, to regard it falsely--speculatively."15


As long as we regard the self-constitution of the species through labor only with respect to the power of control over natural processes that accumulates in the forces of production, it is meaningful to speak of the social system in general and to speak of the social subject in the singular. For the level of development of the forces of production determines the system of social labor as a whole. In principle the members of a society all live at the same level of mastery of nature, which in each case is given with the available technical knowledge. So far as the identity of a society takes form via this level of scientific-technical progress, it is the self-consciousness of "the" social subject. But as we now see, the self-formative process of the species does not coincide with the genesis of this subject of scientific-technical progress. Rather, this "self-generative act," which Marx comprehended as a materialistic activity, is accompanied by a self-formative process mediated by the interaction of class subjects either under compulsory integration or in open rivalry. (p.54)

Habermas’s difficulty is that he conceives of “the process of production” as a “scientifically and technically neutral process” – one that responds to “natural laws”. As a result, Habermas then needs to add to this process as an adjunct or appendage a “social theory” that can explain why and how, given that the process of production is scientifically and technologically “neutral” (!), there can ever arise any “social divisions” in “society” over the “distribution of the product” between “social classes”! What Habermas neglects entirely is that “science and technology” are never “neutral” but rather are tools, instruments and strategies of capitalist domination over living labor. The aim of our revolutionary movement can never be that of developing a “neutral science”. Rather, it is that of creating a democratic society!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Jurgen Habermas's 'Meta-Critique' of Marxian Praxis

Friends will recall that the original aim of this Blog was to re-elaborate the categories of our interpretation of social reality - from philosophy through economics to sociology and politics - in light of Nietzsche's critique of Western metaphysics and above all of Marx's critique of capitalist society. This review of Habermas's own review of Marx's "critique of epistemology" in Knowledge and Human Interest was one of the crucial steps toward our goal, - and we are pleased to re-publish it on the date of Karl Marx’s 200th birthday.

Jurgen Habermas's 'Meta-Critique' of Marxian Praxis


It would not be too unkind to say of Jurgen Habermas, the talented epigone of the Frankfurt School of Philosophy, that he devoted his lifetime to bridging the gap between theory and practice…. in theory alone! And it is not too unkind to say this when one considers that Habermas fundamentally misconstrued the entire Marxian notion of “praxis” – intended in the Gramscian sense of an intellectual activity that in its very theorization of capitalist society contains its critique in a manner that challenges directly and practically the operation of the society of capital and that by that very fact is the very first and necessary step toward its overthrow.



The task of critique is invariably that of challenging the self-understanding of capitalist society so as to evince the elements of antagonism that lie at its very core, that indeed form its “essence”, and that occasion its crisis. And “crisis” is not a “thing”, but rather a “moment”, a point in time – a co-incidence on the occurrence of which we need to be pre-pared, organized to trans-form the present order of things. The task of critique is therefore to outline the “fault-lines” in the antagonistic asset of capitalist society and government so as to prepare the organization for its eventual democratic overthrow.



Anyone who reviews Habermas’s theoretical oeuvre will be immediately and starkly aware of how far he was from this aspect of “critique”: at no stage did his enormous theoretical output tackle the all-important question of exactly how his intellectual efforts could be applied to the overthrow of capitalist society. For this is a task that must be most prominent and at the forefront of all our intellectual efforts devoted to the examination of the manner in which capitalism reproduces itself and tries to do so on an expanded scale.



It may well be that the political problem of the hypostatization of revolutionary practical analysis into abstract and harmless “theory” begins really with Marx himself and his notion of “historical materialism” that tries to convey at once two antithetical subjecta or subject-matters in its interpretation of human affairs: history on the one hand as the sphere of human political action, and nature on the other as the objective ground of all ontological reality. The difficulty emerges from as early as the Theses on Feuerbach where the Eleventh Thesis reads: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world; the point now is to change it”. Here Marx seems to imply that it is possible to interpret the world – surely the task of “theory” – without actually changing it. Here is precisely that “separation”, that Trennung, of intellectual and manual labor, of “direction” or “order” and “execution”, of “theory” and “practice”, of Politics and Economics, of Freedom and Necessity.



Indeed, here is precisely that “separation” of Subject and Object that Kant will sanction with the very first “Critique” – that of “Pure Reason” – that will seek to delimit the theoretical limits of human knowledge from a purely theoretical viewpoint or “intuition” (An-schauung) whereby it is Reason that provides the “guide”, the “direction” to the human senses (Sinne) so that the “mind” or “spirit” (Geist) ultimately controls the body as in the Cartesian dualism of res cogitans (the “thinking” and “acting” [co-agitare] thing) and res extensa (the inert, “supine” thing) – the perfect synecdoche for Capital as command over living labor and the Worker as “labor power” to be commanded, “directed”. Recall Kant’s neat and telling summation of his epistemology: “Intuition without concepts is blind [no “direction”, like manual labor] and concepts without intuition are empty [ideas cannot be put into practice, as with purely intellectual labor]”. It is thus that the “separation” of living labor from the means of production, which enables its reduction to abstract labor under the command of capital, turns into a corresponding “division of social labor”, between intellectual labor that commands so-called manual labor.



Or so at least the capitalist would have us believe. Thinkers as diverse as Weber and Arendt certainly fell into this prejudicial trap as the following quotations illustrate. – Which is not to say that there are no “technical” reasons why social labor should not be “divided”: but no amount of “technical rationality” can impede the democratic supervision of the most technical tasks of social labor!



Returning to Marx, we have seen how he too believed that it was possible to separate “reflection” or “consciousness” – that is, theory and interpretation – as an entity distinct from “reality” or “the world”, such that “philosophers hitherto have only interpreted the world”. Marx evidently neglects the fact that “interpretations” and “theories” are themselves methods or modalities of human activity. Indeed, Marx himself observed that what distinguishes human beings from other animals is just this ability “to theorise or pro-ject” conceptually beforehand the activities that they intend to undertake. But this dichotomy and antithesis between “thought” as deliberation and “action” as execution is exactly what lies at the source of the “division” of social labor and its “separation” from the means of production in the society of capital.



This “separation” (Trennung) and “division” (Krisis) needs to be understood and examined with a view to its overthrow and supersession. The problem with the philosophical approaches of Kant first – for he was the one who first conceptualized this Krisis – and then Hegel and Marx, who were more concerned with the Trennung – that is, with the “separation” or “alienation” of living labor and its abstraction into “labor power” – is that they pre-suppose the existence of a “reality”, of an objective substratum or “world”, that can be observed, theorized, and known “scientifically”. Differently put, all these “theories” presuppose the epistemological “schism” between knowing Subject and known Object – a schism that can be “bridged” either irrationally or “schematically” or else “dialectically”, but in any case only trans-scendentally, that is to say, only by leaving intact the epistemological separation or break (coupure) between concept and reality. And this has occurred because in the past we have oriented human action in a fashion polarized between “consciousness”, the for-itself or “action”, and “reality”, the “in-itself” that is acted upon.



Had Marx been aware of Nietzsche’s own critique of Western, and most specifically of Kantian and Hegelian, metaphysics, he would doubtless have transliterated his Eleventh Thesis as follows: “Philosophers and scientists have hitherto claimed that they were only ‘inter-preting’ the world, whereas in fact they were elaborating strategies either to change or to conserve it!” If we turn Marx’s dictum on its head like this, we soon realize that in fact theory and practice were never “separate” and that therefore philosophy and science are not “ideologies” in the sense intended by Marcuse or Heidegger that they contain a pre-conceived project or design of human action. The notion of “ideology” implies that there are theoretical practices that are “non-ideological”. Instead, they should be viewed as strategies that have specific finalities or goals with which we may agree or disagree but that in any case are never purely speculative or contemplative because they remain ineluctably forms of human activity.



The problem revolves around the human temptation to separate conceptually the cosmos into subject and object, as if the mere fact that there are “thoughts” proved incontrovertibly that there are “thinkers” and, behind thinkers, “subjects” provided with a “consciousness” capable of com-prehending life and the world autonomously from these last, that is to say, “freely” and “objectively”, from an Archimedian point. The sooner we free our-selves from this pre-judice, the better. Quite rightly, Marx chastises Hegel for making precisely this error – that of mis-taking human objectification, the necessary human immanent inter-action with life and the world, with alien-ation, the “false consciousness” arising from the extrinsication of the Idea in time and in space to the apotheosis of ab-solute knowledge, the ultimate stage of the Spirit or self-consciousness to the point where it en-compasses all its predicates and attributes whereby it is “ab-solved” from further clarification. Hegel therefore mistakes life and the world, immanence, with the dialectical un-folding of the Idea: in short, Hegel mistakes Being with Logic.



Yet the opposite is not the case for Marx! If we consider Marx’s work in its entirety, despite an undeniable scientistic streak in Capital, there is no question of his having reduced “logic” to “being” for the simple reason that this dichotomy does not occur in his oeuvre and certainly not in the most mature exposition of his philosophical theorization of capitalist society in the Grundrisse. Such a theorization is essential, of course, because the overthrow of capitalism has to be able to understand the needs that lead to it, has to be able to justify itself. But this “self-understanding” must occur in a historical perspective that is aimed not at a generic “philosophical totality”, at an all-encompassing ontology. Rather, its principal aim and scope must be that of erecting a novel political orientation of human social relations of production, a re-orientation of social labor, to correct its ever-growing distortion on the part of capitalist social relations of production.



Here is how Habermas characterizes (one could be vicious and say “caricatures”) Marx’s Entwurf in the light of our formulation of this problematic thus far:



Thus in Marx's works a peculiar disproportion arises between the practice of inquiry [Forschungspraxis] and the limited philosophical self-understanding of this inquiry [Forschung]. In his empirical analyses Marx comprehends the history of the species under categories of material activity and the critical abolition of ideologies, of instrumental action and revolutionary practice, of labor and reflection at once. But Marx interprets what he does in the more restricted conception of the species' self-reflection through labor [Arbeit] alone. The materialist concept of synthesis is not conceived broadly enough in order to explicate the way in which Marx contributes to realizing the intention of a really radicalized critique of knowledge. In fact, it even prevented Marx from understanding his own mode of procedure from this point of view. (K&HI, p.42.)



Obvious here is the intention on the part of Habermas to distinguish “the practice of inquiry” from “the philosophical self-understanding of inquiry”. Marx called his theoretical activity “critique” precisely for the reason that it was never intended as mere analysis or dia-gnosis of the workings and status of capitalism but rather as a practical project, a dia-noia, whose very content, even the most “theoretical” and “ana-lytical”, had to be designed to put into political practice the overthrow of capitalist social relations of production, namely, the command by dead labor over living labor. Though it is possible, and we would argue even correct, to contend that Marx’s own account of the social synthesis was defective, it certainly does not help matters if we start splitting hairs in the manner Habermas suggests, by engaging in renewed analyses not just of “the practice of inquiry” – which may be politically justified because there is an immediate link with praxis – but also of “the philosophical self-understanding” of this inquiry – because at that stage we are already indulging in what threatens to become an endless chain of “meta-critiques of knowledge” that rapidly spiral into complete irrelevance to anything “practical” in a Marxian sense!



What troubles Habermas is the alleged fact that “Marx interprets what he does in the more restricted conception of the species' self-reflection through labor [Arbeit] alone”, whereas in his “empirical analyses” Marx had more properly “comprehend[ed] the history of the species under categories of material activity and the critical abolition of ideologies, of instrumental action and revolutionary practice, of labor and reflection at once”. In other words, the “disproportion” [Missverhaltnis] or "incongruence" between the practice of inquiry and its philosophical self-understanding occurs in Marx because he interprets the history of being human “through labor alone”. And Habermas understands by “labor” exactly what he wishes to understand, that is, “instrumental action” without revolutionary practice, “material activity” bereft of “reflection”. Already, therefore, Habermas’s entire “meta-critique” of Marx is on shaky ground because he has excogitated for himself, he has invented an obstacle, a problem or “disproportion” in Marx’s praxis that Habermas (texts in hand) is about to overcome on his own “meta-critical” terms – that is, philosophisch! That is why we protest, despite our humble admiration for him, that Habermas spent his lifetime bridging theory and practice in theory alone!



For what purpose can it serve to draw a distinction as subtle as it is casuistic between the Marxian notion of “labor” and “reflection”? As we saw with the Eleventh Thesis, it is true that Marx leaned too heavily on the dichotomy between “the [real, natural] world” and its – ideological, fetishistic – “interpretations”, and thence invited those hideous “Hegelian-Marxist” (mostly Lukacsian) disquisitions on “authenticity and false consciousness”. But it is or should be wholly evident that when Marx spoke of “labor” he never intended by that term to mechanical pro-duction that the bourgeoisie intends by it in opposition to some other mystical artistic notion of “labor” such as that contained in the classical distinction between poiesis and techne’. For Marx to have done so would have amounted to succumbing to the most risible nostalgia of late-romantic dreamers hankering (like Lukacs and Heidegger and many after them) for the utopia of “totality”, of artistic and aesthetic fulfillment and wholeness – for “Art”.



Habermas has set up a straw man, and then proceeds to punch him out of shape! – Exactly in the manner in which the philosophia perennis since Plato and Aristotle has sought to present the cosmos as an “Other” to be subjugated and dominated by “the Subject”, “Man” understood not immanently but rather trans-scendentally, that is to say, by reference to an “ideal world” or a world of “Ideas” of which this world, this life are only im-perfect copies – mere appearances (blosse Er-scheinungen), phenomena or “mere representations” (blosse Vor-stellungen). If we define “labor” in terms of its mechanical a-spect and of its ideal or creative a-spect, then it is obvious that the two are and will remain utterly anti-nomic and ir-reconcilable. It is obvious that we shall forever sway between crude “materialism” and refined “idealism”. The unbridgeable hiatus – this perennial conundrum of the philosophic mind – between “con-cept” and the “re-ality” that it is supposed “to grasp” or “com-prehend” (as a “totality”) belongs to the bourgeois fables that Nietzsche laughed off so “comprehensively” in Zarathustra and that indeed he “hammered” to smithereens in the Twilight (a book whose subtitle is “how to philosophise with a hammer”). (Simply bathetic is that highbrow bourgeois interpretation, invented by Heidegger, of Nietzsche’s hammer referring to “sounding” philosophical thoughts!)



To be sure, it was Heidegger himself who, on the tracks of Lukacs’s trenchant critique of “The Antinomies of Bourgeois Thought” (in the Geschichte), sought valiantly in his Kantbuch (which he intended as volume two of Being and Time) to correct Kant’s misapprehensions regarding the nature of human intuition into which Kant fell in the second edition of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Heidegger genially by-passes Lukacs’s entire Hegelian problematic of “the dialectic of self-consciousness” which the Hungarian philosopher had re-worked along Simmelian lines that led straight into the formal Weberian notion of “rationalization” as “reification”, - which in turn he adapted from Marx’s original discussion of “the fetishism of commodities” in Capital. This dualism of the Arbeit (labor) as the “totality” of human objectification that is parcelised and commodified by the capitalist so that its qualitative character as use value is then reduced to its quantitative monetary form as “exchange value” until a surplus value is produced over and above the “socially necessary labor time” needed for the reproduction of “society” – all this is a colossal fiction for which Marx himself was principally responsible, but one that Lukacs ably worked up into an even greater mythology, on the tracks of Lenin’s fanciful Bolshevist vanguard or “dictatorship” (avant-garde?) of the “proletariat” as being the Hegelian “carrier” (Trager) of the dialectical self-dissolution of capital (the working class dressed up as the Kapital-Geist), finally unveiled as “the individual subject-object of history” (a concept Lukacs took from Schopenhauer’s critique of Kant’s formal distinction between noumenon and phenomenon).



All along this line of reasoning or analysis, we find a laughable string of puerile distinctions between a “real world” and an “apparent world” which serves to obfuscate our immediate practical aim – the overthrow of the society of capital (subjective genitive – the “society” created by and for capital) and its final institutional form, the Keynesian State-Form now on its last desperate death-throes.



Habermas’s proton pseudon (principal [first and foremost] mistake) he himself articulates in only his second paragraph (!) from the start of his “meta-critique” of Marx. Having quoted from a passage of the Paris Manuscripts in which Marx decries Hegel’s confusion of human objectification with “alienation”, Habermas sums up:



This seal placed on absolute knowledge by the philosophy of identity is broken if the

externality of nature, both objective environmental and subjective bodily nature, not only

seems external to a consciousness that finds itself within nature but refers instead to the

immediacy of a substratum on which the mind contingently depends. Here the mind

presupposes nature, but in the sense of a natural process that, from within itself, gives rise

likewise to the natural being man and the nature that surrounds him --and not in the

idealist sense of a mind that, as Idea existing for itself, posits a natural world as its own

self-created presupposition.4



There are therefore, argues Habermas, both Kantian and non-Kantian components to Marx’s philosophical framework. The Kantian elements are already made explicit in the “terminology” adopted which, unlike Hegel’s absolute idealism, still posits the “external” character of “nature” to “mind”: “Here the mind presupposes nature”. But Habermas’s adoption of terms – “signifiers”, “symbols” – as charged and redolent with the problematic of the prima philosophia, such as “mind” and “nature” means that he has already saddled Marx’s Entwurf with all the worthless paralyzing, mortifying ballast and baggage carried by Western meta-physics – what Nietzsche so valiantly de-structed, or demolished critically and then threw overboard! Just listen to these pearls from the supreme academic brain of the Teutonic establishment – something to make you bristle with rage:



Marx is assuming something like a nature in itself. It is prior to the world of mankind. It

is at the root of laboring subjects as natural beings and also enters into their labor

processes. But as the subjective nature of man and the objective nature of their

environment, it is already part of a system of social labor that is divided up into two

aspects of the same "process of material exchange." While epistemologically we must

presuppose nature as existing in itself, we ourselves have access to nature only within the

historical dimension disclosed by labor processes. Here nature in human form mediates

itself with objective nature, the ground and environment of the human world. "Nature in

itself" is therefore an abstraction, which is a requisite of our thought: but we always

encounter nature within the horizon of the world-historical self-formative process of

mankind. Kant's "thing-in-itself" reappears under the name of a nature preceding human

history. (ch.2, p.34)



This is patent and despicable nonsense! Had Marx had the misfortune of catching a glimpse of this kind of utter bastardry from academic poltroons such as Habermas no-one could vouchsafe for the physical integrity of the Frankfurt professor! Nothing but nothing could be further from Marx’s entire worldview, perspective, philosophy – call it what you like! – than the garbage about “Dinge an sich” (things in themselves, that velame oscuro or “obscure veil” – one could call it letame oscuro, obscure filth!) that Kant unloads by the cart-load in the First Kritik! The plain and overwhelming fact of the matter is that Marx was attempting by all means available to him to overcome (Nietzsche’s Uberwindung) precisely the kind of meta-physical conundrums in which precious bourgeois “minds” such as Kant’s took such obvious delight. That Marx was unable to achieve such a feat – we will have to wait until Nietzsche for a far more sophisticated and penetrating effort – does not mean that he shared the trans-scendental idealist claptrap of Kant and his German Idealist epigones!



Quite obviously, having set up a phantasmagoric Kantian anti-thesis in Marx’s “revolutionary practice” between “mind” and “nature”, and therefore between “labor” and “reflection” or “interaction”, it is evident that Habermas then needs… a syn-thesis (!) – an equally phantomatic effort by Marx “to bridge” this Fichtean hiatus irrationalis from within the Kantian philosophical, speculative strait-jacket in which Habermas has entangled Marx’s praxis. Once more, Habermas sees a “distortion” arising between Marx’s “practice of inquiry” and his “philosophical self-understanding of this inquiry” – but this “distortion” exists only because Habermas has fundamentally “pre-distorted” Marx’s praxis by re-defining its central – revolutionary – problematic! Here is how Habermas summarises his conclusions:



The materialist concept of synthesis thus retains from Kant the fixed framework within

which the subject forms a substance that it encounters. This framework is established

once and for all through the equipment of transcendental consciousness or of the human

species as a species of tool-making animals. On the other hand, in distinction from Kant,

Marx assumes empirically mediated rules of synthesis that are objectified as productive

forces and historically transform the subjects' relation to their natural environment.29

What is Kantian about Marx's conception of knowledge is the invariant relation of the species to its natural environment, which is established by the behavioral system of instrumental action -- for labor processes are the "perpetual natural necessity of human life."



It is quite mesmerizing to witness the effusive impetus with which Habermas with nonchalant hermeneutic fury completely misrepresents Marx’s most express theoretical intentions. Doubtless, Marx believed in a “subject” as well as in “nature”. But why and how are these necessarily “retained from Kant’s fixed framework”? And where oh where is that “transcendental consciousness” that Habermas claims to detect in Marx? Nothing is transcendental in Marx! Marx is inveterate, stubborn immanence! Nor can the human species for Marx be described “barrenly” as “a species of tool-making animals” – because, as Habermas remarks in the very next sentence,



“in distinction from Kant, Marx assumes empirically mediated rules of synthesis that are objectified as productive forces and historically transform the subjects' relation to their natural environment”.



But again, why, in light of this “historical trans-formation” – surely a “meta-morphosis”, a Goethian “trans-crescence”, and if not, why not? -, why does this entitle Habermas to conclude in the same breath that “[w]hat is Kantian about Marx's conception of knowledge is the invariant relation of the species to its natural environment”? How on earth can this relation be “invariant” when Habermas has just acknowledged that it is liable to “historical transformation”? And how can this “invariance” be “established by the behavioral system of instrumental action -- for labor processes are the ‘perpetual natural necessity of human life’? Why does the Marxian “perpetual natural necessity of human life” – the evident ec-sistence of being human as living activity, hence even as Arbeit – suddenly become a “behavioral system of instrumental action”?



The conditions of instrumental action arose contingently in the natural evolution of the human species. At the same time, however, with transcendental necessity, they bind our

knowledge of nature to the interest of possible technical control over natural processes.

The objectivity of the possible objects of experience is constituted within a conceptual perceptual scheme rooted in deep-seated structures of human action; this scheme is equally binding on all subjects that keep alive through labor.



At this point one would have to state bluntly, at the risk of sounding vulgar, that Habermas is making things up “on the run” – such is the obtuseness of his fantastic “variations” on Marx’s theme! Where in God’s name does “transcendental necessity” come into Marx’s immanent naturalism – something worthy of Nietzsche’s “genealogy of morals”?



The objectivity of the

-- 36 --

possible objects of experience is thus grounded in the identity of a natural substratum,

namely that of the bodily organization of man, which is oriented toward action, and not in

an original unity of apperception, which, according to Kant, guarantees with

transcendental necessity the identity of an a-historical consciousness in general. The

identity of societal subjects, in contrast, alters with the scope of their power of technical

control. This point of view is fundamentally un-Kantian. The knowledge generated

within the framework of instrumental action takes on external existence as a productive

force. Consequently both nature, which has been reshaped and civilized in labor

processes, and the laboring subjects themselves alter in relation to the development of the

productive forces.



Finally! Finally Habermas snaps out of his neo-Kantian trance! But remember, this is only partly so – only to the extent, that is, that this “un-Kantian point of view” merely counterbalances the other “Kantian” elements of Marx’s theory that Habermas seemingly detects. But Habermas remains locked within his own formulation of the Marxian problematic which, far from falling back on Kantian formalism, was always (remember!?) implanted on Hegel’s dialectic for a start! Now, if we accept Habermas’s one-sided Kantian formulation of Marx’s problematic, then we necessarily end up with his “disproportion” because, from the quotation just above, if



[t]he knowledge generated within the framework of instrumental action takes on external existence as a productive force,



then it follows necessarily that for such a “framework of instrumental action” to be trans-muted into an “external existence as a productive force” involves a “reshaping and civilizing” of “nature” as well as an “alteration of both nature and the laboring subjects themselves” that is quite inevitably anti-thetical – that is, it gives rise to Habermas’s lamented “distortion” in Marx – for the simple reason that “nature” understood as the antithesis of “the subject” can never be “transformed” or “civilized” or “altered” by….”instrumental action”! Thus, Habermas in-vents (in the double sense of “confabulates” and in-venire, “runs up against”) the “disproportion” in Marx’s praxis that he laments! First, Habermas “invents” in the sense that he “makes the problem up all by himself”; and then, he in-vents this problem in the sense that he claims “to have run up against it” as a “disproportion” in Marx!

The materialist concept of synthesis through social labor marks the systematic position occupied by Marx's conception of [42] the history of mankind in the intellectual current that begins with Kant. In a turn of thought peculiarly determined by Fichte, Marx adopts the intention of Hegel's objection to the Kantian approach to the critique of knowledge. In so doing he is impervious to the philosophy of identity, which precludes epistemology as such. Notwithstanding, the philosophical foundation of this materialism proves itself insufficient to establish an unconditional phenomenological self-reflection of knowledge and thus prevent the positivist atrophy of epistemology. Considered immanently, I see the reason for this in the reduction of the self- generative act of the human species to labor. (p.42)

So herein lies the problem with Habermas’s wholly unwarranted interpretation of Marx’s “epistemology”: in the fact, that is, that Habermas entirely overlooks Marx’s adoption of Hegel’s critique of Kant – from positions that will be shared in part even by the negatives Denken from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche and Heidegger, and that indeed had germinated as early as Schelling (see Lowith, Vom Hegel zu Nietzsche) – and this not merely in terms of method, given Marx’s self-avowed indebtedness (cf. Preface to Capital) to Hegelian dialectic, but also and above all in the fact that the Hegelian dialectic constitutes a critique of Kantian transcendental idealism both as epistemology – and above all as ontology! Kant is almost exclusively concerned (despite the helpful objections Heidegger raises in the Kantbuch) with epistemology, whereas Hegel is concerned essentially with ontology – with the nature of Being – despite the fact (and here is the pretext for Marx’s critique of Hegel, and then of Political Economy, of Ricardo) that he assimilates ontology to “logic”, and thence to epistemology. Nevertheless, the Hegelian dialectic of self-consciousness is much more than a critique of Kantian epistemology! It is above all else an attempt to move beyond Kant’s epistemological formalism which inevitably shatters against the rock of its ontological “antinomies”!

It is absurd, in light of all this – and we need not even consider Hegel here, for one could as well invoke Schopenhauer’s own critique of Kant (!) – to insist that Marx’s own critique of Hegel would – after all was said and done – revert to Kantian positions that Marx himself would have considered well and truly dead and buried after Hegel’s philosophical advances! The weakness, the weak link, “if you please” (as Marx would say), in Habermas’s review of Marxian praxis ( of inquiry as political and theoretical practice) lies perhaps most centrally and essentially in his misconception of the Marxian notion of “labor”, of the Arbeit, which Habermas understands as “instrumental action”, as mere operariprecisely because he theorises the entire complex ontology of the Arbeit from a pre-Nietzschean viewpoint! Marx, on the contrary, whilst he lacked the philosophical lexicon developed later by Nietzsche, and more intensely by Heidegger, had already moved to a philosophical dimension that Kant did not even imagine – and here the pun is intended because, as Heidegger showed, it is exactly the defective Kantian notion of the “imagination” as the “syn-thesis” between human “intuition” (Sinn) and “the understanding” (Verstand) that made his critical idealism vulnerable to the Nietzschean assault….