Constructing a Critical Political Theory

by Stephen Eric Bronner
  1. The primacy of the Communist Party was achieved with its destruction of the Kronstadt Soviet in 1921. For a background, see Samuel Farber, Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy (London: Verso, 1990), pp. 19-88,188-195 and Paul Avrich, Kronstadt 1921 (New York: Norton, 1970).
  2. For a more complete discussion, see Stephen Eric Bronner, Of Critical Theory and Its Theorists 2nd Ed. (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 11-67
  3. With orthodox Marxism, “the dialectical method was overthrown and with it the methodological supremacy of the totality over the individual aspects; the parts were prevented from finding their definition within the whole and, instead, the whole [namely, capitalism] was dismissed as unscientific or else, it degenerated into the mere ‘idea’ or ‘sum’ of the parts. With the totality out of the way, the fetishistic relations of the isolated parts appeared as a timeless law valid for every human society.” Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971), p. 9.
  4. According to the prevailing Marxist wisdom, which saw the revolution as ultimately taking place in the most economically advanced nation, it should not have broken out in an economically underdeveloped country like Imperial Russia. That the communist revolution occurred there was for this new generation not merely a vindication of Lenin but a “revolution against Das Kapital.” Antonio Gramsci, “The Revolution Against ‘Capital’” in Selections from Political Writings 1910-1920 ed. Quintin Hoare and trans. John Matthews (New York: International Publishers, 1977), pp. 34ff.
  5. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, p. 24.
  6. The point was to develop a “conception of Marxism that was quite undogmatic and anti-dogmatic, historical and critical, and which was therefore materialist in the strictest sense of the word. This conception involved the application of the materialist conception of history to the materialist conception of history itself.” Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy tr. Fred Halliday (London: New Left Books, 1970), pp. 92ff and 43.
  7. Russell Jacoby, The Dialectics of Defeat: The Contours of Western Marxism 2nd Ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
  8. In spite of his critical attitude toward the communist movement, and his withering contempt for orthodox Marxism and social democracy, Max Horkheimer thus lauded the idea of workers’ councils as late as 1940. See, Rolf Wiggershaus, Die Frankfurter Schule: Geschichte, Theoretische Entwicklung, Politische Bedeutung (Frankfurt: DTV, 1988), p. 66.
  9. Friedrich Pollock, “State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations” in Critical Theory and Society: A Reader, eds. Stephen Eric Bronner and Douglas Mack-ay Kellner (New York: Routledge, 1989), pp. 95ff.
  10. Erich Fromm, The Working Class in Weimar Germany: A Psychological and Sociological Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984).
  11. Max Horkheimer, “The Authoritarian State” (1940) in Telos #15 (Spring, 1973), pp. 3ff.
  12. Note the classic essays, “Materialism and Metaphysics” and “Traditional and Critical Theory,” by Max Horkheimer, Critical Theory: Selected Essays, tr. Matthew J. O’Connell et al. (New York: Continuum, 1982), pp. 10ff and 188ff.
  13. See, for a critique of this position, Stephen Eric Bronner, “The Limits of Metatheory: Political Reflections on Dialectic of Enlightenment” in Imagining the Possible: Radical Politics for Conservative Times (New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 103ff.
  14. “If today the subject is vanishing, aphorisms take upon themselves the duty to consider the evanescent itself as essential. They insist . . . on negativity.” The-odor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: New Left Books, 1974), p. 16. Also note the famous lecture by Theodor Adorno, “The Actuality of Philosophy” (1931) in Telos #31 (Spring, 1977), pp. 120ff.
  15. “The less identity can be assured between subject and object, the more contradictory are the demands made upon the cognitive subject, upon its unfettered strength and candid self-reflection.”Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, tr. E.B. Ashton (New York: Seabury Press, 1973), p. 31.
  16. “Happiness is an accidental moment of art, less important than the happiness that attends the knowledge of art. In short, the very idea that enjoyment is of the essence of art deserves to be overthrown.” T.W Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, ed. Gretl Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann and tr. C. Lenhardt (London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 22.
  17. Note the classic study by Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941).
  18. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (London: International Publishers, 1963) 38:276.
  19. “There are two basic elements linking materialism to correct social theory: concern with human happiness, and the conviction that it can be attained only through a transformation of the material conditions of existence.” Herbert Marcuse, “Philosophy and Critical Theory” in Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Boston: Beacon, 1969), p. 135.
  20. Marcuse, “On Hedonism” in Negations, pp. 191-2.
  21. Marcuse, “The Affirmative Character of Culture”(1937) in Negations, p. 122.
  22. Herbert Marcuse, “Proto-Socialism and Late Capitalism: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis Based on Bahro’s Analysis” in Rudolf Bahro: Critical Responses (White Plains, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1980), pp. 25ff.
  23. Herbert Marcuse, “Contributions to a Phenomenology of Historical Materialism” (1928) in Telos, 4 (St. Louis, 1969), pp. 3ff.
  24. Bronner, “Utopia, Aesthetics, Revolution: Herbert Marcuse and the Radical Imagination” in Of Critical Theory and Its Theorists, pp. 172ff.
  25. Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Dialectics (Boston: Beacon, 1978), p. 73.
  26. For a discussion of the “inner relation” between liberal and totalitarian society, see Marcuse,“The Struggle Against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View of the State” (1934) in Negations, pp. 3ff.
  27. Herbert Marcuse, Counter-Revolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972), pp. 22ff.
  28. Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension, pp. 9, 31 and passim.
  29. Note the withering critique of Marcuse’s stance, which emphasizes the need for an ontological rather than a speculative approach when dealing with nature and science, see Jurgen Habermas, “Technology and Science as ‘Ideology:’” in Toward a Rational Society: Student Protest, Science, and Politics tr. Jeremy J. Shapiro (Beacon: Boston, 1970), pp. 81ff.
  30. Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr (New York: New American Library, 1971), p. 344.
  31. Note the more elaborate discussion, which seeks to generate some categories for differentiating the radical possibilities of artistic works, in Stephen Eric Bronner, “Expressionism and Marxism: Towards an Aesthetic of Emancipation” in Passion and Rebellion: The Expressionist Heritage, eds. Stephen Eric Bronner and Douglas Kellner (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), pp. 411ff.
  32. See Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Illuminations ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), pgs. 217ff; Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer” in Understanding Brecht trans. Anna Bostock (London: New Left Books, 1973), pp. 85ff.
  33. Herbert Marcuse, Soviet Marxism: A Critical Analysis (New York: Vintage, 1961).
  34. Bronner, Of Critical Theory and Its Theorists, pp. 241-3.
  35. Bronner, Socialism Unbound., pp. 164-7.