Labour, emancipation and politics – Arendt and the Historical Materialisttradition
Ulrich Mühe (PhD-submission)I investigate the role of labour in the tradition of Historical Materialism with particularfocus on politics and emancipation. The centrality of labour in this tradition is crucialfor its claims concerning human life, which is meant to be accounted for in a materialistfashion. Overall I argue that this approach is an insufficient and reductive account of human life.Starting with Marx’s writings I show the connections and relations between his accountof labour and his account of society. I criticise Marx for an insufficiently differentiatedaccount of labour and the confusion of
I will show that this leads tovery particular outcomes in Marx’s thought on politics.In opposition to Marx I then present the approach to human life that Hannah Arendtprovides. I explain Arendt’s account and the distinction between labour, work and ac-tion. Subsequently I defend her approach against several criticisms.In the third chapter I investigate Jürgen Habermas’s account of human action. He pre-sents the account of a Historical Materialist who attempts to incorporate Arendt’s criti-cisms of this tradition. I will defend Habermas’ approach particularly in reference toobjections to his division between communicative and instrumental action. Then I willcriticise his approach to human interaction on the issue of his pragmatism in languagewith which he reduces interaction to the propositional content of people’s utterances.Habermas cannot escape the reductivism inherent in Historical Materialism either.Lastly, I will criticise current postmodern Neo-Marxists Hardt and Negri. In their recentpublications they return to a more orthodox Historical Materialism but face substantiveissues in their accounts of (immaterial) labour and the future global political subject (the‘multitude’). Finally I end with reflections and projections on politics from an Arendtianview.