I have already highlighted an article on Nazism and anti-Semitism by Moishe Postone that Voyou has linked to. Postone first came to my attention due to the extensive passages in Living in the End Times in which Zizek engages with his work, and this article convinces me that I definitely need to take a closer look. In it, Postone argues that we need to view Nazism as a kind of misconceived rebellion against capitalism, in which anti-Semitic ideology plays a determinate functional role. The whole piece is definitely worth reading, but I want to highlight one portion that particularly struck me.
The form of materialized social relations specific to capitalism appears on this level of the analysis as the opposition between money, as abstract, and “thingly” nature. One aspect of the fetish, then, is that capitalist social relations do not appear as such and, moreover, present themselves antinomically, as the opposition of the abstract and concrete. Because, additionally, both sides of the antinomy are objectified, each appears to be quasi-natural. The abstract dimension appears in the form of abstract, universal, “objective,” natural laws; the concrete dimension appears as pure “thingly” nature.
The structure of alienated social relations that characterize capitalism has the form of a quasi-natural antinomy in which the social and historical do not appear. *This antinomy is recapitulated as the opposition between positivist and romantic forms of thought.* Most critical analyses of fetishized thought have concentrated on that strand of the antinomy that hypostatizes the abstract as transhistorical—so-called positive bourgeois thought—and thereby disguises the social and historical character of existing relations. In this essay, the other strand will be emphasized—that of forms of romanticism and revolt which, in terms of their own self-understandings, are antibourgeois, but which in fact hypostatize the concrete and thereby remain bound within the antinomy of capitalist social relations.
Forms of anticapitalist thought that remain bound within the immediacy of this antinomy tend to perceive capitalism, and that which is specific to that social formation, only in terms of the manifestations of the abstract dimension of the antinomy; so, for instance, money is considered the “root of all evil.” The existent concrete dimension is then positively opposed to it as the “natural” or ontologically human, which presumably stands outside the specificity of capitalist society. Thus, as with Proudhon, for example, concrete labor is understood as the noncapitalist moment opposed to the abstractness of money. That concrete labor itself incorporates and is materially formed by capitalist social relations is not understood.
While reading this passage, I thought of the quote from Frank Sobotka of The Wire: “We used to make things in this country — now we’ve just got our hand in the next guy’s pocket.” This is a common sentiment, particularly in places with a strong history of unionism (like my home state of Michigan). What it fails to perceive, however, is that “making things” is precisely a way of putting your hand in the next guy’s pocket. Specifically, the stevedores have no great passion for unloading freight as such — indeed, Sobotka views an automated and much more effective system of unloading freight as a “nightmare” — but instead as a way of providing more paid labor. The very way that they refer to their work, “getting days,” shows that their labor is in its own way as abstract as money.
Why should we privilege the concrete over the universal like this? What is so self-evidently better about manufacturing rather than, for instance, providing forms of social insurance (which is a finance operation)? Will Americans make better and more relevant tchotchkes and novelty t-shirts than the Chinese, for instance? Indeed, one could argue that once the level of production has reached the point necessary to provide basic necessities and comfort to everyone, focusing on purely “financial” operations like social insurance or redistribution of wealth is the best way to advance a society’s quality of life. There is nothing inherently evil or destructive about abstraction as such — nor is there anything inherently wonderful about concreteness and thinghood.
It is at this point that I’d like to reopen old debates here and suggest that this article’s logic provides support for my extremely unpopular position that localism occupies a fundamentally right-wing political space.