I have been asked to comment on Werner Bonefeld’s 2004 essay with the unusually long title, “On Postone’s Courageous but Unsuccessful Attempt to Banish the Class Antagonism from the Critique of Political Economy“.
The essay attempts to establish a beachhead, so to speak, against Postone’s master work, “Time, Labor and Social Domination”. In his ground-breaking book, Postone set forth the thesis that, properly understood, Capital should not be read as affirming wage labor against capital, but as an extensive critique of wage labor itself. The aim indicated in Capital is not for the emancipation of wage labor from capital, but the emancipation of the proletariat from wage labor itself. Postone argues that this distinction was not properly understood by Marxists for most of the 20th century and accounts for our present impasse.
Bonefeld disagrees with Postone reduction of classes and class struggle to a mere superficial phenomenon:
“Postone presupposes what needs to be explained: he presupposes the class-divided human being as a personification or a character-mask – that is, as a human attribute of things.”
Bonefeld accuses Postone of treating classes and class struggle as superficial manifestations of a much deeper process in much the same way prices of commodities can be said to be the superficial manifestation of their values. He warns this must lead to communists becoming apologists for existing social relations.
In this post, I want identify five problems with Bonefeld’s approach to historical materialism. In the next and final post, I will try to conceptualize what an alternative to the class struggle strategy might look like.
Before beginning, I have to admit a bias here: Postone’s argument is one of the more important reasons why I have adopted the slogan, “Communism is free time and nothing else.” So my discussion of Bonefeld’s critique of Postone will obviously be tilted in favor of the latter writer.
That said, this examination is not a defense of Postone. Postone doesn’t need an idiot like me to defend him. I examine Bonefeld’s critique in order to better my understanding of the implications of Postone’s argument in “Time, Labor and Social Domination”. Personally, I think there is no better way of grasping an argument than by studying the arguments made against it.
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