Re: [OPE-L] Marx and Philosophy Society Annual Conference

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Tue May 16 2006 - 06:10:01 EDT

Here are the abstracts for the May 27 MPS conference in London
which I told you about on April 21. See <>
for further details on the conference.

In solidarity, Jerry


      (1) Bob Cannon 'Capitalism, Fetishism and Modernity'

      In this paper I argue that a progressive critique of capitalism is
impossible in the absence of modernity's normative resources. This
means taking issue with social commentators that identify modernity
with capitalism either to discredit the former (Jameson) or to
validate the latter (Habermas). To this end, I argue that the
legitimacy of modernity is grounded in the norm of
self-constitution. This sets modernity in opposition to pre-modern
conceptions of morality, which acquire their legitimacy from (a
combination of) tradition, nature and the divine. From a modern
perspective social rules are only valid if they express the ends of
those to whom they apply. This sets morality apart from the natural
world, upon which it previously claimed to be grounded. The
separation of nature and sociality is central to a modern conception
of rationality. To be rational in the modern sense of the term,
argues Kant, is to treat objects as mere means to an end and human
beings as ends in themselves. This is the normative foundation upon
which the notion of fetishism rests. Social practices that attribute
ends to objects and reduce agents to the status of mere objects
appear fetishistic (invalid, irrational and pre-modern) from a
modern perspective. According to Marx, capitalism is fetishistic
because it comprises a self-constituting system with its own
objective imperatives, in which capital (self-valorizing value)
acquires the status of a 'subject' and labour is reduced to a mere
'instrument' of production. However, because Marx fails to put his
critique of capitalism upon a normative foundation he violates the
normative criteria upon which his critique is predicated. Instead,
he performs an 'objective' critique of capitalism, which treats
self-constitution as a natural property of (purposive) labour. This
not only renders capitalism's capacity for self-constitution a mere
'illusion' - with all its attendant epistemological problems. It
also usurps the normative standpoint of agents for whom capitalism's
self-constituting 'reality' is unjust, immoral and invalid. Only by
grounding the critique of capitalism in the struggles of agents
(above all the labour movement) to redeem the normative promise of
modernity is it possible to render the former consistent with the

      (2) Drew Milne 'Michel Henry's Marx: The Ontology of Labour'

      Michel Henry's Marx (1976 / trans. 1983) poses a number of questions
for the future of socialism. Henry's interpretation of Marx as a
philosopher focuses on the 'ontological insufficiency' of economic
reality as it is determined through processes of abstraction from
human praxis. Against the abstractions of labour and the labour
process, Henry claims that Marx continually sought to discern what
Henry calls the 'subjective essence of production', its production
and preservation through living labour. The resulting conception of
socialism is not one in which labour becomes the ontological ground
of production and social being, however, but a radical reconception
of the relation between labour and life. Rather than reappropriating
alienated labour, Henry's conception of socialism builds on the
dissociation in capitalism between the production process and the
labour process, so as to transcend economic reality.

      Henry's interpretation of Marx proposes an unusual reconciliation
between phenomenology and historical materialism, but one which is
hostile to most Marxist interpretations of Marx, notably
Althusser's. Against the tendency in Henry's account to reduce Marx
to a philosophical text, this paper seeks some reconciliation
between the problems posed by Henry and Marxism, offering an
introduction to Henry's Marx which is nevertheless critical. This
paper also takes with Jacques Derrida's attempts to displace Henry's
account in Spectres of Marx, arguing that there is more to contend
with in Henry's account than a 'philosophy of life'. The conception
of 'living labour' in Marx's theory of value and the consequences
for a political conception of praxis emerge as conceptual problems
which are still important for twenty-first century Marxist thought.
The paper concludes with some comments on Henry's Marx seen through
the perspectives offered by McKenzie Wark's A Hacker Manifesto
(2004). How might a new politics of solidarity conceive the
internationalism of labour, including intellectual labour, within
contemporary capitalism?

      (3) Mark Neocleous 'The Politics and Philosophy of Redemption:
Marxism, National Socialism, and the Dead'

      This paper aims to build an argument about the place of the dead
within Marxism. I suggest that while Marx had good reasons for
arguing that we should 'let the dead bury their dead', a phrase he
was fond of using, this is a dangerous political move, as it leaves
the dead to be appropriated by the political Right. This
appropriation will be explored through a number of sources in and
around National Socialism, from populist sloganeering to Heidegger's
arguments about death. In response, the paper will propose that we
need to find a way to incorporate a very different argument about
the dead into Marxism. This will have its roots in the idea of
redemption, an idea excavated via the work of Walter Benjamin, and
which can then be set against the fascist notion of resurrection.

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