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If we define “theory” as a series of abstract rules that connect facts in a predictive or apodictic

relation by means of experiments, then it is obvious that no “theory” will ever be able to achieve
such a relation by means of a “method” because each experiment is, by definition, a unique
“experience” whose outcome cannot be “formalised” in isolation from the actual experience.
Furthermore, for what concerns the connection of theory with facts, whether in the physical or in
the social sciences, first, the selection of “facts” is itself arbitrary from a “theoretical” viewpoint in
that it is the “theory” that selects the “facts”, which means that the theory itself must be
“arbitrary” from an “objective theoretical” or “scientific” viewpoint”! (Cf. Windelband, “Thus, in
the scientific sense, ‘fact’ is already a teleological concept,” [History and Natural Science, p.181]. We do
not share, of course, the artificial dichotomy of the Marburg School of neo-Kantian philosophers
between “natural sciences” [Natur-wissenschaften] and “social sciences” [Geistes-wissenschaften]).
And second, no amount of theorizing will ever be able to establish any “causal links” between
“facts” independently of the human interest involved in isolating a particular “chain of causality”
among an infinity of other “causal chains” (the point was first established by Nietzsche from as
early as Uber Wahrheit und Luge, and then elaborated by Weber [cf. his Objektivitat]). After
Nietzsche, we ought to know that there is no ordo et connexio rerum et idearum; after Heidegger, we
know that there is no adaequatio rei et intellectus.

So it is certainly not because of a superior “methodology of economics” that Marxian social theory
presents this “chemical” fusion of fact and theory (or hypothesis) against the “mechanical”
incongruence of bourgeois economic theory. But why, then, does Schumpeter believe that
when it comes to the analysis of capitalist industry and society “Marx’s mixture [of facts
and theory] is a chemical one” whereas that of orthodox bourgeois economics is only
“mechanical”? To find out the answer, let us look at it in reverse, that is to say, let us see
why it is that bourgeois economic theory has no need for “facts” to support it, and then
we will be able to deduce at least negatively what we must not do if we do not wish
social theory to be entirely detached from reality.

If we take human beings as isolated individuals and we then ascribe to them “self-interests” that
are insatiable and also absolutely incommunicable and incommensurable with one
another, and if we then assume that they initially “possess” given “endowments” which
they are only able “to exchange” with one another – then it is entirely obvious that we
will be able to come up with a “science of exchange” (Walras’s equilibrium or Hayek’s
catallactics or Mises’s praxeology) that will be the exact replica of Newtonian mechanics in
which there is either a unique solution (Walrasian equilibrium) or else an ex post facto
rationalization (Hayek, Mises) for all the possible “exchange ratios” between all such
individuals and for the optimal distribution of their original endowments to maximize
their individual self-interests.

In order to protect its claimed “scientific status”, bourgeois economic theory must separate itself
from the social and physical environment in which it operates – all the more so because it
needs to present its findings as immutable laws of human nature. The peculiarity of this
“economic theory” or “economic science” is that it contains no history! No historical or
sociological facts are needed for this “science” because “history” is the record of metabolic
interaction of human beings not merely inter se, between themselves as individuals or
groups, but also and above all with their physical environment, which is how they pro-
duce their needs and in so doing create and develop new ones, while all the time they
transform also their interpersonal relations in the process.

In sharp contrast, there is no metabolic interaction between the “atomistic individuals” of

orthodox bourgeois economic theory because there is no pro-duction of needs on the part
of these atomistic individuals but only the simple pure “exchange” of “given”
endowments – an “exchange” that “exists” only as a logico-mathematical equation and
deduction and never involves any historical interaction between these individuals. There is
no historical change in neoclassical economic exchange: there is no history in such pure
exchange. As Lucio Colletti put it, in this type of social and economic theory,

[t]he relation between the theory and its object contracts, due to the ideal character of the latter, into a mere relation
of idea to idea, an internal monologue within thought itself. The object of analysis thus slips through our fingers; it is,
as Lenin pointed out [in What are ‘Friends of the People’], impossible for us to undertake any study of the facts, of
social processes, precisely because we are no longer confronting a society, a real object, but only the idea of society,
society in general…. in the place of concrete historical phenomena it has interpolated the idea; in the place of a
concrete, determinate society it has substituted society ‘in general’? (Ideology and Society, pp3-4).

But Colletti here mixes up two separate matters: the first, which is the more relevant, is that
bourgeois social theory reduces human society to abstract ideas and ceases to treat it as a
“living” organism, that is to say, one that mutates and evolves physio-logically, with the
emphasis on the physicality of human needs: it is this immanent materialism – this stress
on the metabolic production of human needs that are ever-changing - which leads to the
requirement of the “concreteness” of historical analysis. But then Colletti jumps
immediately to the bourgeois dichotomy of concreteness versus generality without
specifying in what way the Marxian approach is more “concrete” except to state that it
studies this particular “society” – capitalism - when in fact the relevant issue is that it is
the abstraction from how human needs are satisfied and pro-duced that makes the
“generality” of bourgeois social theory and “science” problematic because it invariably
seeks to justify the status quo and its social exploitation by hypostatising it into “human
nature”. Not the “generality” of bourgeois science is the real problem: the real problem is that it
turns the established order of exploitation into an eternal truth!

“History” is not merely the historia rerum gestarum (the record of personal or institutional actions)
but rather it is the record of how human beings interact with one another and with their
physical environment: history is the record of human metabolic pro-duction. History is the
record of how human beings interact to fulfil and satisfy their changing needs by meta-
bolically interacting with their physical environment. It is this “metabolic interaction”
that forms the content of “history”. History is not just the record of human relations; it is
the record of social relations “of pro-duction” because not just the distribution of the
product but above what is pro-duced and how it is pro-duced are essential to
understanding human “history”! It is this immanentism that we are seeking to expound
here by way of a critique of Schumpeter’s work so as to overcome the old antinomic
dualism of materialism and idealism.

But in this pro-duction of their needs, as a discrete albeit dependent aspect of it, the question
arises of how human beings may organize in such a manner that some exploit others in
the sense that the living activity of a section or class of human society is subordinated by
another section or class. In capitalism the specific form of subordination relates to the
“exchange” of dead labour with living labour, and specifically to the reality that such
“exchange” can occur only through political violence because no “exchange” of living
with dead labour could take place without such violence. As we shall demonstrate later
in our discussion of the labour theory of value outlined by Marx in Zur Kritik, the
problem with capitalism is not that the concrete living activity of human beings is
reduced to or reified into abstract labour through the forced separation of workers from
the means of production – because no such “reduction” or “reification” is possible given
that all human activity, however violently enforced or alienated, remains living activity.
The problem is instead that living activity is violently made exchangeable and therefore
commensurate with dead labour, with the product of living labour, by means of that
violent separation. In other words, the “exchange” has no “objective” or “market” basis
except the violent institutional organization of human living activity on the part of

It is over this discrete, distinct reality of conflict and antagonism in the process of human
metabolic production of their needs that the dialectical method can be applied to assess the
validity of socio-theoretical accounts of this antagonism. The peculiarity of the dialectical
method, even and especially in its pre-Socratic origins, is that it is a “negative” procedure
that does not seek to establish “the truth” – as if “the truth”, as an absolute reality, ec-
sisted! For if it did, there would be no need for the very concept of “truth”, as Nietzsche
established as early as “Lies and Truth”. Rather, dialectics seeks to establish a “dialogue”
(whence “dialectics”) between opposing sides onto a common ground (the polemos, or
dispute) from which the dispute may be “resolved” or better “super-seded” (cf. Giorgio
Colli, La Nascita della Filosofia). Dialectics is not a “positive” method but is rather one that
applies in a negative and critical manner to aporetic concepts that hypostatise or reify
human reality as well as to their underlying reality - as is evinced by Hegel’s emphasis
on “the negation of the negation” instead of, as is commonly and erroneously believed,
the “triadic” sequence thesis-antithesis-synthesis. (Cf. on this Norberto Bobbio’s
instructive Studi Hegeliani and Theodore Adorno’s Introduction to Negative Dialectics,
which is characteristically opaque but highlights this “critical” role of the Hegelian

Nevertheless, Hegelian dialectics committed the evident fallacy of preserving the thesis in the
antithesis and in the “synthesis” as a “positive” method of truth-seeking:

To be sure, Plato's dialectic too-even that of the Parmenides-is

in Hegel's view still not "pure" dialectic since it proceeds from assumed
propositions, which as such have not been derived from each
other according to an internal necessity. Indeed, for his methodological
ideal of philosophical demonstration Hegel must rely more heavily
upon the overall style of Socratic dialogue-that immanent formation
and self-unfolding of thought which he extols in Socrates' guidance
of discussion-and less upon the Parmenides, the "greatest masterpiece
of Ancient dialectic" (Ph 57), or one of the other late dialogues.
Without doubt, he saw correctly that the bland role which the partners
play in Socratic dialogue favors the immanent consequentiality
of the developing thought. He lauds these partners of Socrates as
truly pliable youths who are prepared to leave behind all contumacy
and flights of fancy which would disturb the progress of thought.3
To be sure, the splendid monologue of Hegel's own philosophical
dialectic realizes an ideal of self-unfolding thought with a much different
methodological conception behind it, one which relies far more
upon the principles of the Cartesian method, on the learning of the
Catechism, and on the Bible. Thus Hegel's admiration for the Ancients
is intertwined in a curious way with his feeling that the modern truth
shaped by Christianity and its renewal in the Reformation is superior.
(Gadamer, Hegel’s Dialectic, p.7)

But this, too, Hegel believes he is able to find in ancient dialectic,

though not beJore Plato. Hegel agrees, of course, that dialectic in
Plato often has only the negative purpose of confounding preconceptions.
As such it is only a subjective variation of Zeno's dialectic. By
the use of external conceptions, it is able to refute every assertion-a
technique cultivated particularly by the Sophists and pursued without
positive results. But aside from this Hegel sees in Plato a positive, speculative
dialectic, one that leads to objective contradictions, but not
merely in order to nullify their presuppositions. Plato's speculative
dialectic also contains an insight into the contradiction and antithesis
of being and not-being, on the one hand, and of difference and nondifference,
on the other. Implied, Hegel maintains, is that Plato recognized
that these belong together and hence entail a higher unity. For
this interpretation Hegel relies above all on Plato's Parmeni'des, his
understanding of it being shaped in large part by Neoplatonism's
theological-ontological interpretation of the latter. (P.21)

Both formal logic and dialectics rely on the notion of contradiction – but the application of this
notion is what distinguishes the two methods. Both formal logic and dialectics can be
applied negatively to assess the validity of statements about physical events and entities -
which are either true or false at a particular point in time - but not to the individual
physical events or quantifiable entities themselves – which are neither true nor false at
any point in time. But unlike formal logic, although it cannot be applied to scientific
findings, dialectics can be applied to statements about all human activity as well as to the
activity itself, including scientific inquiry, if this activity can be shown to contain
antagonistic motives and interests. The “findings” of scientific activity may be disputed
on the evidence but not on the “logic” of the events that are the object of scientific
inquiry: events are never “contradictory”, but statements and conclusions or “findings”
about them can be. To repeat, both dialectics and logic can be applied to statements about
human activity and events; but dialectics applies also to human and scientific activity that
may be said to be antagonistic (for example, research into a harmful product or research
that is itself harmful).

As a corollary to the first restriction or qualification – that it apply negatively to statements, just
like formal logic -, the second requirement for dialectics is that it be applied negatively to
assess the validity of both human activities and statements concerning human activities
that contain antagonism or conflicts of interests. This does not apply to formal logic which
can apply only negatively to statements - to assess their validity, not their truth! - but
cannot apply to human activities themselves.

Thus, what distinguishes dialectics from formal logic is the interpretation of the notion of
“contra-diction”. To the extent that human activities and statements and concepts about
them contain antagonism they may be said to be dialectically but not logically “contra-
dictory”. Whereas contradiction in formal logic can apply only to statements in the sense
that they are either valid or invalid, dialectical contradiction applies to statements and
concepts concerning human activities as well as to the activities themselves to the extent that
they are antagonistic in that their purpose or aims are harmful to some humans and that
therefore this antagonism must be resolved and superseded historically because it cannot
remain “eternal” or be theo-onto-logical.

The dialectical method is founded on the practical notion that antagonism can be resolved
through its elimination by the opposition or antithesis it contains, in the triple sense that it
entails the antithesis, that it generates it materially and that it seeks to prevent the
antagonism of the antithesis from destroying it materially! Hence, whereas the
contradiction of formal logic serves simply to negate a statement that is contra-dictory
but cannot resolve the contradiction historically, dialectics moves beyond contradictory
statements and activities by negating the antagonism they contain, that is, by showing
how this antagonism must be resolved historically by the negation (the negation of the
negation) of both the source of the antagonism (the thesis) and of the opposition (the
antithesis) to which it gives rise and that is contained in and by the source. Like dialectics,
formal logic cannot be applied to events but only to statements; but unlike dialectics,
formal logic cannot be applied to human activities and hypotheses thereof that contain
antagonism because these cannot be “contradictory” in a formal sense but can be so only
dialectically, that is to say, historically.

Precisely on this point, Hegel’s greatest intuition was the notion of Auf-hebung, which rests on the
resolution and supersession of human antagonism and conflict rather than on their
irreconcilability. Perhaps the grandest and noblest instance of the dialectical method at
work is Hegel’s chapter on “Lordship and Servitude” (or “Master and Slave”) in his
earliest theoretical work, the Phenomenology of Mind. The fact that Hegel was wrong about
interpreting supersession as the “reconciliation” (Versohnung) of antagonism – that is to
say, the “triadic” notion of the “syn-thesis” of thesis and antithesis - rather than as “the
negation of the negation” of the source of antagonism, the “thesis”, is a separate matter
that we shall discuss later in connection with Gramsci’s interpretation of the dialectic.

Indeed, as Adorno has contended, the hypostatisation of dialectical concepts – their “positivity”,
“immutability” or “closedness” - is a flaw that afflicts also Hegel’s “phenomenology” or
“objective idealism”, despite its undoubtedly revolutionary role in inspiring the later
development of the dialectical method as a critical tool by Marx:

This, then, is the model of that positive negativity: the negation of the negation as a new positive that appears in
Hegelian philosophy as a new model. Incidentally, it should be pointed out that one of the very striking features of
Hegel's philosophy, one whose significance has not been sufficiently appreciated, is its dynamic nature. By this I mean
that it does not regard its categories as fixed, but instead thinks of them as having emerged historically and therefore
as capable of change. Even so, in reality its conceptual apparatus contains much more that is immutable,
incomparably more that is constant, than it lets on. And these constants come to the surface to a certain degree
against the intentions of this philosophy…. (Adorno, Lectures on Negative Dialectics, p.15)

For it is precisely this 'having something', having it as something fixed, given and unquestioned on which one can
comfortably rely - it is this that thought should actually resist. And the very thing that appears as a flaw in a
philosophy that does not have this quality is in truth the medium in which philosophical ideas that are worthy of the
name can thrive….[Adorno, Lectures, p.25]

Gadamer confirms this aspect of Hegelian dialectics:

This formal characteristic of the continuing determination of

thought in itself does not necessitate that it be proven ahead of time
that the contradictions themselves which emerge will unify themselves
by fusing into a new positum, into a new simple self. Properly speaking,
the new content is not deduced, but always has proven itself already
to be that which endures the severity of contradiction and
maintains itself as one therein, namely, the self of thought.

In short, there are three elements which, according to Hegel, may

be said to be essential to dialectic. First, thinking is thinking of something
in itself taken by itself. Second, as such it necessarily thinks
contradictory determinations simultaneously. Third, the unity of
contradictory determinations has, in that these are sublimated in that
unity, the proper nature of the self. Hegel is of the opinion that all
three of these elements are to be found in the dialectic of the Ancients. (Hegel’s Dialectic, P.20)

The incestuous, truly idealistic nature of Hegelian dialectics is amply exposed here. Gadamer
goes to exceptional lengths to defend the indefensible in Hegel (cf. Colletti, Il Marxismo e
Hegel and also Cacciari, Dialettica e Critica del Politico):

The dialectic of the Phenomenology of Mind is similar in this regard.

The movement there is a movement in which the distinction,
between knowing and truth is transcended and at the end of which"
the total mediation of this distinction emerges in the form of absolute
knowing. Nevertheless, for this dialectic too the sphere of pure
knowing, of the thinking of self in the thinking of all determinations,
is already presupposed. As is well known, Hegel defends himself -
specifically against the misunderstanding of his Phenomenology
which takes it to be a propaedeutic introduction not yet having the
12 Hegel's Dialectic
character of science. The path elevating ordinary consciousness to
philosophical consciousness in the course of which the distinction in
consciousness, the split between subject and object is eliminated, is,
on the contrary, only the object of phenomenological science. That
science itself is already at the level of science, on which this distinction
is transcended. There can be no introduction preceding science.
Thinking begins with itself, i.e., with the decision to think. (Pp.11-2)

Yet it does not. We accept Cacciari’s point contra Colletti that the negation of the negation must be
the resultant of the thesis and that this process can be “conceptual” – but only as
“negation”, first, and then as “negation of the negation” – only in this double
“negativity” that preserves the thesis, but only in the negation of its negation, not in a
“positum” and not as mere “thought” because “thought” itself must have its own
“materiality”! Thinking most certainly does not begin with a “decision”, nor does it begin
with “matter”: thinking and its object are indeed inseparable but as a dialectical process
whereby the object of thinking is more than another thought! (See Bobbio on Gramsci’s
critique of Croce’s “idealist” dialectic, and on the true antithesis, in Appendix to
“Gramsci on Civil Society”.)
Adorno’s Introduction to Negative Dialectics superbly describes the need for the dialectical
method to embrace “the object” materially, as history, as physis, not as “matter” or
“nature” – in other words, to include that metabolic interaction that is our focus in this
work. This is a point that Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception and the rest of his
work – cf. the English collection The Merleau-Ponty Reader – highlights masterfully.
Heidegger elaborates punctiliously the notion of “physis” in “The Concept and Essence
of ‘Physis’ in Aristotle”, reprinted in Pathmarks. His vice, as always, is that, unlike
Nietzsche and Marx, his emphasis is on the physio-logical rather than on the physio-logical
– on transcendence rather than immanence. For a critique, see chapter on “The
Ontological Need” in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics. See also our discussion of Colletti just
below and our “The Philosophy of the Flesh” on

Colletti on Kant’s distinction between “Real Opposition” and “Dialectical Contradiction”

For the sake of illustrating our interpretation of the dialectical method, let us turn to an
interesting and compendious review of “Marxism and the Dialectic” by the illustrious
and erudite Italian philosopher Lucio Colletti.

I shall attempt to clarify somewhat a question…—although one that is very difficult to deal with briefly: the problem
of the difference between ‘real opposition’ (Kant’s Realopposition or Realrepugnanz) and ‘dialectical contradiction’.
Both are instances of opposition, but they are radically distinct in kind. ‘Real opposition’ (or ‘contrariety’ of
incompatible opposites) is an opposition ‘without contradiction’ (ohne Widerspruch). It does not violate the
principles of identity and (non)- contradiction, and hence is compatible with formal logic. The second form of
opposition, on the contrary, is ‘contradictory’ (durch den Widerspruch) and gives rise to a dialectical opposition.
Marxists, as we shall see, have never entertained clear ideas on this subject. In the overwhelming majority of cases
they have not even suspected that there were two oppositions and that they were radically different in nature. In the
rare cases where this fact has been noted, its significance has been misunderstood, and ‘real opposition’ has also been
considered as [4] an example and an instance of the dialectic, even though it was a ‘noncontradictory’, and hence
undialectical, opposition. (“Marxism and the Dialectic”, pp.3-4)

We agree that “contradiction” in dialectics cannot apply to all real events simply on the basis that
they display some form of conflict or “real opposition”, as Colletti calls it. In the case of
two opposing forces, for instance, or colliding objects, it is quite absurd to speak of
“contradiction” because neither the forces nor the objects are “saying” or “meaning”
anything. Therefore, for such “contrarieties”, as Colletti also defines them, neither formal
logic (which applies only to statements in any case, something Colletti totally overlooks
above) nor dialectics (which applies to “contra-dictions” in the broader antagonistic
sense) can even remotely apply. The problem with Colletti’s erudite analysis of the
dialectic, however, arises when he tries to define what kind of events or entities or
activities qualify for “real opposition”, to which the dialectic does not apply. Here is
Colletti again:

Let us sum up. Conflicts between forces in nature and in reality, for example attraction/repulsion in Newtonian
physics, struggles between counterposed tendencies, contrasts between opposing forces—all these not only do not
undermine the principle of (non)-contradiction, but on the contrary confirm it. What we are dealing with in fact is
oppositions which, precisely because they are real, are ‘devoid of contradiction’ and hence have nothing to do with
dialectical contradiction. The poles of these oppositions, to go back to Marx, ‘cannot mediate each other’ nor ‘do they
have any need of mediation’: ‘they have nothing in common with each other, they do not need each other, nor are
they integrated with each other’, (ibidem, p.9).

It is very simple to find the fatal flaw in Colletti’s argument here – quite surprising, really, in a
thinker of his depth and breadth. The flaw is in equating “forces in nature” (what we call
physical events and quantifiable entities) and “conflicts in reality” which can include
social antagonism. It is to this social antagonism that the notion of “dialectical
contradiction” applies, as we have explained above. Colletti makes the unbelievable
mistake of equating “opposing forces” in the physical sense and “social conflict” in the
antagonistic sense under the common banner of “real opposition” or “conflicts between
forces in nature and in reality”. But the “real opposition” of social conflict is not the same
as the “real opposition” of physical collision between forces and objects! (Colletti is
confusing political “opposition” with physical “opposition”, conflict with contrast.) We
agree with Colletti that dialectical contradictions most assuredly do not apply to the latter
– and formal logical contradiction applies to neither because it applies only to statements:
but there can be no doubt that dialectical contradiction does apply to the former, to social
conflict and antagonism, because that is the real valid meaning of “dialectical
contradiction”! As we explained above, social conflict and antagonism is “dialectically
contra-dictory” because it cannot be eternal or ontological and must be capable of
resolution and supersession.

When Colletti asserts – directly quoting Marx from the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, but
quite ferociously out of context - that the “opposing forces” in social conflict “have
nothing in common with each other, they do not need each other, nor are they integrated with each
other”, he cannot be in his right mind – because if conflicting human interests had
“nothing in common with each other” – well then there would be no conflict between
them! If they did not “need each other” or were not “integrated with each other”, then as
sure as night follows day the master would not need the slave and the capitalist would
not need the worker! Once again, these lapses are quite unworthy of Colletti – a Marxist
theoretician whom we are fond of quoting and citing – and we are using them purely for
illustrative purposes.

Care must be taken, then, to remember that the dialectical method may be applied only to historically
antagonistic relations: - only to concepts that apply to historical realities that contain
antagonism that explodes the concepts, which cannot be contained by them although it is
contained in them, and that leads to the supersession of the historical reality described by
the concepts. The dialectical method does apply to concepts as concepts if they define an
object whose practical implementation entails exploitation and generates social
antagonism. For example, the notion of “competition”, as we discussed earlier in our
study, contains the notion of monopoly (the aim of competition is to eliminate all other
competitors) and therefore social antagonism. This means that the extrinsication of
competition – its practical historical unfolding – will lead to its negation – monopoly. But
“monopoly” still contains in itself the historical antagonism that brought about the
original state of “competition”. It is not until this original state of competition is entirely
destroyed and obliterated by the negation of the negation that competition is finally
abolished or superseded. But this supersession of competition is not a reality that “must”
occur because it somehow “contains” a dialectical contradiction! All it may be said is that
it contains “antagonism”: but whether or not this antagonism results in a specific
historical development is something that no “dialectical method” can “positively”

Adorno uses the example of “concept” and “object” which – like those of “nature” and “society”,
“nature” and “history”, “body” and “mind” - are not dialectical but are ontological and
subject only either to formalism (antinomies, apories as in Kant) or to “reciprocal action”
(organic totality). These concepts give rise either to formalism (Platonic, Kantian, with its
chorismos) or to the notion of “organic totality” (a methexis seen only as ahistorical
“organic totality”) both of which are hypostases, static and immutable concepts, and are
therefore amenable to dialectical critique which unmasks their “separation”, their
chorismos, and reminds us that the two “opposites” are so only because they are not
applied metabolically and historically and therefore immanently – we could say,
“concretely” - and are instead exasperated as antinomic dichotomies. Seen formalistically
or reciprocally there appears to be no dialectical relation between them; but once we
examine the content of each concept and seek to apply it historically we find its opposite
is already contained in it. Only when these concepts are applied historically and
metabolically can they contain actual antagonism and in this sense contain also a contra-
diction amenable to dialectical critique. So long as we consider the concepts of economics
and sociology, of nature and society or of body and mind, there is no contradiction
except for the fact that they are hypostatic and aporetic – they are antinomic. It is only
once we apply them to historical situations that they become antagonistic in their “use”, as
a matter of praxis, and then their contra-diction comes to the fore.

This is what Adorno hints at in this passage in which the historical metabolic dimension is
specified by reference to “the confrontation of concepts with objects”:

Instead, the negativity I am speaking about contains a pointer to what Hegel calls
determinate negation. In other words, negativity of this kind is made concrete
[historical and metabolic] and goes beyond mere standpoint philosophy [formalism,
organicism] by confronting concepts with their [historical] objects and, conversely,
objects with their concepts, (Adorno, Lectures, p.25).

The obvious danger in treating dialectics as a “positive method” for predicting “scientifically” the
course of history and even of “nature” is that it will then be mistaken for a “positive
science” that can explain events as occurring in accordance with its own “logic” or
“laws” in the way that Engels did in the Anti-Duhring and in The Dialectics of Nature. The
danger is that the dialectical method is abused to lay claim to a view of human praxis, of
“history”, and of human “society” as if it represented a “totality”, “one indivisible
whole” or an “organism” whereby the behaviour of individual members of this “organic
totality” may be predicted by reference to the “organic totality”. This is a pitfall that
tempted not just Hegel with his notion that “the whole is greater than its parts”, but also
Marx in his insistence on regarding the capitalist process of production “as a whole” (see
the title to Volume 3 of Capital) in an effort to reconcile individual labour values with
market prices (a flaw exposed by Bohm-Bawerk in “Karl Marx and the ‘Close’ of His
System”). If an entity is defined in terms of a “totality”, it is clear that the interaction of
the entities making up that “totality” will have to be in “harmony” with it – which can
never prove the consistency of the definition because it only serves to expose the
tautology of this “closed” system.

The notion of “totality” will play the most prominent role in all social theory
around the turn of the century as an attempt to overcome the
dichotomy or separation of Subject and Object formalised for modern
metaphysics by Descartes with his distinction of res cogitans (soul) and
res extensa (body). Of course, in our classification, this is a “reciprocal
action” whose comprehension leads to the notion of “organic totality”.
The way out of this seemingly insuperable opposition – antinomy,
apory, dichotomy – between Subject and Object is quite obviously
through its “historicisation”, in the manner indicated by Hegel and then
Lukacs, that is, through the category of “labour” which is the “action”
that intervenes to mediate and historicise the “fixedness” of Subject an
Object. But this “history” cannot be comprehended ideally or
conceptually by means of “the dialectical method” – which is the
delusion that Lukacs fell into in HCC. As we have seen, the dialectical
method is not a positive tool for predicting the future or guiding praxis,
but it is instead a purely negative critical tool. Lukacs’s Hegelian
privileging of the proletariat as “the identical subject-object of history”
has three sources: Schopenhauer’s critique of Kant, Hegel’s dialectical
idealism, and Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach (especially the first, see
p.186ff of HCC where Feuerbach’s materialism is discussed explicitly in
this context.

Interestingly, those philosophers for whom there is an unbridgeable hiatus or

“separation” (Plato’s chorismos) between (good) ideal and (bad) reality
(or mere appearances [bad] and the real world [good]) are those who
seek the social synthesis – the methexis – but purely as an “ideal”;
whereas those who identify reality and appearance (take the good with
the bad) are those who stress the impossibility of “ideals” and the
ineluctable divergence of human needs, the inevitability and
inexorability of antagonism – existence as it is, esse est percipi. (Cf.
Adorno, “Essence and Appearance”, Negative Dialectics, p.166, on
Nietzsche. Of course, the classic statement against the “idealists” or
“rationalists” from Plato to Hegel and Marx is in K. Popper, The Open
Society and Its Enemies.)

Dialectics cannot be used as a positive method to determine or to predict human historical events:
it can only be used negatively as a critical tool to assess the historical validity of a given
socio-theoretical hypothesis in terms of the tendency of a given antagonistic historical
reality or human activity. In a nutshell, the dialectical method may be dissected into three
principles, as Engels did in Dialectics of Nature and in Anti-Duhring. The first principle,
which says that quantitative increments lead to qualitative change, is a banality when it is
not a tautology (incidentally, Schumpeter uses this approach at pp.220ff of Business
Cycles to describe “innovations”, although he too points out the simplicity of this

The second is the principle of “reciprocal action” – which means that when two factors are in
opposition, they interact with each other. Hence, it is incorrect to say that “nature” is
what conditions “human beings”, or the opposite, because clearly the two must interact –
indeed it is not possible to conceive of human beings without “nature” and even vice
versa because the concept of “nature” implies a “non-nature” which is clearly human
being. This principle is analytically valid because it serves to distinguish for analytical
purposes between different factors of human reality, but it is historically inapplicable if it
is considered purely from the standpoint of ontological analysis, because then its
conceptual framework becomes thoroughly ahistorical and indeed as banal as the first
component of the dialectical method! Any historical and socio-theoretical analysis that
identifies conflicts that cannot be resolved turns quite evidently into an ahistorical
hypostasis; in other words, it turns a problem of human agency into an ontological entity.

This is why only the third principle of the Hegelian-Marxian dialectical method, the principle of “the
negation of the negation”, is valid both for analytical and historical purposes – because it
reminds us that all analyses of antithetical and conflicting historical concepts must
include at the very least the possibility of the historical resolution, of the over-coming
and the super-session of any antagonism and conflict that may be the object of that
historical or socio-theoretical analysis. The problem with interpreting the dialectic in the
sequence thesis-antithesis-synthesis is quite simply that here the “syn-thesis” is meant to
preserve both the thesis and the anti-thesis. Yet, as Gramsci vehemently argued, the
antithesis does not preserve but rather it first negates and then dissolves (Auf-heben) the
thesis – which is why Hegel and Marx preferred to speak of “the negation of the negation”
(in which no part of the thesis is preserved, precisely because it is “negated” by the anti-
thesis) as the supersession of the conflict between thesis and antithesis. Here the moment
of antithesis, the antagonism as negation, must contain (hold and refrain at the same
time, see Cacciari, Il Potere che Frena on this notion of catechon, “containment”) the
moment of supersession of the antagonism – the negation of the negation.

Bobbio on Marxian dialectics:

Di fronte a due enti in contrasto, il metodo della com-[256]

penetrazione degli opposti, o meglio dell'azione reciproca,
conduce a mantenere entrambi i termini del contrasto e a
considerarli come condizionantisi a vicenda; al contrario, il
metodo della negazione della negazione conduce a considerare
il primo eliminato in un primo tempo dal secondo, e il
secondo eliminato in un secondo momento da un terzo termine.
Il primo metodo viene applicato a eventi simultanei, il
secondo, a eventi che si dispiegano nel tempo: perciò quest'ultimo
è un metodo per la comprensione della storia (vuoi della
storia della natura, vuoi della storia dell'uomo), (pp.255-6)

Lo strumento di questa comprensione unitaria era la [261]
dialettica come rilevazione delle opposizioni e loro risoluzione.
Solo che la unità concreta nello studio dello svolgimento
storico gli era apparsa come il risultato della sintesi
degli opposti (negazione della negazione), donde la categoria
del corso storico dell'umanità è il divenire; nello studio
scientifico della realtà, l'unità concreta gli apparve come il
risultato di una interrelazione degli enti che l'intelletto
astratto ha erroneamente isolati gli uni dagli altri ( azione
reciproca ) , donde la categoria unitaria della totalità organica.
Come il divenire è composto di diversi momenti in opposizione,
così la totalità organica è composta di diversi enti
in opposizione. La dialettica, come metodo di risoluzione
delle opposizioni, si presenta là come sintesi degli opposti,
qua come azione reciproca. Il divenire, in altre parole, è il
risultato di successive negazioni, o se si vuole di un continuo
superamento ( il terzo termine ) ; la totalità organica è il
risultato di un intrecciarsi delle reciproche relazioni degli
enti, o, se si vuole, di una integrazione ( che non risolve i
due termini in un terzo ), (Da Hobbes a Marx, pp.260-1).

Notice how in the quotation above Bobbio makes two mis-statements. The first is when he says
that the negation of the negation contains two moments whereby in the first moment the
negation eliminates the thesis, and in the second moment the negation of the negation
eliminates the negation. This is entirely misleading because “the negation of the
negation” is, yes, a separate moment from the negation, and the negation is in turn a
distinct moment of the thesis. But these “moments” are separate and distinct only as
“dialectical moments”, only as “aspects” of the antagonism, certainly not as
“chronological moments”! This means that the negation of the negation is a necessary dia-
logical moment of the negation and the negation is a moment of the thesis: – but these are
not chrono-logical moments that are separate in time! What is chrono-logical is only the
necessary extrinsication of the antagonism contained in the thesis in historical time. But
the thesis, its negation and the negation of the negation are dialectical aspects of the one
antagonism whose “resolution” (as Bobbio calls it; we prefer the term “supersession”)
must take place historically if the antagonism in question is indeed historical and not
“ontological”: they are not “moments” in a chrono-logical sense as Bobbio’s explication
would lead us to believe.

The second error is that whereby Bobbio confuses “the synthesis of opposites” with “the negation of
the negation”. As we saw above, and as Bobbio himself noted in a later review of
Gramsci’s use of the dialectic (cf. “Nota sulla dialettica in Gramsci”, in Gramsci e la
Concezione della Societa’ Civile) with the analytical acuity that was always his great
attribute as a thinker, this identification of synthesis and negation of the negation is quite
incorrect because, although both involve a form of historical becoming (Italian, divenire),
only the latter – the negation of the negation – specifies that the thesis is not preserved by
the antithesis but that both are entirely superseded! The notion of “syn-thesis” instead, as
the very name suggests, involves the preservation of the thesis in the antithesis as “syn-
chronic” and therefore ahistorical or “ana-lytical” moments. This is a point to which
Gramsci held fast (cf. the Quaderni on “Il Materialismo Storico”) – and it is in relation to
Gramsci’s interpretation of the dialectical method that Bobbio finally hits the mark on
this account where earlier (in Da Hobbes a Marx) he had failed to do so.

As Adorno most adroitly insists (in Lectures 1. pp6-7), the antithesis and its negation are already
contained in the thesis – this is why the thesis contains its antagonism -, but are not
contained by it because they explode the thesis – which is what is meant by “contra-
diction” intended historically as the “ex-plosion” of the thesis or the historical
extrinsication of the antithesis contained in the thesis and its resolution and supersession
in its negation, that is, the supersession of both thesis and the antithesis contained in it.
This is not a “triadic” movement of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. There is no “syn-thesis”
because the antagonism contained in the thesis (which is a concept that contains an object
that in turn contains real antagonism), which generates the antithesis, does not preserve
the thesis and the antithesis (as the syncretism of “synthesis” implies) but rather
“explodes” both (the thesis can no longer contain in itself the antagonism contained by
itself) and is resolved in the negation of the negation.

Nevertheless, what I intend to present to you as negative dialectics possesses something quite crucially related to the
concept of dialectics [6] in general - and this is something I wish to clarify at the outset. It is that the concept of
contradiction will play a central role here, more particularly, the contradiction in things themselves , contradiction in
the concept, not contradiction between concepts. (Lectures, pp.5-6)

Adorno should specify that there is “contradiction in the concept, not contradiction between
concepts” only because there is “antagonism in the object and therefore contradiction in
social relations themselves”. This is so because “the concept” cannot be isolated from its
“object”: the contradiction that negative dialectics addresses is in “the concept”; but this
is only because, most importantly, there is antagonism in “the object” or the historical
reality that the con-cept seeks to grasp (Latin, con-cepere, to grasp, to capture).

Moreover, there is no synthesis because the negation of the negation is not a “positive” – it is not
a Hegelian “reconciliation” but a real obliteration, overcoming and supersession of the
antagonism implicit in the thesis both as concept (ideology) and as real object

And this is why I would say in general… that the thesis that the negation of the negation is positive, an affirmation,
cannot be sustained. The negation of the negation does not result in a positive, or not automatically,
(Adorno, Lectures, p.17)

The later chapter in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics on “Concept and Categories” discusses the
importance of the “negative” use of dialectics. On Marx’s naturalism see A. Schmidt,
Marx’s Concept of Nature, and C. Luporini, Dialettica e Materialismo. Marx’s insistence on
“method” and particularly on “organic totality” as a conciliation of the nature/society
dichotomy is noted by Schmidt (pp.40ff) but without pointing out its defects –
“positivity” as against “negativity” of the dialectic which then cannot be seen as
“method” but at most as a critical tool. Schmidt correctly distinguishes between Marx’s
emphasis on the historical development of science as reflecting human interests and
needs and Engels’s quite erroneous application of “the dialectical method” to the
development of “nature” itself (!) as in the case of the cell as the “being-in-itself of the
organism”. It is one thing to apply the dialectical method negatively, it is another to
apply it “positively” – as often does Marx with the “reciprocal action” – to claim a
superior “com-prehension” of historical development as “organic totality”. And then it is
quite another thing to transfer, as Engels does, this dialectical analysis and critique to the
very internal development – not of the “science of nature” – but of “nature” itself! It is
one thing to claim that human science (of nature or of history) develops dialectically, and
quite another to opine that nature itself (whatever that is!) obeys dialectical laws!

Schmidt distinguishes between the Marxian application of dialectics to a unified natural-

historical realm whereby the two condition each other and the Engelsian application of
the dialectical method to nature and history as “separate” spheres such that the
dialectical method is abstracted from them and acquires a life of its own (pp.50ff). At
p.54, Schmidt concludes:

Schmidt is entirely right here. Yet, whilst he does chastise the Engelsian abuse of dialectics as “a
cosmic positive principle” (p.53), we cannot agree with his attempt to minimise or
obfuscate Marx’s own mistaken use of reciprocal action as a “positive” method of
understanding reality – even in the Marxian distinction between “investigation” and
“presentation”. Dialectics may be used only “negatively”, to sift out hypostases in
historical explanations – including “scientific methods” as objective procedures to find
out “scientific laws”. Schmidt believes that “dialectical contradictions” arise in human
history – which is right so long as we see these “contradictions” as “dia-logic” tools to
guide our “praxis” in a negative sense with regard to the interpretation of history – that is,
to correct hypostases and eliminate antinomies and apories (as applied to “concepts and
categories”, says Adorno) -, but not as intrinsic to human history except in the sense of
“antagonism”. History contains antagonisms, but not “dialectical contradictions”.

This is a point that applies most eminently to Lukacs’s own conception of “the dialectical
method”. And in fact, Schmidt does not fail to advert to Lukacs in his own “historical”
interpretation of this “positive” dialectical method, in direct contrast to Engels’s
“extension” of the “dialectical method” to “pre-human and extra-human nature” (p.55):
In the passage cited by Schmidt above Lukacs specifically refers to “the reciprocal action of
subject and object” – which means that he was referring to “historical” reality, which was
the only reality possible for Lukacs and his “identical subject-object” in HCC, (“an
attempt to out-Hegel Hegel”, p.xxiii) and not also to “pre-human and extra-human nature”
as Schmidt believes, because such an a-historical notion is inadmissible to Lukacs!
Schmidt misconstrues the Lukacsian interpretation of the dialectic in that he seems to
believe that whilst the third “law” (contradiction) cannot be applied to “nature”, at least
the second “law” – “the law of reciprocal action” - can be so applied: but Lukacs is
identifying “nature” with its human construct, “history”.

Again, Schmidt clearly maintains that there is such a thing as a “dialectics of nature”, as well as a
“pre-human and extra-human nature” that does obey the second “law of dialectics” –
that of “reciprocal action” – which is nonsense, whereas “human history” or “society” is
subject to all three “laws”. This Manichaean view of the “law of reciprocal action” as a
“method” to which “nature” is subjected is revealed unequivocally by Schmidt in this
statement at p.55:

In other words, only “the law of reciprocal action” may be applied to “nature-in-itself”, whereas
the law of negation of the negation can be applied only to human society. Note that
Schmidt seems to object to the interpretation of the dialectic as a “purely objective
domain of prehuman and extrahuman nature”, but has no objection to Engels’s
presentation of the dialectical method as “laws”, presumably because he approves of
Marx’s use of these “laws” to the “unified” (reciprocal action) field of nature and history.
At p.56:

Although the Marxian premise of a “unity” or “organic totality” of the interaction of nature and
society serves to minimise the damage of the “positive” use of dialectics whether in its
investigative or explicatory role, the fact remains that dialectics cannot be used either to
investigate or to explain anything at all! It is not a “positive method” full stop!

At p.57. Clearly here Schmidt elevates what can only be a negative use of dialectics, its dia-logic
character, to an actual positive role as a process that determines “human history in general”
– something that is quite inadmissible because it hypostatizes human history into a
“fixed” or “reified” or at least “determinable” process.

Lukacs denies that any principles of dialectics can be applied to a “nature” that is anything other
than a human construct: thus, he insists on the (equally Manichaean) dichotomy of
“history” and “nature” in Marx whereby “nature” is a human construct not just
conceptually but also as the product of human objectification – a Hegelian subversion of
Marx to which Schmidt rightly objects (at pp.77-8).
This problem of, as Schmidt puts it, “the relation of human beings inter se and with nature” is the
problem of metabolic interaction or production that we have been exploring thus far in
our study of Schumpeter at the level of human beings, or society, and the physical
environment. It is time to move now to the more specific aspect of how this metabolism
takes place – the question of human objectification and labour. Schmidt’s work was
published before Lukacs’s 1967 Preface where he seems to reply almost directly to
Schmidt’s criticism (and Colletti’s, outlined in the Preface to the Italian edition of
Schmidt’s work), and fully accepts it. What neither Schmidt nor Colletti or Lukacs do is
allow for the category of human needs that are meta-bolic in that they are the pro-duct of
human objectification as metabolic interaction between humans and their physical
environment (avoid the term “nature” which separates the environment from humans
rather than uniting the two immanently so that the two are distinct but not “opposing”).
There is no antagonism and therefore no dialectic between humans and their physical
environment: but antagonism is mediated nevertheless by human needs that involve the
environment (Um-welt, surrounding world).

All great Marxist theoreticians incorrectly pinpoint this immanent identification of human beings
with their physical environment through the notion of human needs as well as labour as
living activity or objectification precisely because they insist on this equivocal word
“nature” with its “ontological” overtones. (This is something that Heidegger wisely
avoids, preferring “physis”, Pathmarks, p.183.)

This mistaken dichotomy of “nature” and “society” which then gives rise to the view of “nature”
as an “ontological” category – as something “objectively separate” from human being –
and therefore to the translation of human praxis from its immanence to a transcendental
relation, is due in great part to the use of the word “nature” to describe what is really
“the surrounding environment” (Um-welt) of human beings and their metabolic
interaction with it. Lukacs provides a clear example of this misapprehension:

It is true that the attempt is made to explain all ideological phenomena by reference to their basis in economics but,
despite this, the purview of economics is narrowed down because its basic Marxist category, labor as the
mediator of the metabolic interaction between society and nature, is missing…
It is self-evident that this means the disappearance of the ontological objectivity of nature upon which this process of
change is based, (HCC, p.xvii).

Here we can see most clearly how easily “metabolic interaction” between human beings and their
environment (Um-welt) is confused with “the ontological objectivity of nature”, which then
again can be “unified” or “synthesised” with “society” through the dialectic of
“reciprocal action” leading to a static “organic totality” – something that Lucio Colletti
punctually does in the Preface to the Italian edition of Schmidt’s work where he praises
the author’s insistence on the phrase “dialectical materialism” (in opposition to the
Engelsian, then Stalinist, Diamat). (We will discuss Colletti shortly.)
Indeed it is this notion of “totality” that Lukacs defends as the still valid most important
contribution of HCC –

“It is undoubtedly one of the great achievements of HCC to have reinstated the category of totality in the
central position it had occupied throughout Marx’s works,” (HCC, p.xx).

And this despite the fact that Lukacs acknowledges, by citing his earlier summation in the book,
how his privileging of the notion of “totality” had been at the expense of “economics”: -

“It is not the primacy of economic motives in historical explanation that constitutes the decisive difference
between Marxism and bourgeois science, but the point of view of totality”.

Lukacs does not consider how these theoretical errors may have resulted from his abuse of “the
dialectical method”, which he had always identified as the “scientific” way of reaching
“the point of view of totality”, re-affirming instead its validity and its lasting centrality to
“orthodox Marxism” (at p.xx, HCC).
[Colletti on “unity” of Marxian method.] But alas these are flaws that have afflicted theoretical
Marxism as well. As an illustration, we can allude to Lucio Colletti’s remarks in Ideologia
e Societa’ (at p.16ff) where he discusses Schumpeter’s quotation above concerning Marx’s
ability to combine economic facts and theory in one indissolubly unified synthesis. At
first, Colletti agrees with us that this “chemical mixture” is due precisely to the strict
connection in Marxian economic theory between the interpersonal human side and the
relation of human beings as a species to their physical environment, in such a way that
economics is never seen as a question of mere (universal, eternal) “exchange” but is
indeed treated as a theorisation of the satisfaction and creation of physiological human
needs in which “pro-duction” – not “exchange”! – is the essential aspect. It is from the
perspective of the production of human needs that any distinction between “theory” and
“fact”, between “economics” and “sociology”, “nature” and “history” and – most
important for Marxist theory – “structure” and “superstructure” becomes illusory.

Colletti perceives the essential role of production, of metabolic interaction, to the theorisation of
capitalism. But then he immediately falls victim to the confusion of dialectical
“synthesis” – that is to say, the interpretation of Marxian dialectics as the synthesis of
thesis and antithesis, instead of as “the negation of the negation” - with the notion of
“organic totality”, of “unity”, of “the whole” – which is a trap into which much of what
we call theoretical Marxism has fallen in the past.

We can now understand how this unity of economics and sociology [14]
of nature and history in Marx does not signify an identity between the
terms. It involves neither a reduction of society to nature, nor of nature
to society; it does not reduce human society to an ant-hill, nor human life
to philosophical life. But we can also understand, conversely, how the
avoidance of these two unilateral antitheses on Marx’s part is due pre-
cisely to their organic composition, i.e. to their unification in a ‘whole’.
This whole is a totality, but a determinate totality; it is a synthesis of
distinct elements, it is a unity, but a unity of heterogeneous parts. From this
vantage point, it is easy to see (if in foreshortened form) both Marx's
debt to Hegel and the real distance that separates them. (pp.13-4)

Here Colletti confuses both the notion of “negation”, which he wrongly substitutes with
“synthesis”; and he confuses also the last two aspects of Marxian dialectics - one valid
and the other invalid, which, as we emphasised above - must be kept separate. He is
quite correct in insisting on the primacy of the process of pro-duction in the sense of
metabolic interaction that we have outlined in this work as the locus of political
antagonism in capitalism. This is essential to the notion of metabolic interaction or
production as a “becoming” (Bobbio’s divenire), that is, as a historical process of human
objectification that can be accompanied by historical forms of antagonism. But then, as
we are arguing, Colletti hypostatises this historical antagonism by insisting on the separate
antithetical analytical categories or “entities” of “nature” and “history” and their
“reunification” or “synthesis” only from the theoretical perspective of an “organic
totality” or “whole” – just like Schumpeter’s vision of “the social process as one individible
whole” or Lukacs’s notion of “totality”.
The problem with this notion of “totality”, as Bobbio splendidly explains, is that it depends on a
static antithetical opposition (economics/sociology, society/nature, nature/history) that
“does not resolve the two [opposing] terms [thesis and antithesis] into a third”, that is, into “the
negation of the negation” which is the supersession of this antithetical antagonism through
its historical extrinsication. Consequently, any theory that represents social reality as an
“organic totality”, as a “fixed” or “positive” entity, is not “dialectical” in that it does not
allow for the supersession (Hegel’s Aufhebung) of the social antagonism it seeks to theorise.
To refer to a dualism of “society” and “nature”, for instance, is to posit an antithesis that
cannot be superseded for the simple reason that neither “society” nor “nature” as
concepts will ever be able to be “negated”. In reality, the two terms are not antithetical at
all because there is no antagonism, no contra-diction within them that can be resolved

In expounding his argument, Colletti relies on Dobb, Political Economy and Capitalism, who also
focuses on the limitation of neoclassical theory to the sphere of exchange as a reason for
the disjunction in bourgeois economic theory between its logico-mathematical schemata
and empirical analysis. Unlike Colletti, however, Dobb does not see the metabolic side of
capitalist production, and refers instead to the emargination by bourgeois theory of all
“institutional and historical factors” – that is, its restriction of economic theory to “inter-
personal relations” and not to “political elements” or “superstructural” ones. Because
Dobb was a firm believer in the labour theory of value, to his mind the central
antagonism of capitalism lies in the unequal distribution of income which is due to
“superstructural” institutional factors, for it cannot possibly centre on antagonism in the
process of production because ultimately the value extracted from this process (that of
valorisation, as Marx calls it) is fixed! This is a flaw common to all theories, including
Marx’s, that share the labour theory of value – as we shall see shortly.

It is obvious how the labour theory of value, by insisting on the existence of a Law of Value that
determines prices “scientifically”, removes the focus from the sphere of metabolic
production – whence is derived its artificial separation of what it sees as the
superstructural aspects of capitalism from its presumably strictly economic or structural
aspects. The same applies to Lenin’s remarks (in the Philosophical Notebooks; see ch.1 in
Colletti’s Ideology and Society but researched in great detail in his Il Marxismo e Hegel in
turn discussed by K.Anderson in Lenin, Hegel and Western Marxism, pp223ff ) about how
Marxian analysis provides a “skeleton” that moves in lockstep, as it were, with “flesh-
and-blood” factual analysis.

(See also discussion in Schmidt’s chapter 2 on “Historical Mediation of Nature”.) The problematic
relationship of Marx’s labour theory of value (“the structure”) and the politico-economic
institutions of capitalism (“the superstructure”) will be examined next through a close
study of Marx’s seminal text A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Zur Kritik).

And then especially Lukacs in HCC – an excessively Hegelian derivation of his thought that he did not
“recant” even in the 1967 Preface. Lukacs thought that it was his confusion of alienation with
objectification that turned the notion of “totality” into an eschatology, when in fact his very
theorisation of alienation and reification as “the inability to see the totality” as against the
“fragmented” and “reified” form of alienated labour, and therefore the turning of dialectics into a
“method” (cf. p.xxvi), was the real culprit. Just as regrettable is the tendency to isolate this
“method” from political praxis which turns the real phenomena of alienation and reification –
Marx’s “fetishism of commodities” - from specific historical forms of political violence into
“necessary illusions” (Lukacs) that arise directly from the mere “rationalization” of the social
relations of production – as if indeed this “rationalization” could be based on any objective
“rationality” independent of what Weber styled as “the rational organisation of free labour under
the rigid discipline of the factory”. Again, Weber uses “rational” to describe “the rigid discipline
of the factory over free labour”. Yet, as we argued in our Weberbuch, “rationality” consists of this
“rigid discipline of the factory over free labour” and therefore it is superfluous or pleonastic to
describe this as “rational”. But if this were so, then it is impossible to see how we can dispel an
“illusion” that is “necessary” or how we can defeat a “necessity” that is “illusory”! The whole
question of “structure and superstructure” – which Bobbio defined as the crucial concept in
Marxism (in Gramsci) - turns thus into the obscurest of veils and into the most impenetrable
enigma – one that threatens to justify the mystique of “the leadership of the proletariat” charged
with applying the “dialectical method” to political reality so as to decipher its “totality”.

Lukacs rejects “the species” as an abstraction equal to that of “the individual”, see HCC, p193:

“The individual can never become the measure of all things. For when the individual confronts reality he is faced by a
complex of ready-made and unalterable objects…Only the class can react to the whole of reality in a
practical revolutionary way. (The ‘species’ cannot do this as it is no more than an individual that has been
stylised and mythologised in a spirit of contemplation.) And the class, too, can only manage it when it can
see through the reified objectivity of the given world to the process that is also its own fate.”

Heidegger’s more circumscribed phenomenological version is limited to the “authentic” ( eigentlich)

perception of everyday reality by the Da-sein as Zuhandenheit, as against its reified obverse,
Vorhandenheit. In each case, the historical subject capable of perceiving reality, whether
sociological (Lukacs) or ontological (Jaspers’s Um-greifende or “all-encompassing”) or
phenomenological (Heidegger), in its Totalitat is exalted against the “partial”, “fragmented”,
“inauthentic”, “reified” experience of “the mass” or “the petty bourgeoisie” or “the mob” in the
“everyday life” imposed by capitalism and its “technology” ( Tecknik). The confusion of
“technology” as a pro-duct with the ob-ject is featured in Heidegger’s discussion of Aristotle
(Pathmarks, p211). For Heidegger, only those who accept the being of physis and physis as being
go beyond the domination of subjectivity by technical means – Pathmarks, pp201-2; see also the
blatant elitism of the Einfuhrung discussed by Goldmann. At a political level, the “inauthentic”
perception of “reified” social reality leads to what Lukacs called “the false consciousness of the
proletariat” which therefore requires leadership by the Leninist Party to be guided back into
“totality”. Of course, Lukacs’s Leninist vision of totality suffers the same elitist fate!]

This “totality”, and not the univocality of inputs and outputs, that is, the “inevitability or apodicticity of
outcomes” (“whenever x, then y”), is what constitutes the “closedness” of Schumpeter’s
methodology. The confusion of “totality” and “inevitability” or apodicticity is the central error in
Lawson’s and Moura’s critiques of this kind of methodology. But the most important failure in
their critiques of neoclassical economic analysis as “closed systems” is that they do not see the
categorical imperative of this kind of bourgeois analysis: - to be able to reduce economic analysis
to “pure exchange” of “given resources” or “endowments” between “atomistic individuals”, and
thereby to hide the antagonism in the capitalist mode of production, instead of confronting the
actual metabolic production of fresh resources and human needs by a living organic community!
This flaw is shared by the classification of “closed” and “open” theories adopted by Langlois and
Loasby although their approach, relying more on “evolutionary change” than on “apodicticity”, is
much closer to our own outlined here. Strangely, Schumpeter did not heed the criticism of his
mentor Bohm-Bawerk against the “closedness” (Ab-schluss) of Marx’s schema of capitalist
reproduction (cf. Bohm-Bawerk, “Karl Marx and the ‘Close’ of His Theory”) and apply it to his
own Theorie. It was Marx’s view of human society and of its “reproduction” as a “totality” that
degenerates into an “eschatology” or a “prophetic destiny”, and ultimately into a simple tautology
(“it will be because it has to be; it has to be because it is in its definition” – thus, a simple
“equation”, a definition A=B, is translated into an aetiology, A causes B, and then into a historical
evolution, A becomes B) as Bohm-Bawerk intuited and Bobbio has explained (cf. Da Hobbes a