The Works of the Historian and Marxist Theorist Moishe Postone

Moishe Postone

Below you will find download links for several of the works of the historian and Marxist theorist Moishe Postone.  Postone offers a very original (and some might say heterodox) reading of Marx’s more mature social theory, from the Grundrisse up through all three volumes of Capital.  His most influential work in this regard is his excellent Time, Labor, and Social Domination, in which he elaborates a critical theory founded upon Marx’s theory of society, building upon the Frankfurt School tradition of Georg Lukács , Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Jürgen Habermas as well as engaging the French structuralist school Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar.  His other works focus on the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu as well as on the nature of antisemitism and its relation to certain characteristics of capitalism.

I was fortunate enough to be able to take two courses with Professor Postone, in his close reading of Capital.  He was both brilliant and thorough throughout.  It was a pleasure studying under him, and I consider my own work to be deeply influenced by him, albeit critically.  And so I heartily recommend checking out all of the following works:

  1. Moishe Postone – Time, Labor, and Social Domination
  2. Moishe Postone – History and Heteronomy – Critical Essays
  3. Moishe Postone – Theorizing the Contemporary World – Brenner, Arrighi, Harvey
  4. Moishe Postone – Anti-Semitism and National Socialism – Notes on the German Reaction to “Holocaust”
  5. Moishe Postone – Critical Social Theory and the Contemporary World
  6. Moishe Postone – Critical Pessimism and the Limits of Traditional Marxism

10 thoughts on “The Works of the Historian and Marxist Theorist Moishe Postone

  1. I read some of his writing at the British Schachtmanite group Worker’s Liberty group. That group still hasn’t called for US withdrawal from Iraq.

    The Bolsheviks didn’t organize worker’s along national/religious lines. That is where they parted with the Bund. The IMT in Spain, never had national groupings, based on separatist movements.

    I’d like him to comment on the IMT’s position on Israel and Palestine. The IMT’s position in a nutshell, is that Israel/Palestine has no national solution. We call for the right of self determination for Arabs, Jews and Kurds, as part of a socialist federation of Middle Eastern states. Both Fatah and Hamas leading a Palestinian state, would be a ruthless dictatorship. The IMT is small in Israel. We did work in the Israeli Labor Party and the Histadrut. In Tel Aviv the Communist Party got 35% of the votes for mayor, we work in the CP.

    I don’t buy his state capitalist stuff. Where is the capitalist class? Ted Grant’s proletarian Bonapartism idea, and the idea of a transitional state, better describes Cuba etc. Would he say Castro is a capitalist?

    Zionism needs antisemitism, and the reverse. It is weakening among Jews, because modern capitalism made it so there are no occupations unique to Jews.

    I’d like him to name one law, that is specific against Jews? Zionists historically never fight antisemitism. It has always been about making deals, for a utopian land.

    • The “state capitalism” part minus the capitalist class comes out of his analysis of Capital. Postone’s claim is that the central category for Marx (at least in his later writings) is capital itself, rather than class struggle. While class struggle almost invariably exists wherever capitalism asserts itself, it remains capitalism so long as the majority of the products it produces are commodities. That is to say, even with just the proletariat (or a government acting their name) in charge of an isolated state, it’s still fundamentally capitalist if the basis of production is the self-valorization of value.

      By the way, he’s not aligned with Worker’s Liberty or any Trotskyite group, though he doesn’t mind Trotskyism in general. He loathes Maoism, obviously.

  2. In deformed workers states, power is based on nationalized property. In a capitalist country, power is based on private ownership. The results of believing the old Soviet Union was state capitalist, was devastating. It led to support by various leftists, for the Cold War.

    It is not always easy, but defending deformed workers state against imperialist attack, is a duty.

    Workers Liberty publish interviews with him. They are in agreement with him, on essential issues.

  3. I understand, but he certainly did not support the U.S. in its cold war against the Soviet Union, and he opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam.

    One of Postone’s other contentions, which I somewhat agree with, is that private ownership is not the foundation of capitalism. You can have nationalized ownership of the means of production, but still be producing commodities. And as Marx wrote emphatically, any society in which the majority of its products are commodities is capitalist, because of the self-valorization of value.

    Besides, with Cuba, though I would agree that Castro could easily fit into the category of a Bonapartist, it wouldn’t be a pure proletarian Bonapartism. Too much of his revolution was centered around populist agrarian agendas for it to be really considered working-class.

  4. Commodity production would occur post capitalism in a transitioning society. Nationalizations would only occur at the commanding heights of the economy. Unlike anarchists, we see a transitional phase.

    The argument between the idea of degenerate workers states and the idea of state capitalism, is historically more than semantics. Differences between James Cannon and Al Schachtman is about what evolved to a revolutionary socialist perspective against what became a pro-Cold War perspective.

    Ted Grant expanded Trotsky’s idea of proletarian Bonapartism. Ted used the term “transitional state,” for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe etc. Neither capitalist or socialist.

    Cuba was so based on the Soviet Union 1959 model, I’d call it proletarian Bonapartist. Raul Castro has illusions in the Chinese model of capitalism. He is woefully mistaken, if he thinks the free healthcare would continue.

    Cuba is a small country, that would be relatively poor no matter what system. If Venezuela goes right, then Cuba is done.

    • Yes, of course I certainly agree that a transitional phase would be necessary before the commodity-form could finally be abolished. Lenin laid that all out in State and Revolution.

      I’m aware of the debate between Max Schachtman on the one side and Trotsky and Cannon on the other.

      I suppose I could accept a “transitional phase” of commodity production with state control of the heights of industry, but even on account of this transitional character one would have to admit that vestiges of capitalism remain. And given the duration of the Soviet Union’s continued overwhelming production of commodities, I think it is safe to say that they never completed the transition, and instead imploded.

      Regarding Postone specifically, though, he is somewhat of an anomaly. He is very influential in Germany, with certain circles of exegetical Marxists and young, anti-nationalist radical organizations. Postone’s certainly not aligned with any of the existent Trotskyist organizations, though. He’s more of an academic Marxist, who I think has provided brilliant insight into Marx’s socioeconomic thought but has failed to draw out the political consequences. That’s my main criticism of his work.

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  6. If there was a state capitalist class, the first thing they’d do, is kill a Stalin or Castro.

    I think a country like Cuba, without a strong working class or capitalist class, naturally will have a Bonapartist government.

    I would call it a bureaucracy, not a class.

    The IMT is from British Trotskyism. Ted Grant thought James Cannon was a good organizer and agitator. His group was plagued with pragmatism, just like Schachtman’s. The other thing is, they provided poor security for Trotsky.

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