The Marxist writer Moishe Postone, best-known for his 1993 book Time, Labour, and Social Domination, died on 21 March at the age of 75.
He was also well known for his critique of left antisemitism.
Born in Canada, he first studied for a degree in biochemistry at Chicago University, but then moved to studying history. He recalled a big student occupation in 1969, and a reading group on Hegel and Marx which came out of it, as turning-points in his development.
He went to do further postgraduate study at Frankfurt University with Iring Fetscher, a philosopher in the tradition of the “Frankfurt School” of Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and others.
From that study Postone developed a critique of capitalism based on Marx and focused on the critique of labour (as labour is defined in capitalist society), which he contrasted to the critique of capitalist society from the point of view of labour which he saw as made by “traditional Marxism”. He discussed that critique with us in an interview: here.
Value-relations in capitalist society, he argued, generated abstract “forms of domination [which] go beyond the domination of the bourgeoisie over other classes, because they dominate the bourgeoisie as well, though of course the bourgeoisie benefit enormously from them”.
Like many writers influenced by the Frankfurt School, he saw Stalinism as a form of state capitalism rather than a sort of progress.
The “pseudo-emancipatory” aspect of antisemitism, in Postone’s view, is generated by its superstitious identification of those abstract and impersonal forms of domination with a supposed personal power of Jews. (See here and here for Solidarity interviews with Postone on that question).
After returning from Germany, he spent over 30 years as an academic at Chicago University, where he influenced many generations of left-wing students.