A “Critical Theorist and His Conjuncture”
This very summary exposition of the positions of Hans-Jürgen Krahl (1943-1970) is closely connected to reflections already developed in other texts devoted to Germany and student movements in general. 1 Krahl effectively develops the aporia tied to the relationship between the proletariat/consciousness (which we can also formulate as the relationship between class/class consciousness, or even social structures/political determinations) that we have already encountered in thinking about the conjuncture of Central European and German Marxism in the period prior to and immediately following the October Revolution, World War I, and the failure of the German Revolution. Before the First World War, these aporias concerned in the first instance the contradiction between, on the one hand, the social and political standing of the German workers’ movement, the strength and prestige of its organizations, and on the other its dramatic political impotence, its subaltern position vis-à-vis the imperialist state, its acquiescence to conformist ideologies, its tactical and strategic unpreparedness at the time of the fall of the Reich. After the war, this contradiction took the form of a gap between, on the one hand, the political radicalization of the intellectual strata towards the right and the left, which elaborated and sublimated the crisis of bourgeois civilization, the expansion of a heated, even apocalyptic ideological atmosphere, the formation of a layer [strate] of militants trained in professional revolutionary action (the diffusion of Bolshevik discourses and practices, founding of the Third International); and on the other hand, an offensive by the masses which seemed to be definitely blocked in the West and destined for a long-term stabilization in Soviet Russia. Both before and after the war of 1914-1918, the problem is always that of a lack of correspondence between the different conditions of not only a revolutionary irruption, but indeed a victorious revolution (with the Russian October Revolution hitherto serving as the paradigmatic example) in the West, and especially in the countries which represented the vanguard of capitalist development as well as the translation of capitalist relations into an adequate state-form.
The same situation, or a schema highly resemblant of it, reappeared in the 1960s, and would provide Krahl with his problematic. The conditions of the conjuncture can be briefly laid out: the division of Germany; the spread of guerrilla insurgencies throughout Asia and Latin America; the establishment and development of a powerful, anti-authoritarian student movement; the critical legacy of the dialectical Marxism of the 1920s – Lenin and Luxemburg as speculatively reread by Lukács and Korsch – but now filtered, for the younger generation, through the aporias of the university-based Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and in the process of embarking, with Habermas, on the path of an academic reconstruction of social theory coupled with a philosophical legitimation of parliamentary democracy. In this context, the SDS, the organization where Krahl will be the uncontested chief theorist (universally recognized as superior to Rudi Dutschke from a philosophical perspective), will find itself facing enormous political tasks.
The SDS (Sozialistischen Deutschen Studentenbund), the youth organization of the SPD, became the political and organizational referent for intellectuals and militants on the left of the SPD at the onset of the 1960s, as the social-democrats prepared to enter government. 2 SDS’s line vis-à-vis East Germany – a line favorable towards negotiations between the two Germanies – allowed the SPD to exclude the SDS on the grounds of the ongoing state of emergency justified by the division of the countries. The student organization, however, focused on a sharpening and radicalization of oppositional political consciousness, on the basis of an analysis of advanced capitalism influenced by “Western” Marxism and Frankfurt School Critical Theory. Krahl and Dutschke belonged to the minority of SDS which around the mid-60s called for a break with exclusively theoretical activities in order to protest against military interventions, in particular the Vietnam War and authoritarianism in the state and the university. The death of Benno Ohnesorg (1967) and the attack on Dutschke (1968) would drive the rise of a vast movement that would also end up drawing a number of young workers (especially when the campaign against Springer and the state of emergency laws instated by the SPD).
Detlev Claussen has emphasized that the conjunctural task imposed on the SDS comprised both a “moment of strategic elaboration” as well as the political organization of an increasingly divided and complex social movement – which clearly went beyond its capacities. Between 1968 and 1969, SDS would fail in preserving its own organizational unity in relation to different localized forms of activism and in sustaining the student mobilization. The SDS would ultimately dissolve itself in 1969. Krahl’s texts aim to theoretically elaborate a political line capable of orienting an overarching strategy for the movement against the overall structure of social relations: an immense task, whose impracticability will be underscored by the young philosopher’s brutal death.
Beginning from these conditions, Krahl’s project [effort], which should be understood as precisely and explicitly opposed to the Habermasian enterprise, will consist in advancing a critical “reconstruction” of Marxian and Marxist theory, that would then be able to articulate a political strategy for the advanced-capitalist West, a political outlet [débouché] for the student movement.
Krahl’s thinking will thus revolve around three problematics and their reciprocal relays: a) the problem of the forms of consciousness engendered by advanced capitalism, which is also the problem of the forms of revolutionary consciousness able to break through the conditions of subjective subordination; b) the problem of the social structure of advanced capitalism and the current conditions of labor and production; c) the problem of the organizational forms adequate to advanced capitalist societies and a balance-sheet of the impasses of communist revolutions.
Subject and Revolution
I will present Krahl’s positions starting from one of his last texts, Produktion und Klassenkampf (pages 415-438 of the Italian edition), where he directly takes on Marx and the deficiencies of his theoretical work – approached through the lens of a confrontation with the Habermasian critique of Marx.
At several instances in his work, Krahl defines the theory he is exploring, whose representative figures are Marx, Lukács, Korsch, Marcuse, and early Horkheimer and Adorno, as the “knowledge of social relations from the point of view of their transformability” (in Produktion und Klassenkampf he defines it as “eine Lehre, deren Aussagen die Gesellschaft unter dem Aspekt ihrer Veränderbarkeit konstruieren”). Critical theory is immediately determined as bearing a practical exigency, which is formulated through its own mediation with the knowledge of a social reality. The task of theory is thus to articulate the determinate negation of what is known, and in the very act of this knowledge even, at the limit, to organize the conditions of passage towards the practical negation of the present state of things. As a consequence, the determination, through theory, of the structural necessity of the subjective moment as a necessary excess vis-à-vis the social structure is a crucial moment of theoretical construction.
For Krahl, a decisive lacuna in Marx is the lack of a theory of proletarian revolution – he underscores Marx’s silence apropos the possible forms of revolution after the fall of the Paris Commune (and thus during the long night of revolutions at the end of the 19th century – a long eclipse that should be more closely examined…). 3 But this lack is the symptom of a more basic lacuna: according to Krahl, Marx never articulated the critique of political economy as a demystificatory analysis of the forms of false consciousness necessarily induced by capitalist relations (commodity fetishism, the apparent neutrality of technology and the division of labor, the freedom of the subject as the subject of right and exchange…) with historical materialism as an analysis of the tempos, conditions, and modes of the class struggle (crises, revolts, revolutions…). 4
This absent mediation of the subjective with the objective determines the impossibility of thinking revolution as an act of the self-determination and the self-emancipation of the proletariat – as a move towards overcoming the subjective heteronomy inherent to the social life of the exploited classes. For Krahl, Marx missteps by rendering a determinant and contingent historical situation situation transcendental, involuntary transforming it into a historical law. In short, Marx fetishizes the singular facts of a conjuncture, making them into an a priori structure. Marx is left unable to indicate and study the subjective conditions of revolutionary ruptures – conditions that, for Krahl, always have a double determination: class consciousness and organizational (self-) determination. The proletariat deploys its own capacity to act [sa propre déterminité] by posing its own forms of organization in the moment it confronts heteronomy – and thus the moment of the return-into-self from the external relation in which consciousness is first something merely opposed to the reified effectivity of social reality.
For Marx, however, revolutions did not consist in the self-determining acts of the proletariat: they are always already there, encountered simply as given because triggered by the bourgeoisie in the struggle it continues to wage for economic freedom and political power. The proletariat would only transform bourgeois revolutions, which it finds as already-given, into proletarian revolutions: proletarian class consciousness, with a properly revolutionary proletarian content, only emerges from deception, in relation to the betrayals and compromises the bourgeoisie carries out against its own revolution in it order to preserve its privileges. Class consciousness amounts to the passive result of a fairly mechanistic historico-political pedagogy, punctuated by the “natural” cycle of revolution-betrayal specific to bourgeois struggles: the raising of proletarian consciousness is only the fruit of the development of the spirit of the sociologized world (p. 422 5) – a pure product of historical heteronomy, which is in open contradiction with a crucial principle of Marxist thought: the emancipation of men implies their mastery over the conditions of their own existence. Revolution rightly consists of “making history” through conscious acts of self-determination 6 – no objective and heteronomous process can provide a consciousness that would be a theoretico-practical critique of all heteronomy.
Marx did not succeed in thinking revolution as subjective movement and thus a dialectic of the reappropriation of the conditions of historical existence: for him, the proletarian remains subjected to false consciousness in the act par excellence that would mark a break with this subjection. The critique of political economy can analyze the social conditions that prevent the formation of class consciousness 7 – it shows the determination of thought by the social structure. But it is not able to lay out the possible inversion of this determinant relationship: how can consciousness succeed in escaping this determination by social “second nature,” and generate a counter-determination, which would see the social structure transformed by a liberated consciousness? 8 In order to produce a valid notion of class consciousness, Marx would have had to indicate the possibility of a conscious determination of social being 9 – the analysis of fetishism stops short of a study of subjection and, in the absence of any mediation, the problematic of subjectivation eludes Marx’s theory of revolution. But where to search for this mediation? It must represent the knotting [nouage] of subject and structure, of the critical instance and the objectivity of social forms, and needs to allow for an overcoming of the exterior relationship between critical consciousness and an objective development of social being which determines and develops subjective forms within itself.
The Excess of the Subject
The mediation between the theory of historical forms and the theory of revolutionary action would have to show not only the possibility, but the real efficacy of the excess of the subject vis-à-vis structural determinations [déterminismes structuraux]. This excess is already present implicitly in the Marxist concept of labor – labor is the mediation of the external side of the subject (the criticism which abstractly analyzes the given social system abstractly, as a theoretical a priori) with the internal side, which sees the subject as wholly determined by its second nature, the relations of production. As a mediation wherein the subject would cease to appear as divided into an abstract externality and a fetishized internality, the concept of labor is itself traversed by aporias. According to Krahl, the concept of labor as creator of value remains internal to the viewpoint of capital 10; it is an analytic determination of the capitalist totality and only figures in that totality insofar as it is posited by it.
But Marx articulates, in an uneven fashion, a different notion in relation to this concept of labor as an internal power and moment of capital, in which labor is determined as an “autonomous positing of a final aim.” (Arbeit als selbstgesetzten Zweck), “self-positing” (Selbstsetzung), an “objectivation” (Vergegenständlichung), and “self-determination” (Selbstsetzung) of the subject, that is, as an act of liberation of the subject in and through its own becoming-other than itself. 11 This other concept of labor as a “category of emancipation” would allow for a understanding of free labor, a free unleashing of the collective powers of humanity, which would appear objectively in real forms and thus manage to be enjoyed in and through their own self-mediation, through exteriority; the limit, the moment of necessity that this type of activity represents vis-à-vis the subject, which immediately finds itself subjected, would now be a freely assumed limit, posited as a passage through and in the exteriority of the free action, and which would no longer make have as a reference point the necessity imposed by domination, but rather the process of auto-formation of the human being in and through its own objective action (that is to say, such as its self-positing is mediated with the external world).
We are still squarely within the speculative horizon of the 1844 Manuscripts. Krahl is not seeking, however, a humanist safeguard for political practice, but an articulation between the analysis of forms of capitalist production and the determination of an antagonistic political subjectivity. This is why he focuses on the aporias of the concept of labor: his intended target is the horizon of capital, which would be identified as the Marxist critique of political economy as a theory of the subsumption of society by capital. Krahl aims to immanently develop the concept of labor as a “mediation between these moments corresponding to the production of capital and those other moments corresponding to a destruction of capital (subjective negation).” 12 What needs to be determined is the anchoring of this subjective refusal in the structure of society: this refusal, this subjective antagonism, can only find an articulation in the materiality of social relations through an excess internal to the structure, which represents the irreducibility of labor to a mere factor of capitalist production.
This highly speculative thematic has a fully political status in Krahl’s work (besides, this is the case for any thinker immersed in the tradition of German Idealism, the only politico-speculative tradition of modernity), as clearly shown in his following remarks. The critique of political economy, in failing to incorporate this emancipatory value into the concept of labor, ends up rendering impossible any mediation between the “fundamental categories of capitalism, namely the waged worker, the capitalist, and the property owner” with classes in the political sense of the term. 13 The exclusively objective determination of classes, which only considers their position within the structure of the relations of production, ended up, on the one hand, attributing a political primacy to the industrial proletariat which sought to have a direct basis in social being and, on the other hand, excluding any element referring to an internal contradiction in the forms of subjectivity from the criteria that would allow for the identification of the antagonistic subject. 14
The existence of “moments of self-realization” within the structural forms of “reified productivity” traces back to a contradiction in the structure that emerges at the precise point where the structure of production relations extend into subjective constitution. In other words, the relations of production encounter a moment of crisis in a contradiction of consciousness, a subjective cleavage that is no way assimilable to a purely objective socio-economic process, all the while being internal to the determinant form of the capitalist dynamic. The intimate division of the concept of “labor” expresses this mediation between social objectivity and political subjectivity, to designate the contradiction between the unfolding of the conditions of emancipation and the forms of subjection which are still consubstantial with this unfolding. This point will become clearer with regards to the question of the collective worker and the technical-scientific intelligentsia. For now, we need to deepen our study of the usage Krahl makes of the concept of labor.
The double face of labor
The double nature of labor – as a vector of emancipation and an internal moment of capital – makes it possible to overcome the opposition, typical of bourgeois thought, between coercion-labor and leisure-freedom. Bourgeois thought, in only knowing capitalist labor, and thus labor immediately determined by relations of class domination, can only conceive the “realm of freedom” as surpassing all forms of constraint, as a realm of “pure” and, as it were, de-materialized auto-realization, where the self-positing of a free activity would not require any mediation with objectivity.
Marx’s work makes it possible to overcome the absolute disjunction between labor and emancipation – once again, the political translation of these very speculative developments is immediate: the “organization of the class” is the sole parameter for judging the value of the auto-realization of reified productivity. 15 To put it another way: although the contradiction internal to labor establishes the link between subjective refusal and social relations, it is also true that in capitalist society, labor is only able to exhibit [déployer] its contradictorily emancipatory nature through the lens of the political organization of refusal, of which labor itself is the site.
Revolutionary activity is precisely this activity of auto-realization located in the virtualities of the internal contradiction of labor, and actualizes the possibility which this last conceals as only a moment of heteronomy. The internal contradiction of labor is what allows for revolutionary subjectivity to become tangible; symmetrically, however, revolutionary subjectivity alone is in a position to actualize the liberatory teleology of laboring activity beyond the heteronomous form it assumes under capitalism.
Habermas entirely sidesteps [escamoter] this intricate play of dialectical determinations when he philosophically “institutionalizes” the disjunction between labor and emancipation through the dichotomy he sets up between labor and interaction. Habermas reproaches Marx for having impoverished human action by reducing it to labor, which the Frankfurt School philosopher interprets as mere technico-instrumental activity. 16 Habermas proposes instead to think action through the distinction between “labor, as the subject-object relation specific to the organic exchange between man and nature,” and “interaction, the intersubjective relation between socialized individuals, individual subjects engaging in relations of reciprocity”; 17 for Habermas, the logic of interaction, correctly, renders a reduction of social praxis to solely instrumental action impossible. Krahl counters Habermas’s charge on the impoverishment of human action: Habermas distinguishes two “pure” logics of action – he fetishizes two modalities of praxis which then become as mystifying as the “faculties” of transcendental philosophy. 18
This regression to a Kantian viewpoint, confining itself to substitute the “depths of the soul” for the abstract unity of the human being as the operator of the synthesis of the different powers of the subject, precisely overlooks the fact that the constitution of powers and forms of action takes place in and through the structure of social relations. 19 Habermas carries out a deformation of Marx: what the Theses on Feuerbach articulate as gegenständliche Tätigkeit is in no way reducible to instrumental action, to the logic of technical operation. Objective social praxis, which Marx will go on to concretize as “production,” consists of two elements: organic exchange, and the division of labor as the structural moment of social relations, which are the condition for organic exchange. Thus, the Marxist concept of production, far from being opposed to interaction, articulates the relation to “things” and “tools” via the relations between the actors of social practice – relations between “subjects” become thinkable as objective relations by their being mediated by the relations of production, the other side of which is precisely that of organic exchange.
But Habermas fails to grasp the specific materiality of the relations between human actors, in his inability to articulate organic exchange within the overarching concept of production. Habermasian interaction “reduces social relations to mere linguistic action” 20; political practice, by consequence, tends to boil down to a parliamentary model. 21 In his first book, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Habermas indicates that juridical rights, enlightened public opinion, as well as promises of emancipation are found in the parliamentary public sphere – in his later works, he effects a “utopian” 22 extension of this model and will identify future, rationally regulated, society with the a dialogic space free from any relationship of domination (herrschaftsfreien Dialog). With this, Habermas ends up reducing “revolutionary praxis” first to “ideology critique,” then to the “reflexive attitude,” and finally to “linguistic action.”
For Krahl, Habermas remains captive to “anachronistic” ideological representations of the bourgeois Enlightenment – like all “Western” Marxisms attentive to the conflictual relationship of communism to the legacy of bourgeois humanism (including Marx himself), Krahl thinks that the forms of bourgeois civilization contain anticipations of emancipation, but their contradictory universalism cannot be reappropriated or reworked without grasping the suppression of said emancipation by capitalist development, and thus the necessity of working towards a determinate negation of bourgeois universality. This dialectic will play a role in Krahl’s analyses of the formation of the collective laborer and the real subsumption of the totality of social labor under capital.
To conclude with Krahl’s critique of Habermas, it suffices to mention his remarks on the inability for the philosophy of interaction to incorporate – only formally, as with the notion of emancipation – the historical conditions of advanced capitalism (a reproach that is already implicit in the transcendentalizing fetishitization of models of action): Habermas does not understand that the logic of technical optimization and instrumental action is not a generic faculty of the human mind, but a phenomenon which takes place in the capitalist social formation, where every particular activity is organized and made compatible as one “particular case” of labor-in-general.
It is not Marx but capitalism that tends to transform all forms of action into an action able to be optimized and evaluated according to the logic of the valorization of capital. This state of things, which is the historical situation of advanced capitalism, obviously has an effect on the possibilities for a free public sphere, mediated by the normative self-transparency of language, to exist. The reduction of linguistic behavior to instrumental, bureaucratic, or purely technical criteria renders it impossible to presuppose a spontaneous relationship of language to emancipation 23 – as with all human activity, language must first be freed from its own subsumption to the logic of capital. By sublimating the dichotomies of bourgeois thought, Habermas makes it impossible to envision emancipation within [interne à] material production, and prevents a recognition of the seal [le sceau] of domination which marks “free,” purely symbolic relations.
The critique of the antinomy of labor and interaction leads to, and renders possible, a definition of the concept of Konstitution. For Krahl, constitution is the engendering of modes of thought – knowledges, ideology, practical reason, arts, etc. – in and through the originary synthesis of the social totality. Subjective forms take shape through the way in which society organizes its internal relationships: relationships that are always and indissociably both those between the bearers of social roles and economico-technical relationships with nature.
Constitution is thus the unity between the genesis of forms of the subject and the reproduction of the determinate forms of the socialization of society. In the unity of subjectivation and socialization, there is the becoming-subject of the “substance” of the social structure, without forgetting that this becoming-subject is not identical to the liberation of social heteronomy. The becoming-subject of the “substance” is in the first instance the subjection to the laws of the substance, the renaturalized social totality: the subject emerges from the outset as determined by social relations, and in no way as an act towards the overcoming of heteronomy – this is the perspective of the critique of political economy, which the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School develops first as an analysis of fascism, and then of advanced capitalism. But in Krahl’s view, Critical Theory reduced constitution (the “becoming-subject”) to mere subjection: it correctly analyzed the determination of subjective forms by the renaturalized totality of capitalist relations, but failed to grasp this totality as divided into classes. 24
This division correctly marks the incompleteness of the totality, its inability to close in on itself through a total (auto-)synthesis, and without remainder – the genesis of subjective forms cannot be univocally coherent with the law of social relations, because these relations are conflictual; they are based on a necessary division that they inevitably reproduced in and through the process of socialization. Subjectivity is never identical, then, with subjection. Insofar as it emerges out of a fractured social synthesis, subjectivity virtually extends the possibility of an antagonistic constitution, of a different social and productive synthesis; in short, the structural mutations of the proletariat and the determinate possibilities of its organization need to be incorporated within Critical Theory.
For Krahl, the question of organization is decisive for the theory of constitution: the unfolding (and thus also the exteriorization/objectivation) of that in-itself which is the structural division of the social totality, the political organization of the proletariat is the site of an alternative constitution of the link between objectivity and socialized subjectivity. Organization is the possible space for a different synthesis, in which new forms of socialization, production, and thought – a wholly new constitution for the articulation of social objectivity, objective social relations, and subjective forms – can be concretely experimented with. 25 Although the collective proletarian submission to the capitalist synthesis (socialization of isolated forms of labors through the abstraction of the value-form) continues to have effects on organizational constitution, the overcoming of abstract labor and the isolation of atomized individuals that the organization of the proletariat in struggle has always-already begun to realize within itself leads to the appearance/production of new forms of thought, which do not correspond to the bourgeois antimony of labor-heteronomy and leisure-emancipation, of labor and interaction, but already begin to sketch the excess of possibilities of action vis-à-vis the forms of capitalist society.
Critical Theory had not been able to integrate this concept of organization, because of its lack of a theory of classes, where the latter represent at once moments internal to capitalism and the virtual bearers of capitalism’s impossibility to totalize itself. 26
The experience of fascism (and Stalinism) had instilled in Critical Theory a mistrust of any kind of collective praxis, which was considered as destined to ineluctably result in a regression from the autonomy of the individual towards the heteronomy of the mass. The Frankfurt School was thus stuck in a nostalgic viewpoint for the autonomies of the bourgeois epoch – autonomies that remained abstract (which does not mean “false” or “fictive,” but rather “immediate” in the Hegelian sense, and thus limited by an identification with an untenable, or at least non-generalizable, position in class society). According to Krahl, massification, which is a form of integrating proletarians into the capitalist totality, only appears as destiny if one continues to identify the proletariat with industrial workers (the Critical Theorists, survivors of the Weimar Republic, experienced with despair and deception the rallying of the working class to the systems, certainly mobilizing but non-emancipatory, of Hitlerism and Stalinism), overlooking the changes in the function and structure of the salaried classes: the question of science as a direct productive force, the shifts in the relations between manual and intellectual labor and thus the set of questions tied to the transformations of total social labor, the “Total Worker,” in which the constituent synthesis of forms of social objectivity and corresponding subjectivations had taken place, marking indispensable points for understanding the possible forms of revolutionary organizations under advanced capitalism. 27
Problems of Organization
Krahl connects this line of thinking on organization to questions of contemporary forms of labor and their seeds of emancipation. He first offers a criticism of the Leninist and Comintern organizational model. In his notes on Lenin’s State and Revolution, dating from spring 1968, Krahl criticizes the universal validity of the Leninist model of the party-synthesis. In the context of Tsarist Russia, the Bolshevik organization represents the “effective phenomenal form of mediation of the consciousness, will, and action of the exploited classes” 28; its efficacy is not to be understood solely in a military sense: the internal discipline of a party that transcends the empiricism and contingency of a dispersed and “irrational” society allows in fact for the development, among militants, of forms of sociality and consciousness which break with heteronomous social forms: the Leninist party ensures a social synthesis that establishes subjective-objective forms of interaction qualitatively superior to the traditional forms of life of autocratic Russia.
However, the mechanical and authoritarian application of this model, in its extension through the influence of the Communist International to every singular situation, only retained from the original model a rigidly organized division of labor around an absolute centralization, thereafter effacing those “relations of solidarity between comrades” which compensate for and support the level of coercion necessary to wage an effective struggle. 29 In short, the exportation of Leninism ultimately impeded the function of organization as the site of an alternative “constitution” of objective and subjective social forms.
In effect, the historical conditions for the establishment of the Leninist organization are tant des bienfaits de celle-ci que de ses limites. Krahl’s line of questioning bears on the infamous function of the vanguard party to “bring socialist consciousness to the masses,” who are relegated [bornées] to a disorganized spontaneity: the determination of the Party as a “dictatorship of revolutionary education” hinges on the existence of a fragmented and backwards society, which has not developed in its own right the preliminary conditions for individual and collective autonomy. 30 For Krahl, however, these conditions are not reducible to economic growth or industrial and technological development; they first of all bear on what one might call the social field of intelligence. The Party’s centralization and separation vis-à-vis social forms are necessary for the embryonic [in vitro] construction, with “artificial means,” of a class consciousness which would not be able to develop in an excessively “natural” society. Krahl explicitly refuses the justification for the structure of the Leninist Party that comes solely from the confrontation with the repressive apparatus of the state: this confrontation does not suffice in explaining and legitimizing practices of authoritarian centralism as appropriate for the Russian situation. Krahl effectively fuses a shortcut here between the Bolshevik organization of illegal activity and the seizure of power, on the one hand – in which the determining moment is of course the confrontation with the apparatus of state violence – and, on the other hand, the process of building the conditions of socialism, where the operative question is much more that of the capacity of post-revolutionary social structures to develop in the direction of an overcoming of the state and capitalist relations without recourse to external force [contrainte] – or, at the limit, in a way that would imply the withering-away of such force (the dictatorship of the proletariat necessarily leading to its own suppression).
This correspondence between centralism and the Russian situation essentially derives from the fact that the Russia of the revolutionary conjuncture was only in the phase of primitive accumulation, and thus in a situation where capitalist second nature was very weakly established in relation to communal, personal, traditional, etc., social relations. Only by starting from this fact can we assess the function of the Bolshevik party-form: what is decisive is not the condition of an apparatus charged with organizing the violent seizure of power, but the transition of the division of labor specific to this para-statist form to the political form of the general process of constituting qualitatively different social relations. 31
In the conjuctural situation of Russia in 1917, this transfer was inevitable: the Russian social formation was caught up in a twofold process of the dissolution of feudal or village-communal social structures and the uneven constitution of capitalist relations through primitive accumulation. But primitive accumulation requires direct state violence as a condition for the growth of new capitalist forms:
Through the exercise of extra-economic violence, the state takes on the economic function of inducing the masses [scil. issues of the break-up of pre-existing communities], destined for proletarianization, to internalize…the norms of capitalist labor: its task consists in ensuring the production of surplus-value through the development of a surplus of labor time, and to guarantee that the exchange between capital and labor unfolds without a hitch, while hiding, through contract and private law, the material relation of violence immanent to this exchange. 32
For Krahl, however, whose argument here aims to think the conditions of revolution in the heart of advanced capitalism, state coercion and the violent incorporation of the norms of capitalist second nature represent unavoidable, even progressive, moments: there is an immediate understanding of the necessity for the Bolshevik Party in power to prolong the process of accumulation of the conditions, no longer of capitalism, but of socialism itself. The structure of the vanguard party can take the place, and become the functional equivalent, of an absolutist state because the Leninist organization itself also aims to produce a socialization of practices through the implementation of a centralized disciplining of individual interests [prestations].
The Modern State and Its Avatars
In pre- or proto-capitalist conditions, an authoritarian pedagogical discipline is the sole condition of freedom. It is imperative to note here that Krahl’s argument goes well beyond the limited problematic of economic development, considered as some kind of natural phenomenon – it probes [investir] the question of social relationships as a totality of relations, and the subjective constitution connected to those relations: the subsumption of social relations to the discipline of the capitalist realization of profit must be judged in light of the increasing possibilities for subjects to attain a greater degree of autonomy.
But capitalist discipline, which is in the first instance imposed through state centralization, has as an effect the dissolution of the miserably confined conditions of life of self-sufficient communities, the reciprocal isolation of individuals and forms of activity, the submission of intellectual capacities to the repetitive inertia of traditions and idioms, to integrate every social relationship into an interdependent universal system – which, of course, corresponds to a new form of heteronomy (by the fact that this interdependence is only realized through the generalization of the commodity-form which connects different activities under the form of exchange-value), a form that is to be reversed by a practice adequate to it.
One point remains implicit in Krahl’s work – the “natural” particularity of pre-capitalist activities effectively inhibits the development of the intellectual powers of humanity, through which and within which people can achieve the most articulated form of autonomy. Here, the concept of the subject elaborated by German Idealism fully emerges. The “intellectual powers” are the faculties of abstraction and generalization which, in a class society, are concentrated solely on the side of the dominant classes, who thus dispose of the knowledges necessary to organize and orient the ensemble of social practices and to build (for themselves) an enriching and dignified interior life through those practices: this also means that the power of the dominant classes is first of all, and always, the power of generalities, the mastery of the Universal (of speech, strategic calculation, planning).
The rise of the modern state assembles these powers in an artificial apparatus, separated from particular communities and “natural” hierarchies encountered as such in society – the modern state makes these powers appear as distinct from the immediate powers of the ruling classes. What’s more, the modern state imposes this power of abstraction on the ensemble of the social body, through its efforts to rationalize relations of obedience, and through the systematic construction of its material strength as an apparatus distinct from particular-private powers, and the sovereign unification of political legitimacy. The modern state, then, extends the immediate efficacy of abstraction to the ensemble of social practices, but it can only do so in the form of a violent separation vis-à-vis a society that is always divided into classes – the Universal is abstractly opposed to particularities and only aims to suppress their autonomy so as to affirm itself in its transcendental purity. The action of the Universal as the power of the society does not realize itself as a mediated unity of universality and effective social practices, but only exists as an external power imposing itself on these practices. This implication of a moment of universality in every form of social life certainly contains an emancipatory dimension; but instead of taking place within the mediation of the universal with multiple forms of life, this dimension only appears as the negativity of emancipation vis-à-vis the heteronomy bound up in said forms. 33
Autonomy, emancipated subjectivity, is only thinkable here as separate from the immediate existence of subjects reproducing their own particular existence, who only attain autonomy through the lens of a discipline of abstraction, against which their form of determinate objective activity – mediated by the specificity of objective conditions – can only appear as the purely negative moment of immediate particularity. Since the objective determination [déterminité] of forms of activity is always heteronomous, actually universal activity cannot but be thought as non-objective – a pre-thought, or infinite task [devoir-être]. 34
The bad abstraction of the Universal is the highest point of universalist, bourgeois consciousness, which the Hegelian theory of the state and the Kantian theory of freedom both deploy. 35 The Hegelian state, as the effective development [effectualité] of the idea, has as its task the realization of freedom and the establishment of non-violent social relations precisely through violence and coercion 36; in Kant’s work, freedom only exists beyond the needs and spontaneous tendencies of the empirico-material subject – only the purely intelligible subject is free, in the self-determination of a will which freely recognizes the necessity of coercion and exercised violence. By imposing an abstract form on every social entity, the state is a crucial vector of the use-values of objects and activities tied to the “natural” contingency of needs and traditions – the abstraction of social life through the state-form is the presupposition of the abstraction operative through the generalization of the commodity-form as the dominant form of connection between different social practices. This double unification of social space is only an abstract form of universality, since it finds itself always confronted with the exteriority of particularity, which only appears as such for the Universal as an obstacle to overcome, an imperfection to correct, or an irrationality to clarify. The constitution of the free universality of self-determination only has a relation to social life as a violence exercised against that which is always represented as a mere exteriority – this reappearance of difference as immediately opposed to the Universal is understood as a regressive movement, but which denounced the abstraction, and thus incompleteness, of the Universal.
The Bolshevik Party, whose mode of constitution Lukács outlines in a speculative fashion, reproduces this immediate opposition by concentrating universalist consciousness on the side of professional revolutionaries, and in the last instance in the hierarchical apparatus of the Party – Party-consciousness becomes a “general will” charged with producing the transcendental constitution of revolutionary practice:
If Lukács was right to emphasize that liberation can only take place as a “free act” of the proletariat, it also true that for him, class consciousness remains a transcendental entity that cannot be attributed to empirical proletarians and which, vis-à-vis the latter, manifests itself as a communist volonté générale [in French in the original text – trans.] through party discipline and authoritarian centralization (…) The mechanistic materialism of that theory of spontaneity, criticized in the Third Thesis on Feuerbach, is transformed into transcendental idealism. Communist organization appears as the rationalization (…) of the blind “naturalness” of crisis and class struggle. Spontaneity only derives from that non-empirical subject which is the Party (…) For the workers’ party, organizing and leading the new order, and becoming the master, head, and guide of all exploited workers and their own social life without and against the bourgeoisie. 37
For Krahl, this concentration of knowledge in the party that is concerned with the building of emancipated society led as much to Stalinist state terror as to the authoritarian stabilization of the post-Stalinist state: “far from leading to the realization of a society of free men [hommes libres] and what that society presupposes, namely the withering away of the state, [the dogmatic fixation of the Leninist idea of the party] ended up leaving to the side the withering-away of the commodity-form of products and the value-form, those syntheses of the autonomy that products acquire vis-à-vis their immediate producers – reified…representations of social relations (…) in men’s consciousness” 38; the free association of men, for Krahl, would have to assume the form of a “council democracy” opposed to the integral state. 39
However, as a dialectician, Krahl refuses all the vitalist-spontaneist, vulgar-Castoriadian myths of the“Council” and spontaneity as abstractly opposed to the bureaucratic Leviathan.
The framing of political problems in terms of an exaltation of the self-activity of the masses, or the class, in opposition to a so-called expropriation of this magical creativity by the apparatus, is only a symptom of an inability to interrogate the historical conditions of possibility of workers’ autonomy. We have already seen that the realization of the universal by the state-form contains a moment of truth, in relation to which every defense of organic communities and “differences” abstractly opposed to centralizing unification [uniformisation] can only be regressive. The same goes for the pedagogical relationship the Leninist party establishes with the masses: “Lenin introduces in the pedagogical function of the vanguard the moment of consciousness, which provides spontaneity with the autonomy that German Idealism articulated, and which expresses itself as conscious determination.” 40 Thus, every social form, every political form, can only be properly adequately analyzed from the perspective of its capacity to build the conditions for an actually universalizable realization of subjective autonomy, which idealism understood in the form of pure thought. Bourgeois universalism, with its state and moral dimensions, and the Leninist pedagogical vanguard, represent two incomplete anticipates of this constitution: they prove to be in the last instance incapable of actually generalizing autonomy, even if their pseudo-universalization reverses, by lack of real universality, into a violence in relation to particularities, which means that the universal itself remains a spontaneous particularity – emancipation in the form of separation and exclusion becomes a system of domination and the reproduction of inequality and heteronomy. Krahl’s theoretical wager consists in researching the structures of advanced capitalism on the one hand, and the on the other, the subjective forms of the student mobilization for the conditions of a concrete political supersession of the aporias of revolutionary constitution, whether bourgeois or Leninist. This attempt was destined to remain, as we will see, highly aporetic itself; however, with incomparable theoretical tension, it is one of the most lucid analyses of the conjuncture by the actors and witnesses of the historical sequence of the 1960s-70s.
Advanced Capitalism and the Collective Laborer
The conjuncture in which Krahl tried to theoretically define a political strategy is characterized by two decisive aspects. First, the existence of an advanced, dirigiste, and bureaucratized capitalism, which seems to have liquidated the traditional forms of the antagonism between labor and capital. Detlev Claussen has noted than in West Germany during the 1960s, “all the major institutions of society (including those which fall under the banner of the workers’ movement) were only moments of the advanced capitalist system and thus, in themselves, incapable of developing an alternative to this system.” 41
SDS had undertaken the analysis of advanced capitalism by relying on Frankfurt School Critical Theory; through this, student theorists considered capitalism in West Germany as an authoritarian and totalizing system, due to its incorporation and neutralization of every moment of internal antagonism. The integration of the SPD within the institutional political framework, the banning of the KPD, the outlawing of any kind of “political” strike, the unified union system that was politically neutral and forced to “safeguard social peace” – these render legitimate the analogy between the institutional and economic system of West Germany and the destruction-integration of workers’ organization through the European fascisms of the 1930s. 42
How and where to find the determinate negation in advanced capitalism? How to locate the system’s point of torsion? Krahl advances the hypothesis of an internal contradiction to the capitalist socialization of labor and the incorporation of those “intellectual capacities” in the overall process of production, which could only be imposed through a disciplinary form during the phase of primitive accumulation: “Marx’s reflections in the Grundrisse and Theories of Surplus-Value suggest that the process of the socialization productive labor takes place within and on the basis of the capitalist mode of production (…) If the contradiction between socialization and private appropriation, between social labor and private labor, enters a new phase with the rise of monopoly capital, then the totality of the proletarian class is enlarged.” 43
The fundamental features of advanced capitalism are the following: the monopoly-like socialization of capitalist property (which means the introduction of new forms of planning); the entanglement [l’enchevêtrement] between the economic process and political decision-making (up to the point of an indiscernibility between these two forms of power; the incorporation of scientific knowledge in an objective system of technological apparatuses (which is effectively a moment of fixed capital). Because of these features, the contradiction between socialization and private appropriation becomes more and more glaring – the incorporation of knowledges in the organic totality of social labor tendentially suppresses the opposition between the abstract universal and irrational particular. The society integrated into advanced capitalism is a rationalized society, instituted and reproduced through forms of knowledge and abstract thought that traverse the totality of the social body: the overarching function of a political Educator tends to become superfluous when social knowledge is transmitted and exercised within immediate social relations – but a secondary immediacy, engendered precisely by the mediation of social praxis on the one had and the total articulation of capitalist production on the other.
The universal tends to become immanent to the concrete particulars – it achieves its own mediation in and through particulars which, as external, become moments of the articulated whole [tout] of the universal; but the universal that determines itself in the particularity of its proper moments is, in dialectical terms, the concept – the self-production of autonomy by the interiorization of exteriority, which now appears as a moment internal to autonomy itself. Even if it is in a form always already determined by private capitalist appropriation and which reproduces a structural heteronomy, the rationalization of society through the integration of the collective laborer makes possible an understanding of the autonomy of society as a whole, without a split between the vanguard representing emancipation and the heteronomous sphere of immediate needs.
Autonomy is first of all characterized by its relationship, at once theoretical and historico-genealogical, to abstract thought, theoretical intelligence, in short to intellectual functions. Theoria belongs, in class societies, to unproductiveness, idleness, and leisure, opposed to heteronomous laboring activity; this split loses much of its importance from the perspective of the overall articulation of activities: “Science was once effectively unproductive. Born out of non-labor, today it is labor. A virtual supersession of the antithesis between unproductive idleness and productive labor is contained in the concept of ‘intellectual labor.’” 44 The social labor unified by capital tends to bring together manual labor and the work of thought – at the same time, scientific specialization tend to be erased: “Sciences are not productive as particular sciences, but as a concrete totality – namely, as abstract labor, which covers both scientific producers and waged workers (…) the different sciences are not productive as such; what is really productive is unified science alone.” 45
What’s more, the forms of knowledge concerned with practical orientation cease to be only ideological, that is, external to science: Knowledge is power, and thus also ideology: an exclusively technical knowledge is socially powerless. Technology and science as productive ideology, creation of a technology adequate to capital.” 46 Not only do technico-scientific knowledges become direct sources of legitimation for existing powers – what is crucial is that knowledges tied to the management of social relations are indirectly incorporated into science, into the overall system of the natural and social sciences. Science assumes ideological functions and ideology, as a mechanism of the reproduction of social relations, takes on the forms of scientific methods and projects: reason is an instrument of power, certainly, but it is above all the exercise of power that is rationalized.
The valorization process of capital, which only guarantees the profitability of productive activities but more importantly ensures the reproduction of the structure of social relations, henceforth overlaps with the labor process, the organic exchange with nature. 47 The total process of an increasingly socialized and technico-scientific production now institutes the constitution of the ensemble, both subjective and objective, of social forms. Although this tendency appears to fulfil the Weberian prophecy of the “iron cage,” Krahl seeks rather to identify [dégager] the moments of the process that could open up possibilities that would do away with capitalist domination.
First, he recalls that “in the history of the human species, there has never been a straightforward direction of technological progress that would be independent of the relations of production (…) the real subsumption of labor under capital modifies the technological constitution the labor process”; “science is a…social product (…) If the mode of production changes, science itself also transforms (if not, one would fall back into idealism, like Habermas).” 48 However, the tendency towards the formation of a total system of social labor brings up the possibility of suppressing, not only the split between intellectual labor and manual labor, but also the separation between science as free theoretical activity and technology as a subaltern activity subjected to the limits of material need and resistance. The existence of a disinterested theoretical activity, autonomous in relation to its applications, is an ulterior manifestation of the concentration-monopolization of the intellectual capacities of society: with the articulation of every form of activity into a system, science itself as a figure of the privilege of contemplation must disappear as a form of life – Krahl mentions a new form of thinking that, driven by the tendential disappearance of the separation between labor and non-labor, would represent a move beyond science. 49 A general transformation of thought, beyond the unmediated relation [l’immédiation] between theory and practice, direction and execution, work and contemplation, is what provides a glimpse of the advanced capitalist incorporation of higher modes of abstraction within the ensemble of social forms. Nevertheless, one must not forget that this overcoming of the separation of the free activities of the mind only takes place, for the moment, as a submission of the social totality to the norms of capitalist valorization.
If Krahl had only considered the spontaneous tendencies of advanced capitalism in his reflections, he would have produced merely a science-fiction depiction of capitalism and its totalizing power – what the Italian theorists coming out of workerism and then Autonomia would do, inspired by Krahl’s positions, regrettably fascinated by the creative powers of this total connection of forms of labor, which the German theorist certainly saw as an inescapable terrain of struggle, but also as a “topsy-turvy world” [monde à la renverse] whose power of fascination had to be broken. The risk of determinism, stagism, and ultimately fatalism that is certainly present in Krahl’s writings is all that has been retained from then in the post-workerist theories arising at the end of the 1970s (theory of the social worker) up the contemporary narratives [conjurations] apropos multitudes and immaterial-cognitive labor. The essential limits of this series of theories, at once eclectic and monotonous, consists in wishing to deduce an antagonistic political determination directly from a phenomenology of contemporary forms of productive labor. Yet, the point of departure for Krahl’s analyses is not the tendency towards the formation of the collective laborer, but the emergence of an antagonistic political subjectivity amongst students. The analysis of the status of intellectual labor only becomes politically decisive because a non-ephemeral moment of conflict suddenly arose in the social site of the production of knowledge [savoir], which was rendered visible by the student movement, both as the place of a relation of power and a possible opposition to it. From this point, Krahl was able to pivot from the structural and tendential analysis of capitalism in order to indicate strategic outlets [débouchés stratégiques] for mobilization – the central stake is thus always the mediation of an antagonistic consciousness in action with the objectivity of social dynamics. Krahl is less a thinker of the tendency so much as its overdetermination in a conjuncture, where the unfolding of an antagonism is crucial.
In other words, the internal tendency of the capitalist mode of production only manifests its emancipatory potentials when a determinate form of struggles for emancipation appears. Moreover, he claims the primacy of the problematic of class consciousness, inaugurated by Lukács and Karl Korsch, as the only available path for sketching a political strategy for advanced societies. Krahl puts forward his arguments on the incorporation of social knowledge within a new figure of exploited labor, and thus on the proletariat, in order to outstrip the Leninist organizational model, whose “pedagogical” nature has now become ineffective (and the idea of “rationalized” proletariat precisely seeks to explain why) – and he tries to outstrip this model to reform the anti-authoritarian consciousness of the student movement, which oscillates between broad emancipatory aims and the reworking of old organizational schemas (the encadrement of militants through rigidly centralized, disciplinary structures).
What aspects of the student movement had, in Krahl’s view, acquired a decisive determination in the conjuncture? The aspects related, in part, to the subjective constitution of antagonistic consciousness. In 1969, Krahl sketches a balance-sheet of the student movement. He grants it the merit and capacity to have produced a “political sensibility capable of indicating new, hidden forms of exploitation and sublimated domination reigning under neo-capitalism.” 50
The student movement had engendered an élan of revolutionary imagination, adequate to a liberation struggle in societies in which the immediate satisfaction of material needs had been tendentially accomplished. Anti-authoritarian consciousness represented a medium whereby “through its struggle against the fragmentation of the world of everyday experiences, which is no longer anything but a multitude of manipulated forms of information, blind to power relations, the movement has reconstructed the seed of an abstractly correct notion of the falsity of the social totality.” 51
But despite all this, anti-authoritarian consciousness is still affected by significant historical limits: “it is ascribed, from a genetic and empirical perspective, to the class situation of the intelligentsia, in particular that part of the intelligentsia that operates in the fields of culture and the social sciences”; anti-authoritarian consciousness expresses the split between a “technologized democracy” and the now obsolete contents of bourgeois emancipation; it is thus a form of the decline of the bourgeois concept of reason, destroyed by technological development. 52 Nevertheless, through the consciousness the movement developed of the ineluctable character of this decline in organized capitalism, anti-authoritarian subjectivity could have developed a form of the negation-totalization of the advanced-capitalist totality, and an anticipation of emancipation – in short, it functioned as an avatar, or ersatz, of the functions that Lukács and Critical Theory assigned to (class) consciousness. Ersatz: because, according to Krahl, in order for this subjectivity to function as an effective class consciousness, and thus as the knowledge adequate to an act of liberation that would generate a new constitution of social forms, it would have to be rendered concrete through the political organization of the proletariat as an ensemble of social determinations capable of acting as a factor of material strength. The mere negative moment of exiting from the ideologies of the enlightened bourgeoisie, in the absence of a real practice of proletarian organization, can only bring about petty-bourgeois forms of consciousness that the movement was unable to surpass.
The strategic limits of the movement are thus to be deduced the subjective form of the declining and contestatory petty-bourgeoisie. First, the overestimation of “symbolic” acts of provocation which, instead of being assessed in light of and within a larger process of experimentation of forms of political intervention, were hypostasized into definitive formulas. Anti-authoritarian consciousness subsequently fell into the most thoroughgoing ahistoricity, and mechanically articulated the localized and punctual activism of minoritarian groupuscules with the phantasm of a spontaneous liberation of the human being in its abstract universality, through the “hysterical” passage à l’acte of increasingly isolated, ephemeral, and self-referential provocations. 53
We have already seen that abstract split between an empty Universal and an irrational particular(ity) is a fundamental form of capitalist constitution and bourgeois consciousness – the faith in the immediate coincidence between, on the one hand, an action that struggles to go beyond the very rigid limits of a groupuscule or micro-community and, on the other, the fictive universality of a supposed revolt of humanity against a totalizing social system, is a symptom of the sway of the reifing oppositions typical of bourgeois thought. 54
Still more severe is the judgement on the way anti-authoritarian consciousness ultimately thinks liberation and autonomy. The spontaneous revolt of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia against social relations which threaten to strip away its independence and privileges ends up, if it is not framed through a process of organizational and political education (which Lenin had trusted to centralization and discipline), reproducing the aggressive and disorganizing individualism of bellum omnium, the state of nature of egoistic atoms transfigured into sectarian, fanatical groupuscules or into unstable and dispersed anarchistic “individualities” 55:
the objective impossibility of the student movement accomplishing its self-determination as a class, the longue durée which alone allows one to articulate (…) the strategic conditions of a formation directed towards the emancipation of a proletarian class consciousness in the advanced-capitalism industrial metropoles, explain the autonomization of praxis, the reification – in part sectarian and spontaneist – of the organizational form and the disappearance of an adequate understanding of the totality. The objective unity of political practice, as it was determined by the protests against the war in Vietnam, the anti-Springer actions, and the resistance against the state of emergency laws, decomposes into a plurality of isolated actions that converged with a theoretical weakening. This process is a consequence of the aforementioned determinations of petty-bourgeois consciousness, which is enamore of the cult of action, sectarianism, and a blind individualism. The petty-bourgeois subject is only able to act on the basis of their immediate and vested interests. They are incapable of stable and long-term class solidarity, won in an autonomous fashion through an organizational practice. 56
At every instance, anti-authoritarian consciousness can drift towards degenerated forms of petty-bourgeois individualism. We can thus observe a veritable process of self-destruction of this consciousness in the forms of the subjective decline of groups and individuals: “This consciousness refuses to submit both to the repressive exigencies of the socialization of political struggles which imposes a discipline on benefits, or to the criteria of the theoretical benefit of reflection” 57; the “frenzy of activism” and punctual tactics correspond to an inability to tolerate the discipline of abstraction that a totalizing, organized, and theoretically guided practice demands.
Krahl focuses on the inability of anti-authoritarian consciousness to operate as a synthesis in which struggles would converge in a common understanding which transforms them into the determinate negation of the capitalist totality: anti-authoritarian negation remains abstract, and falls short of the necessary mediation of oppositional consciousness and the declassed intelligentsia, and tends to oppose the capitalist creation of the collective laborer, the universal extension of capitalist relations and exchange-value, the regression to idealized, pre- or proto-capitalist organizational forms of social activity – nothing that cannot be found today in certain communities of talented pamphleteers or in the lyricism with which Jacques Rancière describes the literary efforts of carpenters or printworkers. For Krahl, in his own conjuncture, it is a question of fusing practices of struggle in order to challenge the capitalist “fusion” of different forms of labor; and the problem is that the subjective form of existing struggle is hardly adequate to this task of building a counter-totality which would be at the level of capitalist socialization. Anti-authoritarian consciousness, in its petty-bourgeois deviations, ends up absolutizing the “egoisms of emancipation” – each person wants to satisfy their own needs without, and against, all the others, even though the specific contents of communist solidarity are eliminated, rendering any kind of political organization impossible 58: the communist realm of freedom is reduced to the jealousy of the small property-owner threatened with losing his home or his possessions (Krahl stigmatizes here the excesses of the ideology of “free spaces”); emancipation vis-à- vis the constraints imposed by socialized labor regresses back to the perspective of empirical appropriation, purely material and violent – a regression in relation to the universalizing discipline of the institution of the propertied subject, through the real abstractions of right and exchange.
On the basis of this nihilist regression behind [en-deçà] the reified universal – which amounts to reifying the abstract arbitrariness of the empirical subject in its particularity, and can only develop into a form of nihilism – the task of organization would consist rather in “materially expressing, through its own internal relations of solidarity, the determinate negation of the capitalist social formation” 59; this means the determinate forms of renunciation, on the part of all, of immediate pleasures and a certain alienation through the political collective:
The determinate negation of bourgeois exchange, which is also the creation of organizational forms of proletarian solidarity, signifies that every person, in the name of the emancipation of all others, assumes the degree of repression required in order to limit their own needs due to the constraints of political struggle (…) Through the determinate negation of forms of relation conditioned by exchange-value, the political morality of communists is formed in the discipline of struggle and prefigures, at the same time, the solitary praxis of liberated relationships (organization as the prefigured supersession of alienated, that is, abstract, labor). 60
Despite these immanent deviations, Krahl focuses on considering as decisive what he calls the “rational principle” of anti-authoritarian consciousness: the keystone of oppositional movements in advanced capitalism is no longer material immiseration, the scarcity of resources needed to satisfy vital immediate needs. The refusal of advanced capitalism is a refusal of a life mutilated by the manipulation of minds and forms of consciousness, by the administered reduction of possibilities, the impoverishment of experience, the squandering of material possibilities, the exclusion from the quotidian horizon of any dimension that would transcend the submission to profit, the specialization of professions, or mass conformism. Revolt in the industrial metropoles took place in the name of a richer experience, and no longer in the name of mere survival: emancipation, the possibility of attaining higher forms of acting and living, became material needs.
This problematizing of the reasons and forms of opposition, this direct politicization of the everyday, of daily life and its content, this investment in the quality of human existence and the possibilities of man through political inquiry – all of this represents, for Krahl, the decisive legacy, the rational kernel, of the student movement, and which also holds the possibility of an articulation between the dominant forms of subjective antagonism in the conjuncture and the structures of advanced capitalism.
The Techno-Scientific Intelligentsia
The theory of the techno-scientific intelligentsia is in Krahl’s work less a socio-economic analysis than an attempt to resolve a problem whose points of departure are the following: first, an understanding of advanced capitalism as a “false totality,” an understanding which could develop into a radical refusal but which lacks the social and organizational articulations that alone might render it concrete as a determinate negation of capitalist social relations – what is missing is the Leninist moment of concretization; second, advanced capitalism develops a configuration of social relations – generalized rationality, the end of material scarcity, the formation of the collective laborer – that make the simple reformulation of the classical Leninist form of organizational concretization impossible and sterile.
The techno-scientific intelligentsia is less an objective fact than the designation of a possibility: it indicates a possible site where the conjunction between the post-war student mobilization and the material conditions for the realization of a new social synthesis could take place, with living labor remaining the possible bearer. This conjunction expresses, of course, the Leninist problematic of the conjunction between consciousness and actualization; but it is characterized by a questioning, and displacement, of the function and functioning of knowledge which the Leninist concretization assigned to the vanguard party.
Questioning and displacement which carries out a transformation of the ways in which the convergence between the knowledge of intellectuals-militants and the workers has taken place. It first must be clarified that these “intellectuals are above all students, and students integrated within systems of instruction/mass education. In other words, they are not the rising members of a restricted, ontologically idle élite, devoted to free artistic or “cultural” activities: they are part of a vast strata of future cadres and producers, whose intellectual skills are systematically programmed and developed in view of the exigencies of administration and advanced-capitalist economies.
In the same way, workers are no longer the semi-peasants or semi-artisans forced, by dint of an external violence, to adapt themselves to the tasks and forms of life foreign to their own – the working class is now produced and reproduced as a collective subject of production, consumption, and citizenship structured around the public right to work, within capitalist societies as always-already internal to the knowledges and practices of a highly-rationalized industry. These specific conditions of the conjuncture could allow for the overcoming of the limits that Bolshevik-Leninist theory and practice encountered on the crucial point of the political and techno-scientific education of the producers (with the corollaries of authoritarian pedagogical centralization and the state-led expropriation of the producers).
We find here the problematic of the young French Maoists, but in different conditions. In France, the state institutionalization of intellectual activities had occurred, since Jules Ferry, within the framework of a universalist pedagogy, supposedly in tandem with a generalized social mobility and expansive bourgeois democracy: the archetype of the state intellectual is thus the teacher, and this is why the challenge to both the Leninist model as well as that of post-war capitalist society took the form of a critique of the pedagogical relation and the imbalance in knowledge it presupposed. In Germany, however, the institutionalization of intellectuals had aimed, since the 18th century, towards the creation of a strata of functionaries charged with managing public affairs, but in a way that was unrelated to an expansive process of the enlargement of the social bases of ruling [dirigeantes] functions – the functionary is not a pedagogue, but a specialist in the rational government of subjects: their functions of rule are technical, not civil. This is why Krahl seeks less to criticize the pedagogical imbalance as to politically invest the tendential leveling [la mise-en-commun] of techno-scientific skills: what enters into crisis in Germany is not the hegemony of an enlightened bourgeoisie, but the exclusive power of the Beamter élite.
But the problem posed by this historical situation is that of the link between the formation of techno-scientific intelligentsia as a mass social dimension and anti-authoritarian consciousness oriented as a Great Refusal. The link Krahl draws between these two moments is furnished by the malaise of the techno-scientific intelligentsia vis-à-vis the determination of the criteria of intellectual labor through the integration of the latter within (techno-) scientificized [scientificisée] production. 61 The techno-scientific intelligentsia can develop a class consciousness on the basis of insatisfaction with the limits capitalism imposes regarding the emancipatory possibilities the techno-scientific possesses. First, capitalism progressively destroys the theoretical orientation of the sciences: research of an objective and rational knowledge, the work on the conceptual foundations of problems, are replaced as criteria for the social valorization of the sciences by immediate pragmatic efficacy and short-term profitability. Science, when it becomes a productive force of capital, declines as a process of the enhancement and expansion of the immanent powers of thinking, as vector of a real rationalization of existence, even of a rationally organized and experienced life. In being limited to the management of the ends configured by advanced capitalism, techno-scientific knowledge is prevented from developing according to its own immanent norm, and loses any sort of transcendence vis-à-vis “facts.” It translates to a frustration [in English in original – trans.] in relation to the possibilities of thought and action which the direct agents of these socialized intellectual capacities perceive, or divine, as being at their disposal though the possibilities immanent to the total rational articulation of human activities.
This frustration might represent a mass need that is directly tied to the norm which is latent but intrinsic to the social conditions of a richer and freer life – a need that stems directly from the intellectual capacities whose liberation is at once on the order of the day and frustrated by the capitalist socialization of labor, a need that is immediately autonomous and emancipatory (immediately because in reality is socially mediated from the start); a need that is freed from immediate constraints but whose specific “materiality” – that is, its mediation via social relations – can develop into a fully unleashed, critical proletarian consciousness. The Great Refusal could shed the moral connotations it retained in Marcuse’s work, without being able to indicate a socially determinate negation of the social system to be rejected.
SDS – because Krahl’s entire theoretical project aimed to provide a strategy for SDS – needed to equip itself with an organizational determination consistent with these premises. Once the impotence of a mere symbolic refusal was established, which is unavoidable in the traditional definition of the status of intellectual functions, SDS underwent a deviation in the direction of a Leninist orthodoxy, cut off off from any analysis of the actual composition of the proletariat. 62 The industrial proletariat, integrated into the systems of the capitalist welfare state, could no longer be the bearer of an absolute and unconditional emancipatory consciousness: it could only demand a more favorable integration into the system. 63 Conversely, students and intellectuals were no longer outside the proletariat – it was no longer a question of “intellectual suicide,” nor of “class betrayal” on the part of the bourgeois individual endowed with a divided, unhappy consciousness, 64 since there was no longer a “people” or “proletariat” external to modern rationalization, and the ruling classes themselves were in the process of becoming entirely post-bourgeois – a process of the advent of a post-bourgeois capitalism that had been delayed until very recently in France, due to the Gaullo-Communist compromise, and which was even more rapid and virulent in Germany and Italy, where bourgeois hegemony had always been very weak and held barely any positions of power to challenge the technocratic and hyper-capitalist liquidation of the vestiges of European, Christian-bourgeois civilization. On the basis of the facts of the conjuncture, the tasks of SDS would consist, in the last instance, in establishing itself as a united organization of the techno-scientific intelligentsia, the industrial proletariat, and productive cadres. 65 Here, the discourse should lead to a consideration of the apparatuses that prevented the development of a proletarian consciousness within the techno-scientific intelligentsia.
What actuality can we grant to these analyses and positions? His confrontation with the Leninist legacy and model leads Krahl to articulate a twofold problematic, of the highest importance today: the problematic of organization. Krahl touches on the heart of this question when he affirms, on the one hand, that a Leninist solution to the organizational problem is no longer practicable in the present moment; and on the other hand, that it is equally impossible to not pose the problem of the organization of practices of transformation, which represents the only materially possible incarnation of class consciousness.
The concept of class consciousness, which always entails a very close confrontation with Lenin (and Lukács, the philosopher of Leninism), is the second point on which Krahl’s thinking remains of interest today. Class consciousness expresses the necessary mediation of revolutionary subjectivity, guided by axioms of emancipation, and whose emergence does not presuppose a determinate configuration of capitalist relations, with the internal imbalances and cleavages of the modes of socialization which arise from the dynamic of capitalist production. If this mediation is absent, there is no way for the communist hypothesis to find material foundations, nor for what Lukács called the entscheidende Machtfaktor, to support a political process. The solution to this problem of the difference between immediate being and consciousness – a problem that Lenin articulated in 1902 – is unavoidable for any political strategy that does not wish to fall back into an empiricist tailism [suivisme]. 66 Krahl correctly correctly formulated this question and took it to its limits, and the solution he offered (based on the incorporation of intellectual capacities into the total system of capitalist social labor) aims to connect a radical mobilization with a consistent material foundation, precisely in the virtual heterogeneity of the socialization of labor and the concentration of the General Intellect vis-à-vis the norms of capitalist production. This articulation was also at the heart of several positions within the Italian Nuova Sinistra – Autonomia in particular, on which Krahl had a direct influence, but also in the Quaderni Piacentini, or thinkers like Franco Fortini, who would find in the young deceased philosopher’s work a mode of reflection close to his own, and would develop analyses on the irreducibility of the production and diffusion of mass knowledges and different competencies of classical bourgeois culture to capitalist logic.
This process of transforming and repurposing of intellectual functions in relation to the whole of society would allow for the thinking of an exit path from the fatal impasse of the Leninist edification of socialism: the necessity of imposing a centralized rationalization, which is certainly indispensable due to the lack of a sufficient degree of autonomy of the intellectual capacities concentrated amongst the working classes, but inevitably reintroduces inequalities, a division of labor, and ultimately class divisions. 67 The intellectual autonomy – both technical and politico-strategic – of the associated workers could have rendered the disciplinary function of the party, state, or pedagogue obsolete. This wager produced effects, in France with Maoism (whose understanding of this problematic was in fact very indirect); in Italy with a sequence of worker, student, and broader social struggles that should be considered as paradigmatic (and it will be, I believe, as the veil of oblivion is raised over the 1960-70s).
The idea is worthy, but there its actuality can raise some difficulties in the present. The presupposition of a social circulation of accrued knowledges, from both an intensive and extensive perspective, is very problematic today: our society passively uses technologies, and is not a civilization of techno-scientific competencies. Increasingly dependent on technical-scientific structures influenced by capitalist relations, contemporary “advanced” societies possess a declining rational mastery over these infrastructures – the rationalization of life conducts, which would express not only subjects’ adaptation to the socialization of intellectual capacities, but also their incorporation in a rational collective project of exiting from tutelage, is retreating in our societies. Krahl’s discourse is founded on two presuppositions: first, he sees the sciences as presently containing, in their ideal structure and immanent theoretical rationality, universal values and principles consistent with the ideas of the Good and the True, and the generalization of these principles throughout society as a whole might induce emancipatory effects; secondly, he believes this theoretical rationality can, through the socialization of techno-scientific labor, be inscribed in the experiences of individuals and the masses, and become the habitus of a human population, even perhaps a people.
But these two presupposition seem outmoded in the present – capitalist strategies of counter-revolution during the 1970s and 80s were largely strategies which sought to disarticulate the collective laborer, destroy the socialization of knowledges and the possibilities to share these different forms, even to inscribe then in a coherent collective and individual experience. Today, economic instances are able to a priori orient and “format” scientific research, and thus neutralize the self-reflexive virtualities of a theoretical attitude oriented towards truth. Contrary to what Krahl hoped, this neutralization no longer elicits a malaise among the intelligentsia – it has not even reached the mass consciousness of scientific operators, which is probably tied in part to the reciprocal fragmentation and isolation Capital has successively imposed on forms of knowledge. Policies of delocalization and precarization of work have made the durable concentration of a rational know-how within a tendentially homogeneous collective impossible, or at least been able to recompose its internal moments; moreover, economic and state powers are increasingly taking control of the skills connected to projects, planning, invention, and strategy, by separating them from the general kinds of knowledge available to the majority of the population: new enclosures which separate workers from the intellectual capacities that institute the labor process, and are manifest in a series of phenomena ranging from the practice of farming out scientists to vacuolated research centers, up to intellectual property legislation.
To all this, one must add the planned destruction of public institutions of general education, less and less able to provide the bases for a consistent training and connected, at least possibly, to the gains and procedures of specialized and cutting-edge forms of knowledge. Rendered passive in relation to a proliferating ensemble of knowledges, whose orientations and motivations, dominated by private interests, escape the rational criteria of strategic leadership, subjectivity can drift in the direction of the most desperate irrationalism: far from living in a society in which the older culture is incorporated into work, we live in a society where knowledges are partitioned, increasingly separated from each other and vis-à-vis a largely de-rationalized “common sense” (which is, of course, very different from traditional, pre-capitalist forms of life). Our society is therefore a post-cultural society, in which the most sophisticated and complex forms of knowledge no longer come to refer to a possible understanding of the totality. The material foundation of class consciousness is thus unfindable. Symmetrically, mere antagonistic consciousness is only the beginning of a process of awakening after two decades of blackmail, repression, and inhibition: it is a fragile process, which might experience an inversion, or a kind of exhaustion [essouflement], under the blows of immediate urgencies, manipulated actuality, and the eclipse of sites where a mediation might take place between being and consciousness. I sense that rereading the unfinished oeuvre of Hans-Jürgen Krahl might help us today in seeing our present opacity more clearly.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See the 2010-11 seminars of the Groupes des recherches matérialistes, devoted to postwar student movements and social struggles; see also the two issues of the Cahiers du GRM on “Des luttes étudiantes des années soixantes en Europe Occidentale (Allemagne, France, Italie),” released in 2012 and 2013.|
|2.||↑||For a more detailed narrative, see Detlev Claussen, Foreword to the Italian edition of Hans-Jürgen Krahl, Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 7-9. Konstitution und Klassenkampf is the title of the collection which gathers together the written or recorded interventions and numerous fragmentary notes comprising the quasi-totality of Krahl’s body of work. The book was published one year after his death by Neue Kritik Verlag, Frankfurt A. M., with an introduction by Claussen, Berndt Leineweber, Ronny Loewy, Oskar Negt, and Udo Riechmann. The most recent (and updated) edition came out in 2008. I was unable to work directly from the German edition; I have thus consulted the (rare) texts available online in German, and where that proved impossible, I have cited from the Italian translation: Costituzione e lotta di classe, trans. Sabina de Waal (Milan: Jaca Book, 1973), which also played an important role within the Italian New Left, Autonomia, and the Movement of ‘77.|
|3.||↑||Krahl, Produktion und Klassenkampf,” in Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 418, note 2.|
|5.||↑||Ibid., 422. In these passages, Krahl touches upon the same problematic encountered in the Groupes des recherches materialistes seminar on the 1848 conjuncture, without arriving a definitive formulation of the relationship between historical novelty and repetition, A.C.|
|10.||↑||Ibid., 419, note 3.|
|11.||↑||Ibid., 420, note 3.|
|15.||↑||Ibid. Obviously, this “fulguration” of the speculative in the political is entirely within the legacy of the style of thinking found in History and Class Consciousness.|
|18.||↑||Krahl, “Produktion und Konstitution,” trad. it. “Produzione e Costituzione,” in Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 352.|
|20.||↑||“Produktion und Klassenkampf,” 425.|
|24.||↑||“Kritische Theorie und Praxis,” (trad. it. “Teoria critica e prassi”), in Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 317.|
|28.||↑||“Zu Lenin: Staat und Revolution” (trad. it. “Lenin: Stato e Rivoluzione”), in Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 211-12.|
|41.||↑||Claussen, “Avant-propos à l’édition italienne de H.-J. Krahl, Konstitution und Klassenkampf,” 12.|
|42.||↑||Ibid., 8 and 10. The presentation of advanced capitalism as a total System which reproduced the logic of the fascist state in a more articulated manner is at the heart of the (posthumous) confrontation between Krahl and Adorno. For his radical disciple, the author of Minima Moralia would have been prevented by the fascist terror from exiting – in the direction of an “organized theoretical partisanship for the liberation of the oppressed” (“Der politische Widerspruch der kritischen Theorie Adornos”; trad. it., “La contraddizione politica della Teoria Critica di Adorno,” op. cit., 313) – from the “ideological contradictions of bourgeois individuality, of which he recognized the irreversible disintegration” (ibid.); the fear in light of the fascist violence immanent to the system engenders a wariness with regard to any kind of practice of resistance vis-à-vis the fascist tendency of the system – whence Adorno’s contradiction: on the one hand, he provided politically conscious students with “emancipatory categories” that unmask the increasingly totalizing, and hidden, domination under advanced capitalism; he analyzed the effective presence of the capitalist social synthesis in the most anodyne forms of objective relations and subjective positions in contemporary society, by reactivating the analyses devoted to “reification” and “fetishism” which the basis of the “emancipatory consciousness of the Western Marxism of the 1920s and ‘30s” (315); he recognized the categories of the capitalist form of domination both in the neo-positivist cult of “facts” reduced to their abstract identity as well as the unsurpassable “facticity” of Heideggerian ontology, which itself degenerated into the irrationalist cult of the Origin (ibid.). But, on the other hand, Adorno was incapable of overcoming the traditional categories of bourgeois universalism. He was not able to build the “‘immanent supersession’ [dépassement immanent], in the Hegelian sense of this notion,” (ibid. From the point of view of the bourgeois individual now annihilated by the system of capitalist relations – the negation of the system, in Adorno’s work, appears as an abstract negation, while the determinate negation of the system can only consist of the mediation of critical theory and revolutionary praxis. In the 1930s, Horkheimer had discussed critical theory and the exploited classes – but this allusion remained abstract due to the organizational form of Critical Theory, identical to that of any other academic discipline internal to the division of labor and specialization. Adorno himself rejected any mutual implication of the political and the theoretical, without being able to assume the obsolescence of autonomous forms of scientific reflexivity and disinterestedness under advanced capitalism. The student agitation will allow for a reframing of the problem of the social and political status of intelligence and the intelligentsia.|
|43.||↑||“Kritische Theorie und Praxis,” 323.|
|44.||↑||“Programmentwurf für die Zeitschrift Hefte für politische Ökonomie”; trad. it. “Abbozzo programmatico per i Quaderni d’economia politica,” in Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 384.|
|50.||↑||“Zur Dialektik des antiautoritären Bewusstseins”; trad. it. “La dialettica della coscienza anti-autoritaria,” in Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 331.|
|54.||↑||We find these divides in the work of even the best contemporary “radical” theorists: specifically, the spontaneous coincidence between irrational, isolated particularity and abstract universality is the underlying structure for several authors and currents which are clearly reactivating, after the dissolution of the forms of the communist hypothesis, the ideological modes of classical bourgeois radicalism. Consider from this perspective the (non-)dialectic between small communities in retreat and the empty generality of “bare life” in the discourses of certain autonomist-anarchist groups; or the paralyzing immediacy of the relationship between the axiomatic equality of intelligences and the necessarily ephemeral singularity of practical verifications of this equality in the work of Jacques Rancière; or the fragility of the link between the generality of eternal truths of politics and the evental flashpoint of a local excess in Being and Event (although, in Theory of the Subject and then Logics of Worlds the dialectic of the “outplace” and the “splace,” and the theory of the inexistent, respectively gesture towards the search for a determinate negation, a mediation, internal to a structure, between structural legality and the excess which opens up the possibility of a concretization of antagonistic subjectivity). If the notion of “conjuncture” indeed falls back into the spontaneous visibility of punctual insurrectional explosions, tending to lose any kind of internal articulation – and thus any differential value from the point of view of a political strategy – in favor a hyper-empiricist Foucauldian historicism where the rapture of insurrectional disorder is necessarily substituted for the strategic evaluation of the crucial instances of the historical totality. The internal hierarchy of structural moments which, in accordance with the logic of class relations and the structure of the mode of production, decides whether a phase of social disorder – even insurrection – is really a revolutionary conjuncture, becomes invisible if we continue to identity the conjuncture with the insurrectional act in its most superficial dimension. Obviously, these limits correspond to the tendency – specific to the entirety of contemporary theories of emancipation – to leave aside the analysis of the internal structure of capitalist society as unavoidable mediation of political will (clearly, it is better to not advance an analysis than to peddle analyses that totally distort the reality of social relations: this is why a Rancière, or a Badiou, is always more instructive and useful than the often strongly misplaced verbosity of a Michael Hardt).|
|61.||↑||“Abbozzo programmatico per i Quaderni di economia politica,” 380.|
|62.||↑||“Fünf Thesen zu Herbert Marcuse als kritischer Theoretiker der Emanzipation”: trad. it. “Cinque tesi su Herbert Marcuse come teorico dell’emancipazione,” in Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 328-329.|
|63.||↑||“Rede auf einem Teach-in zur Wahl des Studentenparlaments im Wintersemester 1969/70”; trad. it. “Intervento ad un teach-in,” in Konstitution und Klassenkampf, 348.|
|64.||↑||“The theory of the individual betrayal of one’s class is no longer historically adequate to the techno-scientific intelligence. For to be inserted in the class struggle, the techno-scientific intelligence must be organized. Although its intellectual labor represents capital in itself, the techno-scientific intelligence no longer represents bourgeois cultural consciousness in any sense. The positivist diaspora of the particular sciences has destroyed this; it is indeed this diaspora which allows intellectuals to understand themselves as exploited producers, whose scientific products have become for them external forces.” “Kritische Theorie und Praxis,” 323-324.|
|66.||↑||Consciousness is a concept that enjoyed very bad press in French radical philosophy, because it possess a (self-)centering function and thus dominance by constituting a fictive unity (which, since the 1960s, said philosophy has been trying to deconstruct and demystify in different ways). But in German, the word Bewusstsein connotes more the excess, or the remainder, in relation to being (Sein), the movement of the constitution of the subject. Bewusst-sein goes beyond mere Sein (while the word Sein is preserved as the basis of the richer and more complex unity that is the word Bewusst-sein), while also conserving in its movement of self-constitution through which it becomes autonomous. Consciousness thus corresponds to the process, or the act, of a forcing corresponding to the transcendental genesis of the autonomy of the subject (a redundant expression, the subject being by definition the development of an autonomy through the incorporation-detachment from an exteriority that is both internalized and kept at a distance). There is no way of anchoring an antagonistic subjective position in the determinate effectivity of social relations without the appearance of a movement, even a gesture, of emancipatory distancing-internalization vis-à-vis the determinate forms of the social structure.|
|67.||↑||It should be emphasized that Krahl’s interpretation of the process of socialist construction in the USSR and the meaning of the Leninist enterprise largely overlaps with that of another young revolutionary with a tragic fate and a body of work left unfinished: Robert Linhart.|