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The Proletarian Public Sphere and Political Organization: An Analysis of Oskar Negt and

Alexander Kluge's The Public Sphere and Experience


Author(s): Eberhard Kndler-Bunte, Sara Lennox and Frank Lennox
Source: New German Critique, No. 4 (Winter, 1975), pp. 51-75
Published by: New German Critique
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The Proletarian Public
Sphere
and
Political
Organization:
An
Analysis of
Oskar
Negt
and Alexander
Kluge's
The Public
Sphere
and
Experience
by
Eberhard Kn6dler-Bunte
1. The Proletarian Public
Sphere
Oskar
Negt
and Alexander
Kluge's
The Public
Sphere
and
Experience
attempts
to
provide
a
conceptual
framework for the central
political
and
theoretical
problems confronting
the
contemporary
situation. The trans-
formation of the
capitalist production process,
with its
far-reaching impli-
cations that
penetrate
to the most basic levels of human
experience,
cannot
be
adequately
understood and acted
upon
with a
conceptual
and
political
framework inherited from an earlier
stage
of historical
development,
or
from circumstances
fundamentally
different from those of advanced
capitalist society.
The
inability
of the
categories
derived from
previous
political
formulations and debates to
grasp
the
contemporary
situation is
part
of the
continuing
crisis of Marxism that has
persisted
since the 1920s
and 1930s. With their book
Negt
and
Kluge attempt
to
lay
the
groundwork
for an
analysis
that will break this
impasse.
Negt
and
Kluge's
contribution has been to
develop
a middle level
theory
which confronts the
qualitative
transformation of
capitalist
social relation-
ships
from both the
standpoint
of new forms of
production
as well as from
the
standpoint
of
changes
in
everyday experience
in
society.
In this
way they
provide
a framework that historicizes and defines
previously
indeterminate
notions such as "consciousness" and
"subjective
factor,"
while at the same
time
analyzing
the transformation of the
capitalist productive process
and its
impact
on concrete human
experience
and
psychic
structure. The central
category
of
Negt
and
Kluge's
work is the
"public sphere"
which
organizes
human
experience, mediating
between the
changing
forms of
capitalist
production
on the one hand and the cultural
organization
of human
experience
on the other.
Differentiating
between the
bourgeois public
sphere, increasingly part
of the
capitalist production process,
and the
concept
of a
proletarian public sphere, Negt
and
Kluge argue
that the latter
could
potentially oppose
the
organized
interests of the
bourgeois public
sphere through
its
organization
of human needs and interests. The
increasing
cultural socialization of human needs and
qualities
in an indus-
trialized
public
sphere--for
example
the consciousness
industry--sets
in
motion a
potential opposition
which under
existing
conditions can
only
resist
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52 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
the conditions of
alienated
production by remaining
in the realm of
fantasy
and
imagination.
As
such,
this
opposition
can still become the
object
of
production.
But the
development
of these new
needs,
which because of their
specifically
human
quality oppose
the
discipline
and abstract character of
the
capitalist production process, provides
the basis for the
potential
emergence
of a
proletarian public sphere
which
organizes
real needs into
politically
relevant forms of consciousness and
activity.
At the same
time,
Negt
and
Kluge investigate
the new forms of the
public sphere,
above all
television and other mass media. Their
analysis
of these new
developments
and
possibilities
for a
potential challenge
to the content of
existing
media is
a
significant aspect
of their work.
Negt
and
Kluge's
examination of these issues and this
complex
of
problems
cuts across both
scholarly
and
political approaches.
The
sociological
formulation of
specific questions
about
public opinion,
mass
communications and the traditional framework of
political
science is linked
to
questions
about
political practice.
On the other hand these
political
questions--the
Marxist
concepts
of class
consciousness,
class movements and
social
organization--are
tied to theoretical
developments
in the academic
world.
Negt
and
Kluge's
book thus attacks the fatal division of labor which
separates narrowly specialized
academic
investigation
from a
revolutionary
political theory
directed towards
praxis.
Moreover,
Negt
and
Kluge's
book
opposes
the internal
fragmentation
of
concepts
in both academic and
revolutionary theory.
A
critique
of The Public
Sphere
and
Experience
must therefore
begin
with the ideas and intentions of the authors before it can move to individual
points.
This
essay
is
primarily
concerned with the former task. Instead of
attempting
an extensive
critique
of the individual
categories employed,
or of
the
interpretations
of social
developments
and
processes,
this discussion
focuses on the framework which
they develop.
It
should,
as a reader's
guide
help clarify
the
political
and
praxis-oriented aspects
of the
problems
discussed. Thus this article is limited to
clarifying points
raised
by Negt
and
Kluge.1
1. Parts of this
essay
were
presented
at a discussion of
Negt
and
Kluge's
book
sponsored by
the Institut ffir Kunst und
Aesthetik,
at which Oskar
Negt spoke.
This
discussion,
which
primarily
concerned
questions
about the "block of real
life,"
questions
of
organization,
and
problems
of
political
education,
appeared
in the
journal
Aesthetik und
Kommunikation,
12.
The author wishes to thank Silvia
Bevenschen,
Peter Gorsen and Heiner Boehncke for their
important suggestions. Page
numbers cited within the text refer to Oskar
Negt
and Alexander
Kluge, Oeffentlichkeit
und
Erfahrung:
Zur
Organisationsanalyse
von
bfirgerlicher und
proletarischer Oeffentlichkeit (Frankfurt
am
Main,
1973).
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THE
PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL
ORGANIZATION 53
2. The Public
Sphere
and
Experience
as
Categories
of Social
Theory
and
Political
Organization
The
very juxtaposition
of the
concepts "public sphere"
and
"experience"
suggests
that an
important
social
relationship
is considered here in a
way
that
goes
far
beyond
the limitations of studies
dealing only
with
constitutional
law,
political
science or social
history.
At the same time the
authors' method cannot be reduced to the level of discussions of the
public
sphere
and
public opinion
carried on in mass communication
theory
and
public opinion sampling
since the
early
1930s
These
specialized
areas of
research are
mostly
concerned with the
investigation
of full-blown insti-
tutionalized forms of the
bourgeois public sphere
and with theoretical
questions
about the function of
public opinion
in a
democracy.
Instead
Negt
and
Kluge attempt
to define the
public sphere
as a
category relating
to the
totality
of
society. They emphasize
that the
public sphere
can be understood
as
organizing
human
experience,
and not
merely
as this or that
historically
institutionalized manifestation.
They
conceive of the
public sphere
as a
historically developing
form of the mediation between the cultural
organization
of human
qualities
and senses on the one hand and
developing
capitalist production
on the other.
Negt
and
Kluge
write in
explicit opposition
to
Jtirgen
Habermas,
whose
Structural
Transformation of
the Public
Sphere
was
widely
read at the
beginning
of the
protest
movement in
Germany.
Their
specific
differences
with Habermas can be seen on three levels. From the outset Habermas
restricts himself to the
analysis
of the
bourgeois public sphere, opposed
to
which a
proletarian public sphere appears merely
as a
"repressed
variant of
a
plebeian public sphere."
2
Negt
and
Kluge's political
interest is directed
toward the interconnections of the
bourgeois-capitalist
and
proletarian
public spheres.
New structural characteristics of the
public sphere
thus
become visible
permitting
both a historical and a
systematic investigation
of
non-bourgeois, pre-capitalist, proletarian,
subcultural and even fascist
public spheres.
At the same
time,
Negt
and
Kluge's approach
also serves to
prevent
a
confusion between the ideal of the
bourgeois public sphere-the
basis for its
historical claim to
legitimacy--and
the actual
process by
which the
bourgeois public sphere
became established as an instrument of class
domination.
Habermas,
of
course,
also
recognizes
the
contradictory ways
in
which this liberal model of the
public sphere
has in fact manifested itself in
history.
But the limitations of his
approach prevent
him from
arriving
at a
2.
Jikrgen
Habermas, Strukturwandel der
Oeffentlichkeit (Neuwied
and Berlin, 1962), p.
8
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54 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
conceptual
differentiation between the "ideal" and the "real"
history
of the
bourgeois public sphere.
Nor is Habermas able to trace this distinction back
to the structural weaknesses of the
society.
Because Habermas overestimates
the normative
strength
of the
bourgeois public sphere,
he is
led,
in his
political
conclusions,
to
apply
the
principles
of the earlier
bourgeois public
sphere,
if in altered
form,
to late
capitalist
conditions. On the one hand his
work reconstructs the
disintegration
of the
bourgeois public sphere
which
had allowed it to become both an
object
of
manipulation by privileged
groups
and an
object
of the
profit-maximizing process.
Since the
public
sphere
can no
longer
maintain that it is linked to a
politically significant
process
of
opinion
formation, Habermas,
referring
to this
disintegration,
speaks
of a "refeudalization of the
public sphere."
Yet on the other
hand,
Habermas'
concept
of the "social welfare state mass
democracy"
allows him
to discover a new basis for the
bourgeois public sphere,
albeit an altered
one. The
bourgeois public sphere
is thus "a rational
reorganization
of social
and
political power
under the mutual control of rival
organizations
committed to the
public sphere
in their internal structure as well as in their
relations with the state and each other."3
This
pluralistic
model of the welfare state
regulating
itself
through
the
public sphere
can
only
be maintained at the cost of
concealing
the
fundamental contradictions of
capitalist production
and
transforming
them
into crises of
legitimacy.
These crises manifest themselves in state
activity
and in
problems
of
securing
the
loyalty
of the masses. In contrast to
Habermas'
conception, Negt
and
Kluge place
the function of the
public
sphere,
which is altered in the interests of the maximization of
profit,
into
the context of a Marxist
analysis
of
society. Negt
and
Kluge's starting point,
therefore,
is the
relationship
between the various forms of the
public sphere
and human
experience
and interests
concretely
tied to the social
praxis
of
everyday
life. These
experiences
are
stylized by
Habermas as "mere
opinions
(cultural assumptions,
normative
attitudes,
collective
prejudices
and
values),"
4
as a "kind of sediment of
history,"
which he believes can be
neatly
separated
from the
bourgeois public sphere. By expanding
their
conception
of the
public sphere
to include the class basis in which
experience
is molded
and
appropriated, Negt
and
Kluge
refuse to
permit
the reduction of their
investigation
to mere institutional or intellectual
history. They
therefore
argue
for the restoration of an
interrupted
tradition of Marxist
investigation,
a tradition best
exemplified by
Rosa
Luxemburg,
Wilhelm Reich and Karl
3. See
JUirgen
Habermas,
"The Public
Sphere:
An
Encyclopedia
Article
(1964),"
New
German
Critique,
1:3 (Fall, 1974),
55.
4.
Ibid.,
p.
50.
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL
ORGANIZATION 55
Korsch,
as well as
by
the Marxist elements of critical
theory.5
In this
sense,
the term
public sphere
refers not
only
to the
public
institutions which have
prevailed
in
history
but to the
general
horizon of social
experience
which enables individuals to formulate
interpretations
of social
reality. Expanding
the
concept "public sphere" beyond
the
meaning
ascribed
to it
by
individual
disciplines
or
by
its
bourgeois
content,
Negt
and
Kluge
define the
public sphere
as the central element in the
organization of
human
experience.6
Yet under conditions of
bourgeois
class domination the
public
sphere develops
in restrictive and
contradictory ways:
as a result of the
excluding
mechanisms of the
bourgeois public sphere,
or
through
new and
illusory
forms of
organization
of the
public sphere.
These forms of
organi-
zation arise from the
expansion
of the
capitalist profit-maximizing
interest
into the area of human needs and consciousness.
The
proletarian public sphere
stands in
polar opposition
both to the
bourgeois public sphere
and to its transformation into new forms
("the
public spheres
of
production").
It
represents
the historical
counter-concept
to the
bourgeois public sphere
and a
fundamentally
new structure in the
public organization
of
experience.
Until now forms of the
proletarian public
sphere
have
emerged only
in
rudimentary
form, and
only
in isolated
instances have
they prevailed
as an alternative
against bourgeois-capitalist
domination.
[Among
the
examples Negt
and
Kluge
cite are the
attempts
made
by
the
English working
class in the
early
19th
century
to form
independent
communication media
(pp. 313-333);
Lenin's
concept
of the
"self-expression
of the masses" as
opposed
to
party propaganda;
and the
5. For further discussion of this tradition in Marxist
theory
see the
following
works
by
Oskar
Negt:
Oskar
Negt,
"Theorie,
Empirie
und
Klassenkampf:
Zur
Konstitutionsproblematik
bei
Karl
Korsch,"
Ueber Karl
Korsch,
ed.
Claudio
Pozzoli
(Frankfurt
am
Main,
1973);
Oskar
Negt,
"Massenmedien:
Herrschaftsmittel
oder Instrumente der
Befreiung? Aspekte
der
Kommunikationsanalyse
der Frankfurter
Schule," Kritische
Kommunikationsforschung:
Aufsatze
aus der
Zeitschrift
fir Sozialforschung,
ed. Dieter
Prokop (Munich, 1973);
Oskar
Negt,
"Rosa
Luxemburg:
Zur materialistischen Dialektik von
Spontaneitat
und
Organisation,"
Rosa
Luxemburg
oder
Die
Bestimmung
des
Sozialismus,
ed.
Claudio
Pozzoli
(Frankfurt
am
Main,
1974).
6.
Borrowing
the notion of "the
organization
of human
experience"
from the
early
Soviet
cultural theoreticians
[See
Peter Gorsen and Eberhard
Knbdler-Bunte, Proletkult,
2 Vols.
(Stuttgart, 1974) ],
while
opposing
the reified
concept
of
organization, Negt
and
Kluge attempt
to determine the
organizing
function of cultural
objectifications
and forms of communications.
This
expansion
of the
concept
of
organization,
which
traditionally
indicated
only
the
"combination" of human
beings (groups,
associations,
parties, unions)
makes it
possible
to
investigate
the active and
mediating
function of cultural
relationships
on individual
experience
and
perception.
In strict
opposition
to a technocratic
concept
of
organization,
the
concept
of
an
organization
tied to the
proletarian public sphere
indicates a concrete dialectic of
spontaneity
and
organization,
of immediate
experience
and
insight
into the social
totality.
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56
VEW
GERMAN
CRITIQUE
tentative
steps
taken in France in
May
1968.
Eds.]
Nevertheless, the
specific
achievement of the
proletarian public sphere
is to
provide
the foundation
for the
potential
formation of class consciousness as a
partisan
consciousness
of
totality
enriched
by
substantive vital interests.
In this context the
proletarian public sphere
can best be understood as a
necessary
form of
mediation,
as the center of a
production process
in the
course of which the varied and
fragmented experiences
of social
contradictions and social interests can be combined into a
theoretically
mediated consciousness and life
style
directed towards a
transforming
praxis
Thus,
the
concept
of the
"proletarian public sphere" designates
the
contradictory
and non-linear
process
of
development
towards class
consciousness: a
process
which at
present
is either hidden behind a
merely
programmatic
unity
of the
political
and economic
concept
of class and its
subjective
correlate
consciousness,
combirred to form class
consciousness,
or
is
simply
delivered to the
proletarian party
in its
synthesizing capacity.
The
classical
bourgeois public sphere
was an unstable
complex
of
institutions,
organizations
and activities within which the social
process
of
opinion
formation was to be
constituted,
but from which the most
important aspects
of
life--material
production
and the realm of familial
socialization--were
excluded. In
contrast,
three
very
different factors must
converge
to create
the
proletarian public sphere:
"the interest of the
producing
class must be
the
driving
force;
a form of interaction must be created which can relate
specific
interests in the realms of
production
to the entire
society;
and
finally
the
inhibiting
and destructive influences
emanating
from the
declining bourgeois public sphere
must not
overpower
the
emerging
proletarian public sphere.
In all these
points,
the
proletarian public sphere
is
nothing
other than the form in which the
proletarian
interest itself
develops" (p. 163).
At this
point
the
implications
of this
comprehensive concept
for the
theory
of revolution and the
theory
of
organization
become clear. Insofar as the
proletarian public sphere represents
a form of interaction which
expresses
the vital interests of the
working
class in a
specific
form while
relating
them
to the entire
society,
it assumes the active function of
mediating
between
social
being
and consciousness. In
short,
it fulfills the task of
mediating
between
society
and that which the tradition of Marxist
theory
has
designated--highly inadequately--as
the
"subjective
factor.' This
point
will
be returned to later.
Provisionally formulated,
the
public sphere
should be understood as a
central
category
of social
theory,
which determines the connection between
material
production
and cultural norms and institutions
during
the
process
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION
57
of the constitution of social
experience.
At the same time
Negt
and
Kluge
attempt
to situate the
concept
of the
"public sphere" historically
in order to
allow the reformulation of a central
problem
of the Marxist
theory
of
revolution to
emerge
from the dialectic of the
bourgeois
and
proletarian
public sphere.
Thus,
it is
necessary
for them to introduce new
epistemological categories
and
relationships, constructing,
for
example,
the
levels of contradiction within the basic conditions of
bourgeois
and
proletarian
life
("the
block of real life" which
opposes
the interests of
profit
maximization).
Such
categories permit
the
expansion
of an
analysis
of late
capitalist
conditions to the
point
where certain
political consequences
for the
organizational question
can be drawn.
The
concept
of the
public sphere
is
essentially synthetic
in its
achievement: its
application
makes it
possible
to move
beyond
the
theoretical and
historical-empirical
constraints in the discussion of class
consciousness and
political organization,
and to reintroduce
analytical
content into that discussion. The authors maintain that the levels of
mediation within which the
organization
of social consciousness and
experience
takes
place
can be
empirically
ascertained
by examining
both the
total
development
of
society
and occasional
eruptions
such as
strikes,
factory
occupations
and mass
protest,
as well as
political organization
in
factories,
schools and local communities.
This framework is as relevant for the
development
of Marxist
theory
as it
is
provocative
for current
political
discussions.
Negt
and
Kluge justify
the
claims of so broad a
concept
of the
public sphere,
not
only by appealing
to
the
necessity
for a Marxist
investigation
of the
unfolding relationships
of
cultural socialization
(Vergesellschaftung). They
also
argue
for the
political
urgency
of such a
conception.
"With this book it is our
political
interest to
establish a framework for a discussion which
expands
the
analytical concepts
of
political economy
downward,
to the real
experience
of human
beings" (p.
16).
By directly confronting
the
critique
of
political economy
with the
concept
of "real
experience," Negt
and
Kluge
address a
complex
of
problems
which
the labor movement has been
incapable
of
solving
either
theoretically
or
practically.
For Marx and
Engels
it was
not,
for two
reasons,
a
pressing
task
to
develop
a detailed discussion of class consciousness and
political
organization.
On the one
hand,
their theoretical considerations were
directed at a
working
class that was
rapidly organizing,
and whose
organizational solidity
and
political efficacy
was less a
question
of the
subjective
conditions of
organization
than of the more
primary problem
of a
scientific
analysis
of the laws of
capitalist development. Secondly,
Marx and
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58 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
Engels
could assume that the
working
class
emerged
from a
bourgeoisie
which had carried
through
its interests
against
the feudal
system
and
had
maintained a
revolutionary
movement which
still, it
appeared,
could
be
transformed into a
proletarian
movement. The
experience
of the Paris
Commune made it
clear, however,
that the relevant elements of the
bourgeois
class had
reorganized
around the interests of
profit
maximization
and had
joined
in an alliance with the feudal
system. Simultaneously
other
broad strata of the
bourgeoisie
were
already proletarianized
or had sunk to
the status of small
commodity producers.
What had remained concealed
by
the revisionist
practice
of the Second
International,
satisfied with its success as a mass
movement,
became a
matter of immediate concern
only
with the
revolutionary
role of the
bolshevist
cadre
party
in the Russian Revolution: the
problem
of the
conscious
organization
of
proletarian
class interests in a
disciplined
vanguard party.
The wide
adoption
of the bolshevist
experience
in the
European
labor movement after the successful October revolution led less to
the
integration
of these
experiences
into their own traditions-
developed
under the
completely
different conditions of a
highly developed
industrial
society--than
to the
politically consequential
"universalization" of the
"Leninist Cadre
Party"
derived from the Russian
revolutionary
movement.
The direct
application
of Russian
experiences
to the
developed
social
conditions of
Western
Europe,
which was intended as a break with
the
objectivist
and economist
conceptions
of the Second
International,
led
politically
to the dissolution of the
relationship
between the
organizational
forms based on the workers' councils and the Communist
Party, resulting
in
the one-sided
primacy
of the centralized
organization. Theoretically
it led to
a division of the
"subjective
factor" and of class consciousness into
political
and economic elements: the class
analysis
of the
proletariat
was
collapsed
into theoretical issues of
party
and
organization
which centered around the
struggle
for
political power.
Only
with the
protest
movement which
appeared
at the end of the 1960s
did those
issues,
which Marxism had either
denigrated
or dismissed as
heresy
and
relegated
to the
periphery, reemerge
as central
problems
in the face of
a
system
that seemed immune to
internal
and
external
opposition.
The
renewed discussion of the works of
Reich,
Luxemburg,
Lukics,
Korsch and
others,
as well as the numerous debates on Marxism and
psychoanalysis,
class
consciousness,
the latent fascist tendencies in late
capitalism,
media
theory
and aesthetics coincided with
experimental
forms of action and
demonstration. At the same time these
developments expressed
a
sharpened
consciousness of new
complexes
of contradictions which the traditional
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL
ORGANIZATION 59
schema of base and
superstructure, "subjective
factor" and
avant-garde
organization
no
longer
defined in a
politically
relevant
way.
Against
the
background
of these
developments Negt
and
Kluge's
argument
assumes a
compelling
theoretical and
political importance.
Precisely
because the internal factionalization of the student movement
has
again
abandoned these
problems
as
peripheral
to the basic
questions
of
Marxist
theory
and
organization
their reconsideration takes on a
political
character.
In his
essay
"Don't Go
by
Numbers,
Organize According
to
Interestsl,"
Negt
clarified the
political
context of his
argument:
"When I state that it is
essential to link
up
to our own
history
of
political
socialization in the
present
organization
debate,
I am not
suggesting
that the old forms of
organization
be
recovered;
these were
symptomatic
of a mass movement restricted to
intellectuals and
youth
which had
only
an indirect effect
upon
the
working
class.
Rather,
the issue is to take
up
those
emancipatory
forces and
perspectives
which the movement set into motion and to
carry
them forward
under
changed objective
conditions and
experiences."7
According
to
Negt
and
Kluge
these
emancipatory
and theoretical
perspectives
can be best addressed
by
a
methodology
which neither
totally
conforms to
scholarly
"rules" nor, on the other hand,
accepts
the standards
of the current factionalized
political
discussion.
Instead,
their book
deliberately
assumes a
unique
middle
position permitting
the combination
of
disparate
theoretical
approaches, global
social
interpretations
and
current
political
considerations in such a
way
as to
produce practical
evidence
for the
analytical
connection between the
public sphere
and
experience.
Nonetheles,
this
methodology
involves certain
disadvantages
as
well,
for instance an
inconsistency
in the
categorical
framework as well as a
tentative
quality
in its
empirical
evidence and
political judgments.
Its
strength,
however,
lies in its
ability
to release the
disparate
elements of social
experience
from the individual
disciplines
which hitherto claimed them and
to demonstrate their extensive
interrelationship.
This
interrelationship
can
be observed in four central
steps
in the
argument:
1) Negt
and
Kluge begin
with the
process through
which the classical bour-
geois public sphere
is transformed into new
public spheres
of
production8
7. Oskar
Negt,
"Don't Go
by
Numbers,
Organize According
to
Interestsl:
Current
Questions
of
Organization,"
New German
Critique
1:1
(Winter, 1974),
46.
8. The
concept
of
public spheres
of
production
indicates a
variety
of
heterogeneous
individual
public spheres
which have
emerged
from the decline of the
bourgeois public sphere.
Although
these
public spheres
of
production
seem to renew the external illusion of the
bourgeois public sphere,
their structure and content is determined
by specific political
and
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60 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
(ProduktionsOffentlichkeiten)
which to an
increasing
extent turn the basic
conditions of human life itself into the
object
of
production
But at the same
time a
potential opposition
is released
which,
in
pnnciple
could be
channeled into new forms of the
proletarian public sphere.
2) According
to the authors these
contradictory
tendencies of cultural
socialization can be understood
by postulating
a "block of real
life,"
which
indicates a crisis in human
psychic organization.
This crisis is intensified
by
3)
the
expanded
forms of
secondary exploitation
which are made
possible by
the
development
of
commodity production
and modern mass media. The
accompanying
industrial transformation of human senses and characteristics
4)
alters the
very
forms within which the
fragmented
elements of social
experience
are
capable
of
being organized
for socialism. Hence a
reformulation of the
question
of
organization
becomes
necessary.
In their
political praxis
socialist
organizations
can no
longer
sustain the fiction that
the individual
proletarian
is
organizable
as a
whole,
over and above
particular
interests.
Instead,
the
pre-revolutionary strategy
must be to seize
potential opposition
in whatever area of human life it
may appear:
in
factories,
in and
through
the mass media, in educational
institutions,
in the
family and in the so-called realm of leisure.
3. The Basic Conditions of Life as
Objects
of Production
Negt
and
Kluge place
the dialectic of the
bourgeois
and
proletarian
public spheres
in the context of an
all-encompassing process
of human
socialization which became universal with the
capitalist
mode of
production.
Only
with the transition to
capitalism
does the
production process
become
the dominant social
relationship pervading
all areas of human life.
Pre-capitalist
forms of
production,
which Marx could still subsume under the
general concept
of human
appropriation
of
nature,
were characterized
by
the
continual "retreat of natural restrictions" on the one hand and
by
the
anchoring
of the labor
process
in
regionally
differentiated
cultural,
familial
and
political relationships
on the other. But the labor
process qua capitalist
production process
earns
its new
quality
because of "the
separation
between
economic
profit-maximizing
interests. The
public spheres
of
production
are
distinguished
from
the
bourgeois public sphere through
their industrial mode of
production
and the
expansion
of
their
scope
to the basic conditions of human life. The central moment of these
public spheres
of
production
is
previously private sensuality.
In the
public sphere this sensuality
has been
combined with
profit-maximizing
interests. There are,
according
to
Negt
and
Kluge
broadl-
speaking,
three dimensions to the
public spheres
of
production: 1)
the sensual-demonstrative
public spheres
of
factories, banks,
urban centers and industrial zones;
2)
the consciousness
industry, including consumption
and
advertising
and
3) public
relations carried on
by
corporations,
associations, states and
parties
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION 61
these
inorganic
conditions of human existence and this active
existence,
a
separation
which is
completely posited only
in the relation of
wage
labor and
capital."9
Capitalist
social relations
split
asunder the "natural bonds of
humanity,"
as Marx
explains
at one
point, by
their
tendency
to subsume all
historically
developed
cultural forms of human life under their immanent
logic
in
accordance with the
process
of
profit
maximization. On the
part
of the
subject,
this denial of the social characteristics of
humanity corresponds
to
the reduction of the laborer to an existence
primarily
as a
producer
of
exchange
value. The
separation
of workers from the means of
production,
which Marx
historically pursues
as the
process
of
primitive
accumulation,
also severs their abstract labor
power
from the concrete conditions of their
existence:
everything
which does not contribute to the immediate
reproduction
of the
commodity labor-power
becomes
something
superfluous, something seemingly private, something negatively
determined
by
the
relationship
which
capital
demands. For
Negt
and
Kluge
this
transformation is the
"capitalist
cultural
revolution,"
which is
strictly
distinguished
from the
proletarian
cultural revolution-the
production
of
communist forms of interaction. "The
development
of
capitalism
also
revolutionized habits,
cultural
patterns, personality
structure,
the
senses,
human characteristics and consciousness. The entire
process
of economic
production
over the last two or three hundred
years
has
produced
increasingly
socialized human
beings.
Socialization itself has become a
fundamental human
need,
almost an
anthropological category,
because
people
become sick when
they
are forced to live in isolation. On the other
hand,
under alienated conditions this socialization is
always
combined with
a simultaneous need to free oneself from it and retreat to
private
forms of
existence"
(p. 271).
But now the
relationship
of the
profit-maximizing
interest to the basic
conditions of human life itself becomes
subject
to historical modification.
Rising production
costs of the
commodity labor-power
and
changes
in the
organic composition
of
capital
turn human needs and forms of consciousness
themselves into
objects
of
capitalist production:
the basic conditions
of
human life
emerge
from their
purely negative relationship
to
capital.
This
key development
is the
starting point
for
Negt
and
Kluge's analysis.
Their
description
of the transformation of the
bourgeois public spheres
of
production
on the one hand and the occasional
emergence
of a
proletarian
9. Karl Marx,
Grundrisse: Foundations
of
the
Critique of
Political
Economy (Rough
Draft),
trans. Martin Nicolaus
(Middlesex, 1973), p.
489.
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62 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
public sphere
on the other can be understood as a
depiction
of the
"subjective"
cultural side of the
reproduction
of
capital "on
an ever
increasing
scale." The
bourgeois public sphere,
both in its ideal form and in
its material
content,
refers to the
early phase
of
capitalist development.
In
this
phase
the
newly forming capitalist
interests were
primarily
concerned
with the
appropriation
of the material conditions of
production, though
they
also
waged
a
political
and cultural
struggle against
the feudal
system.
The
bourgeoisie
used the
public sphere
both as a
revolutionary slogan
and
as a medium within which the
political struggle
for the
expanded
appropriation
of social wealth took
place.
This
convergence
of
substantially
divergent
interests,
which the
bourgeois public sphere homogenizes,
endows
the
bourgeois public sphere
with its characteristic
instability, marking
it as
an
expression
of the transition to a new world-historical level of
production.
The unstable
bourgeois public sphere
can
only
sustain itself in
society
to
the extent that it succeeds in either
diverting
attention
away
from central
interests tied to the realm of
production
and familial socialization or in
giving political
or cultural
expression
to those interests. But the
political
and
cultural
victory
of the
bourgeoisie
and the
anchoring
of the
principles
of
capitalist production
in broad areas of the
society
made a continued detour
through
institutionalized forms of the
public sphere unnecessary.
The "dull
compulsion
of economic relations"
10
sustains
bourgeois capitalist
domination
more
effectively
than a
necessarily
unstable
public
consensus or
political
force could ever do.
But this
process
also
produces changes
in the structure and function of the
public sphere.
Once the
capitalist profit-maximizing
interest becomes the
primary principle
of social
organization,
it
produces
new forms of the
public
sphere,
which
formally appear
to continue the
bourgeois public sphere
but
whose characteristics are
actually
determined
by
a
very
different
complex
of
interests. "The traditional
public sphere,
whose characteristic weakness lies
in the mechanism of
separating public
from
private,
is
today superseded by
public spheres
of industrial
production
which
increasingly
draw in the
private
realms,
particularly
the
production process
and the basic conditions
of life"
(p. 35).
The authors consider a number of tendencies to be
responsible
for the
emergence
of these new
public spheres
of
production,
which,
taken
together,
characterize a new level of socialization.
Negt
and
Kluge
do
not, however,
discuss these tendencies
systematically;
instead
they
limit themselves to a
description
of their effects.
10. Karl
Marx,
Capital
1 (New York,
1906), p.
809.
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND
POLITICAL
ORGANIZATION 63
Referring
to
Wolfgang Haug's
work on
commodity
aesthetics,
"
Negt
and
Kluge begin
with the
premise
that with the
expansion
of
commodity
production
to all social realms the
"appearance
side" of use value assumes
an
increasing importance.
The
appearance
of a
commodity
thus tends to
separate
itself from the concrete
product
and the use value which it was
originally supposed
to demonstrate.
Rather,
the
appearance
of the
commodity
enriches itself
by incorporating general
social
experience.
When
the
commodity
becomes a
"sensual-supersensual thing,"
it becomes a means
to transform
objects
of use into
fantasy products.
With this
development
commodities themselves
begin
to
participate
in the
public sphere. They
become the
object
of an
imaginary consumption
which
appropriates
world
views
along
with commodities. But this
organized production
of
commodity
appearance
can be
fully
effective
only
when
imperialist expansion
abroad,
aimed at the
acquisition
of raw
materials,
export
markets and labor
power,
coincides with an intensification of
imperialism
at home which is now
directed at the
exploitation
of the
very
social nature of human
beings.
To
wage
this
struggle
for domestic
markets,
capitalism employs
the industrial
production
of
fantasy
values and cultural
images
which both divert and
enrich the human
capacity
for
imagination.
This
expanded
level of
commodity production
is connected to a
developed
system
of institutions which
supersedes
the
formerly private, partially public
and
fully public
areas of life and
production.
Increased
productivity
demands
expanded
education and
training
for mass labor
power;
state and
semi-public
institutions
rapidly expand
to take on the familial functions of
subsistence welfare and the
structuring
of life and leisure. Thus a number of
self-contained
public spheres emerge,
each
organizing
a
specific aspect
of
human life for itself.
Negt
and
Kluge attempt
to describe the new
quality
of
these
public spheres by applying
Marx's
categories
of real and formal
subsumption
under
capital
to institutions. Formal
subsumption
under
11. In his work on
commodity
aesthetics,
Wolfgang
Fritz
Haug
uses the
concept
of
"commodity appearance"
to characterize
highly developed commodity production. Though
in
the
simple phase
of
commodity production
the use value of a
commodity
at first had to be
visible to the
buyer,
in the
highly developed stage
of
capitalist commodity production
the
appearance
of use value is detached from the individual
commodity
and becomes the bearer of
general
social needs and desires. "Insofar as
exchange
value has established itself as the
driving
force of
commodity production,
a double
process
takes
place.
Not
only
is use value
produced,
but,
along
with
it, the
appearance
of use
value,
the aestheticized
promise
of use value.
Moreover this
appearance
is
produced
with its own
techniques
and considerations. The aim of
this
type
of
production
is to endow the
commodity
with allure and the
promise
of
utility
so that
not
only
will it be sold but also
preferred
and
purchased
in
preference
to other commodities."
See
Wolfgang
Fritz
Haug,
"Die Rolle des Aesthetischen bei der
Scheinl6sung
von Grundwider-
sprtichen
der
kapitalistischen
Gesellschaft,"
Das
Argument,
64
(June, 1971),
196.
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64 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
capital
means that the institution stands
only
in an
external,
loose
relationship
t.9
the
capitalist production process,
which in turn
only indirectly
affects the institution's internal
workings.
The term real
subsumption
becomes
applicable
to the
public sphere only
when those "realms hitherto
relatively
autonomous are
integrated directly
into the
profit-maximizing
process
and the use
values,
information and
ideology produced by
these
realms are
employed specifically
as a means of
stabilizing
the
ruling system"
(p. 297).
This
general description
of the nature of real
subsumption requires
some
qualification.
The
emergence
of mixed forms of state and
private
economic
activity
to deal with cases in which the individual
capitalist
incurs costs for
tasks which transcend the immediate interests of
profit
maximization is a
fundamental characteristic of late
capitalist
social
systems.
Such mixed
forms can neither be
entirely
ascribed to the individual
capitalist's
interests,
nor can
they
exist
entirely
outside of the
profit-maximizing process.
Paradigmatic
for such mixed forms are the
majority
of educational
institutions as well as
government-regulated
radio and television stations.
Yet the
empirically
demonstrable
importance
of those mixed forms makes it
questionable
whether
they
can be
adequately explained by
means of a
heuristic device
describing
the transition from formal to real
subsumption.
The
analysis
of the mixed forms should itself be the central
object
of a
Marxist
theory
of the state which would
explain
the
contradictory
tendencies
produced by
structural characteristics of those institutions no
longer directly
responsive
to
capitalist
interests. It is a weakness of
Negt
and
Kluge's
book
that the authors consider the relevant works of Claus
Offe,
Joachim
Hirsch
and others
only thematically
and not
systematically.
The
organized
transformation of commodities into
fantasy
values and the
institutionally
mediated
absorption
of
realms,
not
previously directly
embraced
by
the
profit-maximizing
interests,
are characteristic of the
system
of
secondary exploitation.
This
system
derives its new
quality
from the fact
that it is no
longer merely
an extension of traditional realms like
consumption
and the so-called
public
sector:
"precisely
because
secondary
exploitation lays
hold of human
consciousness,
of human
wishes,
hopes
and
conceptions,
a close bond reestablishes itself between
primary
and
secondary
forms of
exploitation. Secondary exploitation
also existed with a
specific
function in the classical
phase
of
capitalism.
But in late
capitalism secondary
exploitation
assumes a new
quality
based on the fact that a certain kind of
social wealth must be
produced
within the framework of
primary
exploitation,
a
type
of social wealth which itself threatens to
oppose
the
immediate interests of
capital
as an
independent
force. This new level of
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION 65
development
is characterized
by
an
attempt
to
reintegrate
the
centrifugal
tendencies of this social wealth into the
productive relationships
of
primary
exploitation.
Such a
reintegration permits capitalists
to make
exactly
as
much or even more
profit
here than under earlier conditions of
primary
exploitation" (p. 300).
This
attempt
at the
reintegration
of such
disparate
tendencies as work
discipline
and the
expansion
of human needs and
potential
can
only
succeed
if the
disparity
between
disciplined production
and the
illusory
satisfaction
of vital interests continues to
develop
at an ever
increasing
rate.
Only
the
constant renewal of this contradiction can
prevent
the disassociation and
isolation of human characteristics into
opposing
forces. "The traditional
capitalist production process
is sustained
by
the
profits
it receives from labor
power,
whose household affairs
only occasionally aligned
themselves with the
interests of
capital.
The
commodity labor-power
thus
regarded capital
as
something foreign,
as
something
in
opposition;
the ties
binding
labor
power
and
capital
were
external,
allowing
the worker a
variety
of
possibilities
for
escape
from its
grasp.
But
now,
in the new
situation,
a contradiction arises.
On the one hand the
relationship
to
capital,
with all its
accompanying
demands and
norms,
is
transported directly,
and from
without,
into the
worker's intellectual
organization, embracing
it
totally.
At the same time the
oppressive
character of the labor
process
and earlier forms of the
relationship
of labor to
capital
continue to
persist" (p. 306). Through
the
postulation
of a "block of real life" the
contradictory
effects of
secondary
exploitation
on human
psychic organization
can be
investigated
in terms of
their central
political implications.
4. The Block of Real Life
The central theoretical nucleus of
Negt
and
Kluge's argument
is the
construction of a "block of real life which
opposes
the
profit-maximizing
interest"
(p. 107).
This block consists of a
complex
of
contradictory
tendencies in the internal
organization
of human
psychic experience
which
reconstitutes itself on
every
level of the
system
of
primary
and
secondary
exploitation.
The block does not
respresent
an
anthropologically
invariable
structure of human nature. Instead it is determined
materialistically
as the
residual
potential
for
experience
and action which cannot be
integrated
into
the
system
of
profit
maximization,
but which nevertheless
develops
necessarily
in
conjunction
with the
expansion
of
capitalist profit
maximization and the
changing composition
of
capital.
This construction
assumes that those human needs anchored in the
psychic
structure and
characterized
by qualitative relationships
within the socialization
process
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66 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
cannot be diverted from their
goal.
Rather,
these human needs
preserve
within themselves a realistic and unified
tendency
towards their satisfaction.
"It is
unlikely
that in the
long
run
they
will be content with substitute
satisfactions and allow themselves to be distracted from their own realism
by
any
kind of
reality principle
in their search for
satisfying relationships" (p.
304).
Of
course,
this realism characteristic of human needs is itself
historically produced.
The historical
development
of this realistic basis
coincides with the
objective possibility
of their realization. At the same time
it is the result of both an
expansion
and intensification of
exploitation
and
the relaxation and
undermining
of
disciplinary
work norms.
The twelve hour
day,
child labor and the immediate demands of material
existence
prevent
the
very
formation of needs which transcend the
simple
reproduction
of the
commodity labor-power.
The
development
of
individual needs
presupposes
a
high degree
of social wealth which relieves
individuals from the immediate
pressures
of existence and allows the
emergence
of a form of leisure which is more than a mere reflex of the
working day.
A certain level of social
development
must be
presupposed
for
needs to
emerge
which
point beyond
the
existing
framework of material
production;
these needs
can,
obviously,
themselves become
objects
of the
maximization of
capitalist profit. Expanded commodity production
and the
public spheres
of
production represent
new historic forms of
production
which absorb and restructure these needs
according
to the interests of
capital.
These
apparatus
of
production
are effective
vis-d-vis
the masses
precisely
because
they
do not abstract from real
experiences
and wishes.
They
intervene on the level of concrete interests. On the other
hand,
they
cannot
grasp
these needs in their
specific
determinate
qualities,
in their
uniqueness,
without
adjusting
them to their own interests in the
production
process.
This assimilation of vital human interests into the content of the
public sphere
of
production
causes
it,
because
of
its
content,
to assume a
position contradictory
to the
general tendency
of
capital.
This
general
tendency,
in the interest of an
expansion
of
profit
realization,
moves in the
direction of
increasing
abstraction from concrete conditions. At the same
time
capital
must,
"in order to
progress along
this
path,
concern itself with
living
conditions,
living
labor and human raw materials to an ever
increasing
degree. Capitalism
must
'dirty
its hands'
by dealing
with human
beings.
This
is the reason for its extreme
instability" (p. 309).
Thus
capitalism
itself sets in motion a countermovement of concrete
interests.
By developing particular
human
qualities
in
isolation,
by isolating
them from each other or even
by suppressing
them
altogether,
the interests
of
capital
constitute
negatively
a
complex
of
qualities
and interests which
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION 67
find themselves in continual retreat from
profit-maximizing
tendencies
which threaten to absorb them. These
qualities
exist beneath the threshold
of
bourgeois
rule,
in the form of
escapism
and
fantasy activity,
which
capitalism
cannot
completely integrate
into the
process
of
profit
maximization. "The character of this
fantasy activity
is multi-dimensional.
It
emerges
as a
necessary compensation
for the
experience
of the alienated
labor
process,"
as an
"equilibrium
of drives in
opposition
to intolerable
conditions of alienation"
(p. 67).
"If
[the
workers' needs and
interests]
are
directly suppressed,
that
is,
if
they
are not utilized in
society's
profit-maximizing process, they
maintain themselves as
living
labor
power,
as raw material. In this
quality
as extra-economic
interests,
they
exist in the
forbidden zones of
fantasy,
beneath
taboos,
as
stereotypes
of the
rudimentary organization
of the basic conditions of
proletarian
life. As such
they
cannot be further
suppressed. They
also cannot be assimilated. In this
respect they possess
two characteristics: in their defensive stance over and
against society,
in their conservatism and in their subcultural
character,
they
are mere
objects.
But at the same time
they comprise
the block of real
life which
opposes
the
profit-maximizing
interest"
(p. 107).
This
negative,
dialectical
relationship
of the block of real life to the
profit-maximizing
process
will continue as
long
as
capital
cannot do without
living
labor as a
source of value. "Where
attempts
are made to
integrate
this block into
capitalist
interests,
for
example, by subordinating
the basic conditions of life
to the
capitalist programming
and consciousness
industry
or the new
public
spheres
of
production,
the
process
of
suppression
and exclusion
produces
a
new,
more differentiated block
accordingly" (p. 107).
Television and "media concentration" nevertheless
represent
a new
stage
of social
production
which threatens to draw in the
very
raw material
comprising
the block of real life. The
degree
that this is successful must be
determined
by
a consideration of the structure of
production
of the
developed
media.
5. Television and Media Concentration
The
investigation
of the functional connections of
developed
mass media
assumes an
important position
in
Negt
and
Kluge's
discussion. An
analysis
of
these media must determine whether one can
accurately speak
of a new
quality
of cultural socialization. Such an
analysis
must
develop
criteria
by
means of which new media can be differentiated from those of the
traditional
bourgeois public sphere.
And at the same time it would have to
formulate a
plausible explanation
of
changes
in the media's structure of
production
which have allowed the media to take on these new functions.
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68 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
a) Government-regulated
television
Negt
and
Kluge
describe
government-regulated
television as an
"institution characteristic of a transitional
phase...,
in which the essential
needs of communication are no
longer
entrusted to an
exclusively capitalist
mechanism,
but in which effective new forms of
public
control do not
yet
exist"
(p. 217).
Television is situated in a
contradictory
intermediate
position
between the
bourgeois public sphere
and the new
public spheres
of
production.
Furthermore,
television is
separated
from the
bourgeois public
sphere
and its media
by
the total industrialization of its
production
structure
and
by
its
complete integration
of the basic conditions of
life,
as evidenced
by
the
totality
of its
program offerings.
Television is
distinguished
from the
new
public spheres
of
production,
for
example
media
concentration,
by
the
institutionalization of its
governmental regulation.
Government
regulation
prevents
television's
complete
domination
by
individual
capitalist
interests
12
and
applies
norms in the form of
programmatic obligations, requiring
that
programming
be "in the
public
interest"
--thus
preventing
the direct
satisfaction of the concrete needs of various social
groups. Formally,
television stands in the tradition of the
bourgeois public sphere.Its public
regulation
is
designed
to
prevent
the domination of the medium
by special
social interests. Yet the control of television
by
"relevant" social
groups,
which
guarantee
that
programs
are balanced and that
they
serve
the"public
well-being," really only
creates an unstable
equilibrium
of social interests
incapable
of
achieving
consensus,
permitting only
an abstract trade-off of
the values of the
bourgeois public sphere.
The
increasing pressure
for
legitimation
which this situation
produces
leads to
half-solutions,
repeated
on
every
level of the
production hierarchy.
In the
bourgeois public sphere
the
opinio
communis was a bond whose content in
principle
could still be
determined. But the establishment of television
programming
on the basis of
a fictitious
public well-being,
which even
specific
individual
programs
should
address,
is the result of a harmonization of interests made
possible
only by obfuscating
their concrete contents. This
relationship
between
increased
pressure
for
legitimation
and abstract trade-off of interests
12. The fact that television is more than
merely
a medium for individual
capitalist
interests
has
long
since ceased to mean that these interests have no effect on actual calculations and
production.
The
increasing dispersion
of
production
in
enterprises
which are either
private
or
contain a
privately
financed television sector makes
any
real
public regulation
and control of
these
productions impossible.
Moreover,
rising
costs in an
increasingly diminishing
market
make television
increasingly dependent
on
advertising
and the resale and distribution of
programs
in a national and international television market
(which
has
begun
to
expand
with
the cassette
industry).
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THE
PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION 69
restricts
television to the
"broadcasting
of
generalized programs" (p. 176)
which
corresponds
on the
part
of viewers to an "abstract
receptivity."
The
programming obligations
and
guidelines
in
which--in
analogy
to com-
modity
production--the
long-term
interests of
capital
are
expressed emerge
on the level of
program planning
as
contradictory
to the short-term interests
of individual
programs
which utilize various ad hoc
legitimations: rating
scores,
topicality, economy
of
production,
technical
quality,
aesthetic inno-
vation,
entertainment value,
originality,
etc. These
contradictory
relation-
ships
between forms of
legitimation
arise from a structure of
production
in
which various levels of
production converge:
at the level of the individual
television
programs
and films concrete labor encounters a
highly complex,
relatively
content-free
technology,
and both in turn are included in abstract
planning
activities
involving
a
high degree
of division of labor. On the
part
of
the
product,
this contradiction
expresses
itself in the
divergence
of a
program's
individual elements: the entertainment value of the
program
assumes an
independence
vis-d-vis its educational value and the educational
value in turn contradicts the
program's
value as news. "This contradiction
between
long-term
and short-term interests reveals itself in
every program,
regardless
of whether it deals with
news,
critical
documentary
or
entertainment. The contradiction is intensified
by
the ambivalence
which
exists between most stations' critical stance towards the culture and their
actual function as
producers
of entertainment"
(p. 187).
On the
subjective
side,
this contradiction
expresses
itself in the clash of
various orientations towards work. Conflicts occur most
readily
in those
areas where the concrete
activity
of the
program producers
runs
up against
abstract
guidelines
and
rigid
time-cost
quotas
which decide the
"program's
struggle
for its
very
survival." The
often-interrupted struggle
of the
past
years
for a codified editorial
policy
came from
precisely
those
groups
who
could connect their demands for
codetermination,
for democratization of
the decision
making
structure,
to the content of their work. In
part
still
organized professionally,
but
already assuming
the form of a trade
union,
this movement of editors and contributors soon took
up
demands
transcending
their own economic
interests,
aiming
instead at a self-criticism
of radio and television stations.
Negt
and
Kluge incorrectly
assess the direction of this
movement,
which
goes
far
beyond
the institutional framework of the television stations. Since
they
understand the
struggle
for a codified editorial
policy only
as an
organization
of economic interests which seeks to extend its role in
planning,
they
underestimate the extent of the conflicts which arise from the demand
for the
right
to determine the content of one's work. The authors
correctly
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70 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
perceive
that
qualitative
issues cannot be taken
up productively
from the
position
of the individual
planner.
Yet
by maintaining
that the
"totality
of
viewer needs"
(p. 218),
the "fundamental interest in communication as
such"
(p. 180),
must be absorbed in the institution of
television,
that
"reciprocal
communicative
relationships"
must be created on a horizontal
level,
the authors
fatally approach
the neoromantic
building-block theory
of
Hans
Magnus Enzensberger,
who formulated technical
utopias
above the
actual
organization
of the
working
class and
ignored
the
necessity
to
change
institutions within
capitalist
relations of
production.
When
Negt
and
Kluge
conclude: "Thus the task of
subjecting government-regulated
television to
comprehensive public
criticism remains a matter for critics from without"
(p. 219), they
are
abandoning
the
political
terrain without
constructing
a
plausible
alternative. Because of its increased need for
legitimation,
television must
develop
a
strong
self-interest in
making
use of collective
social
experience
of the sort which is created in
political struggles.
Thus it is
important
to
organize
those who
produce
television
programs
in order to
change
at least
partially
the institutional conditions of its
reception
and
integration by
viewers.
For if it is correct to maintain that the cultural
critique,
which either
criticizes the consciousness
industry
as a whole or
simply analyzes ideological
tendencies of individual
programs,
comes
up
short
against
television as an
apparatus
of industrial
production, serving only
the
"rearrangement
of
legitimation
within the
apparatus" (p. 219),
then it is
necessary
to discuss
concretely
the kind of
organizational, technological
and material conditions
which would make
possible
the
development
of
counter-productions.
Media
critique obviously
cannot start from the situation of the viewer
sitting
in
front of the set. But neither can it
ignore
the medium's
internally
contradictory
institutional
ties,
or its structure of
reception
without at the
same time
investigating practicable
counter-models. As
long
as the
politically
and
materially
secure institution of television is not
fundamentally
changed by
a
political praxis
which creates new
institutions,
a
practical
critique
is limited to the
precise investigation
and evaluation of the
potential
for
opposition
that can be
crystallized
in the medium. The
"interchange
between the television station and its
viewers,
which would make
possible
a
variety
of television
channels,
written and
telephone
communications and
assemblies of viewers"
(p. 223),
could be
developed
more
fruitfully--but
only
under socialist conditions. In the
present
situation it is still
necessary
to
seize
contradictory
tendencies in the mass media and to
support
the
struggle
for codetermination as an element of
revolutionary strategy.
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION 71
In
contrast,
the
struggle
for the creation and
acceptance
of
counter-productions pursuing
autonomous
goals
continues on another level.
Those who are
engaged
in the
struggle
for codetermination are
aiming
primarily
at
securing legal, wage-related
and content demands within their
private
or
public
institutions. But the
organizers
of
counter-productions
have a different
goal
in
mind--expressed
in the
growing cooperation
between socialist
publishing
houses,
newspapers
and
magazines,
between
socialist film makers and film distribution
cooperatives.
While the
struggles
for codetermination aim
at
an
improvement
in the conditions of
production,
these wider
struggles attempt
to
acknowledge
and deal
adequately
with
needs
arising
in
response
to the conditions of socialist
praxis. Clearly,
the
organization
of
counter-productions by cooperating
leftist
groups
in the
media can
only
result from the unification of socialist
praxis.
Under
present
conditions it would be
illusory
for left
groups
in the media to
imagine
that a
mass left
press
would have a chance in the
struggle against
the
capitalist
cultural
industry
as Willi
Mtinzenberg's
productions
had in the Weimar
Republic. Although
autonomous to a
degree,
Mtinzenberg's
enterprises
were
both in
organization
and content
dependent
on a
relatively strong
Communist
Party
and on a broad
revolutionary
movement within the
working
class. The
development
of such a broad
movement,
consisting
both
of
producers
and of an
audience,
mediated
through organization
and
experience
in
political struggles,
is the
necessary precondition
for the
development
of socialist
counter-productions
in the media.
Even if one believes that
present
socialist
praxis
has reached a
point
where
it can
pose
the
question
of the construction of
counter-productions
in the
media,
the
problem
still remains
whether,
as
Negt
and
Kluge suggest,
a
media trade union within IG Druck und
Papier (Printing
and
Paper Union)
really
would be in a
position
to create a
politically
effective alliance of
journalists,
writers and artists concerned with codetermination within the
left media. The authors' radical
critique
of media workers'
attempts
at
organization
which do not include demands for the control of the means of
production
in fact becomes
political
indifference in cases where it is
necessary
to
politically analyze
the
present organizational possibilities
for
counter-productions.
The mere "inclusion of small and middle sized
enterprises engaging
in
emancipatory publishing, newspaper
or media
praxis" (p. 433)
in a media trade union is a
long way
from
changing
the
form of
production.
Rather,
the form of
production
is
directly dependent
on
the
possibility
for
political
action within the trade unions. The demand that
IG Druck und
Papier
include the leftist media would make
political
sense
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72 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
only
if tendencies within the trade
unions--particularly
those
insisting
on a
fundamentally
new orientation of union
policy
towards the media - could be
evaluated.
b)
The total
commodity:
media concentration
(Medienverbund)
In contrast to
government-regulated
television,
as well as to traditional
media such as the
press, publishing,
film, etc.,
media concentration
represents
a
stage corresponding
to conditions of advanced
capitalist
production
on an international level. Its combination of individual
commodities such as
education,
entertainment and information make it a
total
commodity
which confronts the individual
purchaser
as a closed
system.
This characteristic
places
media concentration on a level with
expanded commodity production.
Preconditions for the
emergence
of media concentration include both the
concentration of various
enterprises plus
a series of new
developments
in
technology
and
organization involving
new
ways
to transmit information
and to set
up
distribution and
planning systems
on a
large
industrial scale.
Only
when both of these
preconditions
are met do
systems
of media
concentration
emerge
which embrace the basic conditions of human life in
their
entirety,
thus in real terms
subsuming
human
beings
under
capital.
This new
quality
of media concentration arises less from the
development
of
individual media which media concentration then combines than from the
cohesion of the media themselves into a "total
system."
Although
at this
point completely developed systems
of media concen-
tration do not
yet
exist,
Negt
and
Kluge
believe that
they
can
predict
the
new
qualities
of media concentration from a
variety
of tendencies. The most
important
characteristic of media concentration is its
ability
to
adjust
its
offerings
so that it satisfies
general
interests as well as the
specific
needs of
individual
groups.
"Its
programs
do not
present merely
an abstract
general
offering ('to
whom it
may concern')
but rather are able to meet indivi-
dualized
needs,
the needs of various
target groups,
and therefore the basic
conditions of human life become the
object
of a
packaged system
of
exploitation" (p. 240).
With its
greater specificity
of
programming,
media concentration is
responding
to the viewer's
changed
structure of
perception,
which
changes
in the
sphere
of
production
have
brought
about.
Following
Walter
Benjamin, Negt
and
Kluge recognize
that the
development
of the media is
accompanied by far-reaching changes
in the structure of human
perception.
While the traditional media
develop
individual human senses in relative
isolation from each
other--in
a manner
analogous
to the
specialization
and
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION
73
division of labor necessitated
by Taylorism-media
concentration rests on
a form of
perception
that is
shaped by
the interaction between
speciali-
zation and
synthesis.
This new form of
perception corresponds
to similar
changes
on the side of
production.
Here,
technical
changes
demand a new
type
of
cooperation
from individuals
(p.
241
f.).
Such
changes
have their
material basis in a situation in which workers must
perform precise
individual technical tasks at the same time that
they supervise
and monitor
an entire
apparatus.
These alterations in the structure of
perception
in turn encounter
changes
in the
psychic
structure: the
legitimations
of the
performance principle
and
work
discipline begin
to lose their traditional
psychic anchoring
and are
replaced by
the
principle
of a new
immediacy.
A
permanent
evocation of
sensual needs breaks down the barriers of denial or
postponement
of
drives,
setting
in motion a
dynamic
of
developing
needs which is directed towards
their harmonic satisfaction. "When basic human needs
(hunger,
thirst,
shelter)
are
met,
the
empirical
needs
attempt
to restore their basic
unity
and
are directed at the
objective
world.
They
strive towards the
harmony
of the
senses and
respond
to those commodities which
represent
not
merely
isolated
satisfaction or individual use values but rather entire
cycles
of fulfillment
which
embody
the basic conditions of life. In these circumstances the
objective
side of media concentration becomes
apparent.
It welds these
tendencies
together
and
organizes
them from without. In a
proletarian
public sphere
the
interconnection
of the needs and senses must be
organized
through
the
praxis
of human
beings
themselves"
(p. 244).
6.
Questions
of
Organization
If Mao
Tse-Tung
is correct that consistent materialists have
nothing
to
fear,
then an
investigation
of new socialization tendencies characterized
by
the
development
of the
programming
and consciousness industries will be
able to reveal the direction in which the contradictions inherent in these
tendencies are
moving. Through
a
variety
of
complex arguments Negt
and
Kluge
have demonstrated the existence of these
contradictions,
first of all in
the
declining bourgeois public sphere
and in the new
public spheres
of
production
such as media concentration. The formulation of a "block of
real life" allows them to determine those limits which even the most
highly
developed profit-maximizing
interests confront when
they attempt
to absorb
proletarian qualities
and interests. This
approach
is
superior
to Adorno and
Horkheimer's
critique
of culture insofar as it confirms the
systemic
character
of the culture
industry developed
in Dialectic
of
Enlightenment--differ-
entiating,
however,
between short and
long
term interests in the context of
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74 NEW GERMAN
CRITIQUE
commodity
production--while
at the same time
refuting
that
aspect
of the
culture
industry
thesis that
ignores
those new levels of contradiction which
permeate
the social
production
of human
experience.
The fundamental contradictions of
wage
labor and
capital,
of social
production
and
private appropriation,
have not
yet
been
unilaterally
resolved to the
advantage
of a
capitalist super-system
immunized
against
all
contradictions.
Capitalism
has
only, although perhaps qualitatively,
changed
the forms of its concrete social
appearance.
It is
necessary
therefore
to ask whether the
changes
which
Negt
and
Kluge perceive
in the social
experiences
and interests of the masses
compel
a reformulation of the
organizational question.
They respond
to this
question
in two
ways.
On the one
hand,
their
analysis
of these new
contradictory
tendencies
lays
the
groundwork
for a
fundamental
critique
of traditional
working
class
organizational
forms. On
the other
hand,
they
start from the
premise
that the altered structure of
experience
of the masses makes it
necessary
to formulate a framework of
organizational theory
which
points
towards a socialist
strategy
in a
pre-revo-
lutionary
situation. Their
critique
of the traditional
organizational
forms of
the
working
class is based on the thesis that the
oft-repeated
historical
attempts
of the
working
class movement to constitute its interests in
autonomous
political parties
or
proletarian
culture within
bourgeois society
have failed because
they began
with a false
conception
of the "total
proletarian."
"The
history
of the workers' movement in all the industrialized
countries
proves
that it has been
catastrophic
for the
proletarian parties,
the
Social Democrats as well as the
Communists,
constantly
to
categorize
individual members
(not
to mention those voters who
frequently
switch
parties)
as
totalities,
as Social
Democrats,
Communists or class-conscious
proletarians.
Whereas their
specific
needs,
such as
living
conditions,
child
care,
sexuality,
work,
leisure time have either remained
undeveloped
and
stagnant
or have been
organized
from above in such a
way
that the interests
and
needs,
as
by-products
of
capitalism,
could not
gain any
free
expression."'3
It is characteristic of these
organizational
forms that
they
have
produced
a
"fortress
mentality" (p.
384
ff.), leading
to the
adoption
of the ideals and
organizational
structure of
bourgeois
associations. The effects of this
adherence to
bourgeois
forms are
particularly
evident in the
great
defeats of
the
working
class
movement;
for
example
Maximalism in
Italy
on the one
hand,
and Austromarxism on the other. The
contradictory
nature of these
13. Negt,
"Don't Go
by
the Numbers," 48.
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THE PROLETARIAN PUBLIC SPHERE AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION 75
traditional
organizational
structures,
for
Negt
and
Kluge,
is founded in the
ambivalence of the "block of real life":
"Capitalism
cannot
destroy
this
block,
and the
proletariat
cannot attack
society
from within it"
(p. 108).
The industrial
development
of human senses and
qualities
leads
Negt
and
Kluge
to the
position
that
only
the
purposeful politicization
of fundamental
vital interests can create a stable context for
praxis,
within which a
long-term
socialist
strategy
could
develop.
As
Negt
indicated, "If,
as I have
already
noted,
the established
organizations presuppose
a 'whole' human
being
who is allied with them
by
commitment and
membership,
then the
first
political
act of a
revolutionary organization
must
lay
bare this
illusory
totality.
The 'whole'
person,
whose
characteristics,
capabilities,
interests and
needs are
fragmented by capitalist production
and
consumption
stands at
the end of the
revolutionary process,
not at the
beginning."'14
The
proletarian public sphere
is the constitutive element of a
highly complex
process
of
organization
that has as its
goal
"the release and redirection
(Aufhebung)
of the
experience
that remains locked within the basic
conditions of
proletarian
life"
(p. 60).
By analyzing
the new historical forms of the socialization
process sphere,
Negt
and
Kluge
have
developed
a
political position
which can serve an
important
function for future
organizational
debates insofar as it
subjects
the traditional
short-sightedness
of Marxist
theory
of
organization
and class
consciousness to a radical
critique.
Their
conception
is valuable as an
alternative
only
if this line of
epistemological argumentation
is carried over
into a
political analysis
of
present day
class
struggles.
As
long
as the
question
of
organization
cannot be discussed in the context of a
theory
of late
capitalism
-because such a
theory
does not
yet
exist--attempts
such as
Negt
and
Kluge's
remain of vital
importance, precisely
because of their tentative
character. In this
way problems
hitherto
ignored
can
again
be raised and
discussed.
Translated
by
Sara Lennox and Frank Lennox
14.
Ibid., p.
49
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