A blog post

Alfred Sohn-Rethel

Posted on the 02 March, 2013 at 6:45 pm Written by in Quotes

“The exchange abstraction”, Alfred Sohn-Rethel wrote, “is not thought, but it has the form of thought” (Manual and Mental Labour,  1975).

The commodity exchange type of generalization, as a socially effective “real abstraction”, plays a major role for how we think about nature and society, according to Sohn-Rethel.

A fairly good, but superficial, summary of Sohn-Rethel’s view has been published here. For further critical discussion see: Slater, Phil, ed.: Outlines To A Critique of Technology. Inks Links, London 1980.

Historically, one might add that, in times of need, “the naked woman learns to spin” as the Norwegian saying goes.

Although Sohn-Rethel with his seriousness about Marx’s commodity form analysis was probably already “a black sheep” of the Frankfurter school before the war, it was he, and not some culture, discourse or ideology analyst (e g Adorno or Horkheimer) of the same school that the conservative Churchill government hired for an economic report on Nazi Germany in the middle of the second w0rld war – at a time when the war needs were most pressing. The Churchill government certainly did not like Marxists, but Sohn-Rethel was probably seen as a comparatively realist researcher with special background knowledge.

In his report, Economy and Class Struggle of German Fascism, Sohn-Rethel tried to analyse German capital formations and how they became so aggressive, with a text that includes important observations on Hitler’s appeal as a “empty abstraction” type of leader. I do not know how the work was evaluated. I read it many years ago. It tells a quite complex story. My impression was that he got clustered by the new deal, trying to think up some greater “logic” of the Nazi empire. The arguments are not always convincing. The interesting thing, for now, is that the report was made. Habermas, Marcus or others could have been chosen, but were not. In times of need.

Sohn-Rethel’s observations of German capitalism has some relevance for the US too, evidence here.

A critique is published here.