We have been critical of Marxism here but this is not the same as what we see in this book which, however, has some important issues. The question of the Frankfurt school is hard to resolve but as a critic of Marxism I include the Frankfurt school in the general critique. We have cited a quotation from the MR article: it is as obscurantist as anything in the Frankfurt Group. The discussion of the commodification of labor is both profound and yet sophistical. Who can understand a Marxism based on these abstractions of the Marx canon, always subjected to the confusions inherited from the Marx era. If the point however is to challenge the failure to focus on the working class, OK. But in general, Marxism doesn’t make any sense. Is the paragraph below of much help to the working class? It is very hard to know what the core of Marxism is really about. A kind of fetishism of Marx arcana seems to reign over the practical tasks of bringing about socialism. The commodification of labor is a crucial point of discussion but these renderings end up creating a peculiar metaphysics that is impossible to resolve, or for that matter even understand. And the psychology emerging from Marx is at best plain scientism, unable to resolve itself to an account of consciousness. In any case the capitalist system remains in place. A new start is needed:
We have proposed instead to simply ditch Marxism and start over beyond its theoretical confusions but also to be able to consider its class focus on class, ideology. Without complicated theory. Once we do that we can certainly put Marx in a larger perspective of the challenge to emerging capitalism of the early socialists whose work Marx annexed to a system that is flawed. We have created a recipe approach instead of theory. And we can see via a new approach to history as in the eonic model that the general understanding of evolution and history both is fallacious theory.
The result is a simple yet complex model of social reconstruction in a way that echoes the Marx formulation but is in fact more comprehensible and practical. The DMNC model simply makes the task of equality beyond exploitation a constitutional fiat of all the social democratic goals of liberated labor that are envisioned from class struggle.
That class struggle might be needed to transition to such a model is more or less clear, but the task can be achieved without theory, and in terms of the idea of a Universal Class. If a revolution toward DMNC could occur via a working-class struggle/revolution, be my guest. But most of the working class now in the US is really middle class. In the context of globalization, that is less true. But the question that is key is, how to construct a real socialism? Marxism can’t even answer that question.
The stunting of the mass-media consumer’s powers of imagination and spontaneity does not have to be traced back to any psychological mechanisms; he must ascribe the loss of those attributes to the objective nature of the products themselves, especially to the most characteristic of them, the sound film (p.23).
As McKenna argues, this is an elitist approach, and, despite its influence amongst some calling themselves Marxists, it has nothing to do with Marxism. Commodification does have an impact on working-class consciousness, but this is not because of the mass production of culture, which will be an essential part of any socialist society, but because of the commodification of labour power.
As Marx explained, and the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács further elaborated, the commodification of workers’ labour makes exploitation appear as the mere exchange of equivalents–a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work–when it actually involves the robbery by the capitalist of a portion of unpaid labour. As McKenna says, this was for Lukács, ‘the essence of reification, the moment when social relationships appear in the guise of things’ (p.29).
This is a crucial distinction. Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique can only end in a one-sided pessimism. Marx and Lukács’ understanding of reification not only leads away from the cultural snobbery of seeing mass production as a problem, but it also contains within it the possibility of change. When workers become aware of the nature of commodification they can also become aware of the possibility of challenging it. This is because, unlike any other commodity, they are fully conscious beings and they experience their commodification as the appropriation of part of their own labour power by the bosses.
Tony McKenna’s new book is an important defence of Marxism, against thinkers who have confused and obscured its revolutionary core, argues Chris Nineham