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In the Hotel Abyss

Studies in Critical
Social Sciences
Series Editor

David Fasenfest

Wayne State University

Editorial Board

Chris Chase-Dunn, University of California-Riverside

G. William Domhofff, University of California-Santa Cruz
Colette Fagan, Manchester University
Martha Gimenez, University of Colorado, Boulder
Heidi Gottfried, Wayne State University
Karin Gottschall, University of Bremen
Bob Jessop, Lancaster University
Rhonda Levine, Colgate University
Jacqueline OReilly, University of Brighton
Mary Romero, Arizona State University
Chizuko Ueno, University of Tokyo


The titles published in this series are listed at

In the Hotel Abyss

An Hegelian-Marxist Critique of Adorno


Robert Lanning


Cover illustration: Sun Streaks by Eric Lanning.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lanning, Robert,d1948In the hotel abyss : an Hegelian-Marxist critique of Adorno / By Robert Lanning.
pages cm. -- (Studies in critical social sciences ; volume 60)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-90-04-24898-4 (hardback : alk. paper) 1. Adorno, Theodor W., 1903-1969. 2. Methodology.
3. Marx, Karl, 1818-1883. 4. Dialectic. 5. Critical theory. 6. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 1770-1831.
I. Title.
B3199.A34L36 2013

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Background and Context9
The Orientation of the Present Study 15
Adornos Form of Presentation 17
Theory and Practice 22
The Management of Politics and Personal Relations 25
The Socio-Historical Context 27
2Hegel, Marx, Dialectics 30
The Individual 34
Being and Self-consciousness 37
Becoming 42
Contradiction 44
Hegels Positivity, Critical Theorys Positivism 46
A Note on Dialectical Logic 50
Mediation 51
3Aspects of Adornos Method: Constellations and Images 61
Adornos Bilderverbot and the Negation of Messianism 77
4Jazz, Radio and the Masses 83
The Masses and the Culture Industries 86
The Jazz Essays 89
Marx, Music and Relative Autonomy101
Black Influence and Historical Materialist Analysis105
5The Masses and Pro-fascist Propaganda120
Pro-Fascism and the Masses124
Irrationalism as the Basis of Analysis127
Lowenthals Anti-Fascist Writings130
Adornos Study of Martin Luther Thomas132
The Approach of Others to Antifascism143



Hegelian Mediation162
Adornos Mediation165
7Negative Dialectic, Identity and Exchange172
Negative Thought172
The Positive Moment in Dialectics176
Identity and Identity Thinking184
Concept and Identity193


Of the major points of Marxs work, the most pertinent was that his
method could expose the contradictions of capitalism and contribute to
the organization of an alternative to it. In other words, it is possible to get
from the initiation of critique to socialism. With much of Adornos work,
that is not the case, neither in the method nor the expectation. The argument in this book is directed at the difference.
Marx employed dialectics as the method of his orientation to political
economy (1967: 30), to be able to reason through the experience of capitalism. For Hegel, dialectics was essentially the connection of elements of
experience: this dialectical movement which consciousness exercises on
itself and which effects both its knowledge and its object, is precisely what
is called experience (1977: 55). Adorno rejected Hegels view of dialectics
and experience as simply part of the idealist machinery (1973: 7). He did
not consider dialectics a method, a pure method (1973: 144), but acknowledged the necessity of beginning with matter rather than thought, unreconciled, contradictory matter. Unreconciled, contradictory reality resists
unanimous interpretation; contradiction existing in reality is a contradiction against reality (1973: 144145). The notion of contradiction being
located in reality and, therefore, against it certainly holds. But while it
may be a contradiction against the whole of reality, as in the reality of
capi talism the social process as a whole, as we will see later it is, most
often, against a part of reality, a moment, with the complex of internal
relations connecting all other parts to the whole clearly in mind. If not,
how do we treat the contradictions of reality that are sublated by the
partial and momentary resolution of the original contradiction? Adornos
position is that no meaningful change in society is possible until the entire
structure, ideology and existing culture industries of capitalism have been
completely overcome. He embeds his theoretical orientation in a categorical approach, seeing contradiction as finality rather than an expression of
both the process of thought and the process of a changeable reality. Thus,
the contradiction in question is against the whole of reality taken categorically and absolutely. The philosophical orientation is on thinking and
interpretation devoid of a structure for thinking through actual political

chapter one

change. The contradiction, rather, should be searched to its source, as the

basis of developing adequate knowledge of process, development and
change. But a perspective on actual politically-driven change is absent in
Adornos work; his dialectics are dialectics of collapse, dissolution, and
Acknowledging that dialectics is thinking in contradictions, and on the
basis of his concern to repudiate all forms of identity, Adorno asserts that
his dialectics cannot be reconciled with Hegels which, by implication,
tend[s] to the identity in the difference between each object and its concept (1973: 145). In relation to this, he begins Negative Dialectics placing
the core principle of dialectics, non-identity in his view, against logics
principle of the excluded middle, that whatever differs in quality, comes
to be designated as contradiction. Dialectics, on the other hand, at its
inception is the consistent sense of non-identity (Adorno 1973: 5).
Contradiction, barred from the structure of formal logic, finds its home in
Adorno is correct about the difference between formal logic and dialectics. But herein lies the essential twofold problem in his recognition of the
absence of the excluded middle in formal logic: first, the limits that any
contradiction possesses for developing its relations with the reality in
which it arose and in which it remains in sublation, albeit residually; secondly, the contradiction, in itself and in the process of sublation, constitutes the excluded middle, the de-legitimizing of formal logic, the progress
of materialist dialectics. The core of Adornos dialectics is non-identity;
non-identity, as he conceives it, is categorical and, as such, does not bridge
the two moments of this process. In the excluded middle we see the
moments of the process of change that leads to the sublation aufhebung,
transcendence and preservation. From such processes of transformation a
space is opened further to witness and to reason, to see political reality
meet its limits and its master, the historical subject carried forward by its
own consciousness.
Bertell Ollman argues that dialectics is a form of thought and analysis,
it proves nothing, predicts nothing and causes nothing to happen (1993:
10). In that sense, Adorno rightly states that dialectics does not begin by
taking a standpoint. But as philosophy it only operates as a human product and cannot be isolated from the human context; thought requires a
thinker, the thinker thinks in and about particular times, places, events
and conditions, however much he or she may wish to be insulated from
the context and its obligations. Dialectics, logic, in themselves, are prior to
any partisan, politically-driven viewpoint. It is the exposure to ideas,

determinations, empirical evidence that produces choices precisely
because of the method underlying the analysis. In this sense, Adorno is
correct to say, Experience lives by consuming the standpoint (1973: 30).
It is a higher level than Kant, whose Critique of Pure Reason is centered on
thinking about thinking. Hegel also began his Science of Logic by noting
that dialectics did not begin from a standpoint but not in quite the same
way as Adorno. Hegels dialectics produced a standpoint internal to the
method when his indeterminate Being and Nothing were given only a
moments distinction before vanishing into Becoming (Hegel 1969: 92).
Such movement might satisfy the apparent neutrality suggested by
Ollman, but it also indicates the reality that dialectics is imputed a standpoint in the process of its development and is in a position to lend its
potential to a practical program without inherently privileging any partisanship. One can accept the idea that dialectics does not initially take a
position, but it is more difficult, in fact not possible to consider the thinker,
the agent of dialectical thinking, the person deeper into modernity than
Hegel who employs dialectics, being without a standpoint, a partisan position on existing conditions, their history and contradictions, and being
partial, at least, to a conceptual effort of the kind Bloch identified as forward thinking. Dialectics as a way of thinking can only be sustained
momentarily without recognizing the social ground of its cogitation. In
the pluralism of ideas and methods of reasoning and resolving, dialectics
itself may not possess a standpoint inherent in its name, but the choice of
dialectics by the thinking subject is a position taken.
Beginning without an obvious standpoint may be a narrative device
that holds the readers partisan interests at bay while the philosopher
forms the argument; this is indicated by Adornos statement that dialectics in its materialist form has degenerated into a dogma (1973: 7). But, in
fact, it is not widely evident in Negative Dialectics and elsewhere that he
holds his particular interests at a distance; rather, from the outset his position is emphatic, especially his writing on culture, the condition of the
masses, and popular music. The style is one that rarely allows the reader
full insight into why he holds the categorical positions he does. Thus, he
continues in Negative Dialectics: My thought is driven by its own inevitable insufficiency, by my guilt of what I am thinking (1973: 5), evidence of
the retention of the priority of thought/thinking in the abstract, from
Kant. Cognizance of the insufficiency of ones thinking should be a motive
for its development and clarity. If dialectics is a search for knowledge,
Adorno warns that it should not be for the comfort provided by the identity of contradictory elements found in the investigation of the social

chapter one

world. Identity and contradiction of thought are welded together [aneinandergeschweit], he writes (1973: 6), although the weld suggests a more
permanent relation than is necessary philosophically or evident historically. But the obvious question concerns the structure or structuring of
consciousness, how it becomes structured under the conditions of its
experience, thought, and analysis, how the demand for resolution of
opposing phenomena and relations comes about rather than simply being
there as an historical fait accompli that Adorno often imputes to the
moment he fumes against.
The position throughout Negative Dialectics and elsewhere is that identity is total, that totality is totally identical, formed by identity-thinking.
Identity must be purged from consciousness, Adorno argues, as quickly as
it is sensed or the being who identifies will succumb to the existing social
order of identity-thinking. And he assumes this concerns the majority of
beings. This position, a standpoint, assumes that all forms and instances
of identity or unity are barriers to achieving a different social order and
these must be completely transcended before new social structural
arrangements, a new consciousness can be realized. For Adorno, unity in
dialectics implies a non-contradiction theoretically unattainable and he
continually pushes his readers toward a comprehension of this sense of
identity, its inadequacy and danger. His identity is categorical and inclusive of too much that is characterized by the dynamism that can be
searched out and developed in reality; identity is a concept, and he, quite
correctly, sees the concept as claiming to cover reality but cannot precisely because of its movement, and yet he treats the concept of identity as
if it is able to do so. Unity and identity are denounced along with the
notion that there is a positive moment in the dialectic that possesses any
intellectual, social or political value, and it is insisted here that the positive moment, however tendential and brief, is sublation. Adornos criticism of the strive for unity as a goal of consciousness, a matter of the
structure of our consciousness (1973: 5), is a problem, it seems, for all but
a minority of intellectuals, for there is no theoretico-practical relation in
political and social thought for him that has resulted in a dialectical overcoming of existing conditions and the sublation of philosophical and
practical problems.
However, the striving for, or preoccupation with identity, is contingent
on specific social, economic and historical relations, and thus, on consciousness, more or less developed. Contingency implies a set of conditions in which a specific complex of relations has arisen and developed,
and which are surmountable under specifically different, negatively

related conditions. But this development toward overcoming is not clearly
evident in Adornos argument for negative dialectics; it admits of no positive moment of which sublation is at least a threshold. A sense of the nontranscendence of conditions of identity-thinking pervades his dialectics.
That dialectics does not begin by taking a standpoint imputes to the
method of thought neutrality it cannot long sustain. Dialectics does not
have an immanent standpoint; dialectics is directed at exposing and analysing the determinants, the internal relations, of phenomena that in the
socially and politically conscious individual will lead to a choice between
alternatives. Dialectics is said not to begin with a standpoint, yet is said to
be surrounded by the demand for a continuous sense of non-identity that
is the standpoint of the theorist.
Mihailo Markovic argued that an analysis of society
is incomplete that is reduced to a mere description, or to structural analysis
without examination of the change of those structures. Equally incomplete
is research that seeks merely to explain and understand actually given phenomena without exploring the alternative possibilities. (1983: 556)

This concept of critique in this regard reflects Marxs basic use of criticism
by those who want to find the new world through criticism of the old one
constructing the future [through] ruthless criticism of all that exists
(Marx 1975a: 142). He sought an alternative, not an interpretation. This is
essentially the sense of criticism used by Horkheimer (1982: 206207) in
his most comprehensive early essay on critical theory. Adorno does indicate desirable changes in the structure of society, but those are most often
only general and vague, beginning and nearly always ending with the
intractable grip of modernity or capitalism or commodity fetishism, as in
the growth into dominance of science and quantification of the
Enlightenment and its business connections in capitalism, or the rise of
jazz as a musical form and the immediate, permanent domination of it by
market interests. These are macro-developments, big changes that,
indeed, mean a great deal to the structure of society, its institutions, the
psychology of a population, and although he speaks to that psychology
often it is still in terms of total identity that cannot be addressed before
total social change. His attitude toward the social movement of university
students and the New Left was a partial and only temporary exception
(see Adorno 1976a: 1011).
Adorno comes up short, then, with regard to the second part of
Markovics prescription change and alternatives as the real content
of social science. Adorno recognizes only those alternatives that have

chapter one

miscarried (1973: 3) or have been proven erroneous, stated also in terms

of macro efforts on the historical scale communism in the Soviet Union,
for example. He does not explore the ongoing efforts at developing alternative measures within the context of capitalism, not for capitalism but
against its reality. This is not to argue for a reformist approach but to illuminate what is produced from the contradictions of capitalism itself, such
as mass movements that are not imposed from outside but arise from
capitalisms internal contradictions and relations, and especially the
oppositions of capitalisms subordinates.
These affirmative comments on Markovics concept of critique, particularly the second point concerning alternatives, may seem to be made
without consideration of immanent critique as a method of critical theory, derived, with modifications, from Hegel and Marx. Fundamentally,
the idea of an immanent critique is that there is a critique inherent in
the object itself, what something, on one hand a social structure, for
example thinks itself to be through the dominant agents of its construction and, on the other, the reality of the contradictions dwelling within
it. Thus, an immanent critique is intended to expose the complexity of
an object, exposing its contradictions, the falsity of its claim to legitimacy,
to itself and its subjects through the medium of the critical theorist.
Immanent critique will not take rationalizations for legitimate response.
Thus, Horkheimer explained critical activity as
a human activity which has society itself for its object. The aim of this activity is not simply to eliminate one or another abuse, for it regards such abuses
as necessarily connected with the way in which the social structure is organized. On the contrary, it [critical activity] is suspicious of the very categories of better, useful, appropriate, productive, and valuable and refuses
to take them as non-scientific presuppositions about which one can do
nothing. (1982: 206207)

The implication is that some action can be taken to address these presuppositions; the implication is one of possible alternatives. Contrary to
Adornos position, Horkheimer denotes (1982: 219) the necessity of a struggle between social transformation and the theory that advocates it
the closest thing to a genuine relation between theory and practice.
(We return to this below.) But, does this provide or suggest the practical
alternative Markovic or Marx seems to support?
Adorno believes that philosophy can and must stand on its own, and as
with the problem of practice, is degraded by suggestions of its inter
relationship with other disciplines; it may be applied to them but not
with them. Hence, his immanent critique is based in the assumption of

philosophys capacity to develop through its own processes. Marxs
attempt to transform philosophy was a practical and theoretical action
that, for Adorno, was not successful and its traces cannot or are not
worthy of discovery. He states at the beginning of Negative Dialectics
(1973: 3) that the dictum of Marx was crippled by the attempts resignation in the face of reality and became the defeatism of reason after
theattempt to change the world miscarried. This occurs repeatedly in
Adornos work.
This makes the principle of non-identity quite problematic and, as in
other instances, a rather formal category that suggests of a type of logic
ill-equipped for contradiction. As we will see, Adorno felt that interpretation was at the heart of philosophy and yet well-before the historical juncture in which that position was taken, Marx had argued that that moment
for philosophy had passed, of necessity. As Bloch noted, in his 11th Thesis
on Feuerbach, Marx did not rebuke philosophers for philosophizing but
for only interpreting the world as if the class issues at the core of capitalism
did not exist; contemplation as such is not an object of rebuke, but a call
to philosophers to study reality is the message Marx wanted to communicate (Bloch 1971: 9395). Adornos position is that interpretation is sufficient in itself to produce knowledge.
Buck-Morss (1977: 154) suggests that Adornos very exposure of fetishism, reification and the sado-masochistic features of jazz are an example
of his immanent critique. Indeed, it is, and it is predominantly one-sided
as we will see in the chapter discussing jazz and popular music. It is insufficient because the mediating energy of critique is not, in itself, a direction. As we have noted, Adorno may be correct in his view that dialectics
itself does not have a standpoint, but like any other method, it is nothing
without an agent.
We can see something of the difference in approaches by noting Marxs
immanent critique of the Commune. His assessment of the contra
dictions workers faced within that form of social organization required
them to pursue a course of action. He argued that they could not
expectmiracles from the Commune, that the struggle would necessarily
take place over a period of time through a series of historical processes
against capital and landed property, and through the development of
new conditions. At that historical juncture the workers knew both
concretely and theoretically that great strides may be taken at once
through the Communal form of political organization and that the
time has come to begin that movement for themselves and mankind
(Marx 1986b: 335, 49192).

chapter one

Consistent with the implications of Markovics concept of critique,

Marcuse considered determinate negation as the governing principle of
dialectical thought: it refers the established state of affairs to the basic
factors and forces which make for its destructiveness as well as for the possible alternatives beyond the status quo (1960: xixii). These are historical
factors and forces and, therefore, must be an essential component in any
analysis. Marx argued that criticism (critique) was focused on demonstrating to the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is
something it has to acquire in order to possess it in reality (1975a: 144).
Thus, a crucial question about Adornos work is not simply whether he
was wrong but what did he miss because of his particular approach to
dialectics, to Marxism and politics, and where does his approach prove to
be insufficient with respect to the goal of substantive social change?
Another means by which to address this issue is by way of Hegels use of
speculative thought. This approach is integrally related to consciousness,
to the historical subject, and surpasses both the understanding and reflection upon which Kant centered his thinking. Hegel exceeds Kants formalism of the object by insisting that it is not substance but subject (1977:
910), that which has an inner life governed by spirit (Verene 2007: 7).
Spirit, in the first instance, Hegel denoted as consciousness (1977: 21); the
subject is alive and self-moving. The speculative proposition in Hegels
philosophy exposes the ordinary sense of identity between subject and
predicate as a non-identity as well. The distinction of Subject and
Predicate that is destroyed by the speculative proposition does not
unify or identify the two in an ordinary sense, but brings them into a harmony (Hegel 1977: 38) so that their identity is one of difference in unity.
The self-movement is facilitated by the tension that remains in this harmony, the subjects consciousness and inner life.1
Thinking as mere reflection will capture and freeze the object of
thought as a formal relationship out of which no alternative can emerge
and be developed. This provides an uncomplicated space in which such
objects as the working class or the masses can be thought as a simple
reflection of capitalism for I believe Adorno treats them as mere
substance not Aristotles cause and first principle nor Spinozas god/
nature complex, but matter alone devoid of inner life. Although Adorno
(1976a: 45) lamented that speculation no longer held Hegels essential
meaning it is not evident that he used the concept in a way consistent
with Hegels use.
1For another discussion of Hegels use of speculative, see Rose 2009: 5153.

Background and Context
In the mid-1940s Adorno queried the interest of workers in their own class
as a political means to social change. It was a legitimate inquiry, one taken
up later by members of the Frankfurt School but with few attempts to
address the class directly or to address the politics of class struggle.
Marcuse was a partial, but important exception much after this period. In
his aphoristic piece, Puzzle-picture, Adorno alludes to the social mobility and rough equality possible in an increasingly technological society
an immanently socialist element in progress while capitalism retained
its rigidity. His question about subjective class membership therein was
answered, not surprisingly, in a deprecating fashion: Sociologists ponder the grimly comic riddle: where is the proletariat? (Adorno 2005: 194).
We should expect that Adorno would be concerned about the response
of sociologists, but not political leaders of the organized working class.
So, too, should we expect that for him the problem is grim and comedic,
and comes in the form of a riddle; grim to match his own despair,
comedic because of his tendency to be dismissive of the need for detailed
and systematic analysis little seems to be taken seriously except his conclusions, and a riddle because of his interpretive philosophical approach,
a metaphor of a game, notwithstanding its common use in the philosophies of Antiquity. Or perhaps Adorno uses riddle in its agricultural
denotation an instrument that separates the chaff from the wheat. The
comedic problem of the proletariat reflects the orientation of his social
criticism: obscurantist language, images, and the turning-inside-out of
concepts, a style hardly conducive to attracting the interest of working
class activists to a comprehensive and coherent analysis of capitalism and
the possibility of transcending its limits on human development. But that
was never his intention. Nor would it have been conducive to developing
a more critical side of the sociology of the day.
This attitude was also not a favorable approach to attracting or developing the educated organic intellectuals of the working class in the factory
or elsewhere, and those from other class backgrounds who joined their
struggle. Given the historical period of his early writings in the 1930s
and 40s, there is a nearly complete absence of reference to working class
political actions or organizations. It is one of many reasons to ask to
what extent Adorno, early or late, seriously sought an audience there or
wanted his philosophical message to reach and influence activists or proletarian political organizations, an attitude consistent with most Frankfurt
School members toward the working class as a possible historical agent of


chapter one

revolution. Indeed, Richard Bernstein suggested that this question became

the Achilles heel of the School, for what is the function of critical theory,
if no such class seems to exist? (1976: 183). Adorno was more emphatic
than others in his dismissal of the working class and leads one to ask what
aspects of Marxs work he appropriated and why, or at least what kind of
Marxist he was if it is possible that all variations in fact lead back to the
same source for the same reasons and are, therefore, legitimate in their
variation. But, that is a position we do not take. Adornos own final statement on the matter is his rather cynical self-expos in the Preface to
Negative Dialectics: The author is prepared for the attacks to which
Negative Dialectics will expose him. He feels no rancor and does not
begrudge the joy of those in either camp who will proclaim that they knew
it all the time and now he was confessing (Adorno 1973: xxi).
While the question of the proletariats class consciousness, their organization and means of confrontation with capitalism remains central to the
problem of social critique and change, the axis of this issue for Adorno was
the willful subordination of the working class beneath the weight of capitalisms culture industry. Given the absence in his work of any recognition
of the capacity and interest of the working class to contribute significantly
to the overcoming of oppressive conditions of capitalist society in thought
or in action, the self-imposed subservience of that class was, for him, irrevocable. It is that perspective that will be a major focus here.
The development of class consciousness requires the expansion of
thought, and Marxists have anticipated that thought will be advanced dialectically through its objectification in the efforts of individual development, class organization and class struggle. I have explored this further in
my discussion of Lukcs conception of imputed class consciousness
(Lanning 2009). The absence of a place for the working class or other historical agent for Adorno made his metaphor of the message in a bottle
appropriate to his pessimistic outlook. Claussen (2008: 61) identifies the
origin of the phrase in a letter written by Horkheimer; it was a form of
communication for the work in which he and Adorno were engaged.
Adorno used the phrase in Minima Moralia, alluding to messages stuck in
the mud subsequently picked up and parodied by their new owners as
highly artistic but inexpensive wall-adornments (2005: 209). The message in the bottle was critical theory, but it is questionable who the
intended recipients were. Claussen suggests that the intended audience,
when Horkheimer first used the phrase, was the traditional addressees of
the critical theory of society, the proletariat. But the character of the audience changed as circumstances changed for Adorno who sought a wider,

popular audience rather than a partisan one (or even a necessarily academic audience) for his first collection of essays, Prisms, published in
Germany after the war (Claussen 2008: 211). It is an interesting change of
intended audience as the agents Adorno hoped would help secure his
reputation as a public intellectual and critic.
If the message in a bottle is a form of communication why cast about
for a different audience, except to argue that the nearest one, the working
class outside Adornos door, was either uninterested or incapable? He
knew the answer: the audience in contemporary capitalist culture is there
for support of the artist, a support that takes place through the commodification of music, painting, the novel, drama, and in his case, academic
discourse. That was a position he adopted toward the existing, dominant
culture industry, but also a position he adopted for his preferred addressees. After all, if there was a possibility for an intelligent consumer among
the public and in the universities then those sites could serve as the marketplace for the criticism he espoused.
The audience he sought was not necessarily antithetical to the interests
of the working class. His desired addressees consisted of intellectuals, students, well-read knowledgeable people interested in the social problems
of the day: philosophy, education, antisemitism, and the re-building of
culture and academic life in post-war Germany. These were legitimate
audiences and some portion of them, such as university students, showed
they were up to the task of confronting the state and capital on issues of
war, economy and racism, although their actions were not always supported by Adorno. From such confrontations some degree of social change
did issue, along with some measure of ideological and organizational skills
useful for building and sustaining broadly-based political movements. It
was an audience present for edification in matters of philosophy, sociology and culture, among other things; it was an audience worth having.
Once listening and reading, this audience provided some institutional and
popular security (see Adorno and Becker 1999) as well as personal refuge
for Adorno; it provided conditions for teaching and writing, while for
Horkheimer it provided a privileged withdrawal from public life (Claussen
2008: 208).
Adorno cultivated his return to Germany and his new audience with
questionable actions, not least of which was the Institutes excising of
provocative for the cold-war environment of Germany early writings
of its members on antisemitism and class issues (Meszaros 1989: 100). This,
however, was nothing new for Institute leaders. Horkheimer had been an
obstacle to the conclusion and publication of Erich Fromms study of the


chapter one

Weimar working class, believing it to be too Marxist and a risk for

negative consequences for the Institute (Bonss 1984: 3). Additionally, the
controversy over Walter Benjamins Baudelaire essays (which I address in
chapter six) was more a conflict over Adornos demands that Benjamin
adopt his esoteric style and that Benjamin discard his quasi-partisan historical materialist perspective. When a new essay fit the demands of
Horkheimer and Adornos desire for political neutrality, the Institute published it; it was satisfactory to Adorno theoretically and stylistically
(Adorno 2003; Buck-Morss 1977: 155163; Meszaros 1989: 49). Adornos
strive for acceptability extended as well to the targets of his criticism of
the left and his choice of publishing venues, such as his attack on Georg
Lukcs (Adorno 2007b) published originally in 1961, first in the U.S. Army
and Ford Foundation funded Die Monat and later in an English translation
in the CIA sponsored Encounter (see Presentation IV in Adorno et al. 2007:
143). As well, he lectured on a comparison of German and American culture at the Third Armored Divisions Historical Society in 1956, writing to
Horkheimer of the pleasant atmosphere and the friendliness and humanity of the generals attending (Kalbus 2009: 139). All this and more may be
what Heinz Lubasz (1984: 79) refers to as the ambivalence toward radicalism of a certain type of middle-class left intellectual, attributable to
Adorno but perhaps equally so to many others in university positions
from the 1960s on.
The orientation to a desired audience and his long-standing deprecation of the working class as a possible agent against capitalism requires a
closer examination of some of his writings that shed light on his attitude
toward the group which, for Adorno, had even lost its status as a class and
had become merely the masses. Where his attitude is not outright dismissive of working class politics and people or utterly fails to take the opportunity of historical analysis, it is paternalistic and condescending. It is an
attitude that reflects problems in Adornos conception and use of dialectics to which we have alluded, above, and which will be addressed further
throughout this book.
If Theodor Adorno set out to establish a status of supreme intellectual
for himself, it has been accomplished, more so posthumously than during
his lifetime. The essence of my argument here is that Adornos status
has been bestowed, built-up and celebrated, ordained in the manner in
which he set its foundation with his inaugural address in 1931 (2000a) and
reaffirmed upon his return to Germany, as a detached intellectual, freefloating in a Mannheimian sense. Much of his work may remain attractive
precisely because its style allows for interpretation and reinterpretation

sufficient to maintain an audience and adherents of intellectual and
political diversity. Adornos legacy fits well in an academic world selfdescribed and self-satisfied as postmodern. He was surely the vanguard of
the postmodern against philosophical systems (1973: 2022), interpretive rather than historical in analysis (Adorno 2000a), giving priority to the
refuge of discursive style more than to substance, esoterically pleasurable
and career-building in its abstruseness.
Other than his brief period of lecturing between 1931 and 1933, he began
his university career only in the post-war period. By the time of his death
in 1969 universities in Europe and North American had undergone a significant transformation. The expansion of the post-secondary system in
the United States, for example, included not only an increase in the number of institutions but opened admission to applicants of socio-economic
status, ethnicity and gender who would not have found a place in a university in an earlier period. The same trend was true for Canada, though
slower, but even in this period two of its major universities, McGill and the
University of Toronto, finally dropped their quotas on Jewish students.
Increasingly, the teaching force in American universities operate on a
two-tier system with upwards of 70% of faculty in the U.S. in non-secure
forms of employment with little institutional support while the remainder
hold employment security, little scrutiny beyond the moment of tenure,
generally well-supported by their institutions as well as a textbook industry eager to profit from book sales to students and academics alike. The
university, at least for tenured faculty, has indeed become a place of an
elite core of professionals, effectively a managerial group at the department level. In this atmosphere, perhaps Adorno would be mindful that an
early comment on the commodification of thought (Horkheimer and
Adorno 1982: xixii) would apply equally well to academia.
The period of history in which Adornos work was written that is of primary concern here was a period few have had the audacity to ignore. With
the important exception of the Holocaust, Adorno was one. Perhaps the
North American students of the 1960s whose interest in Frankfurt School
members propelled their writings into the public forum could be excused
for a lack of knowledge about the political vibrancy and objective potential of the political and social movements of three and four decades earlier, although this would be less true of the red diaper babies at Port Huron
or in the Mississippi Freedom Schools or at Draft Board confrontations.
Out of concern for their security, members of the Frankfurt School wanted
to function below the political radar in America to which they had been
fortunate to emigrate. The member who most significantly broke that


chapter one

silence was Marcuse, and that was not until the volatility of the 1960s student and anti-war movements were about to be realized. Fromm had
retreated to an interesting humanism informed by Marxs early writings
but distant from revolutionary practice. Lowenthal, as interesting in his
use of Marxism as was Marcuse, was less of a public political presence.
Horkheimer and Adorno had shifted to academic careers in Germany.
Studies of Adornos work continue. The books for which he became
well-known continue to be available or republished in new editions and
translations; major and minor post-war treatises on music and literature
have recently been translated. Two recent studies have attempted to capture his biography as a life of genius (Claussen 2008) (complete with a
note to the reader: How to read this book) and his period of exile in the
United States (Jenneman 2007). Claussens work is thorough, covering
Adornos major works and relations with people in and out of the Frankfurt
School circle, in Europe, England and the United States. Clearly sympathetic, Claussen begins with Horkheimers response to Adornos death,
referring to him as a genius, followed by Adornos own negative view of
the term as typically used. Claussen writes on Adornos collaboration with
Thomas Mann on the music section of Dr. Faustus, and other collaborations, with Hans Eisler and Horkheimer, as well as his relations with
Benjamin, Bloch and others. Claussens use of Adornos correspondence
gives the study both a range and intimacy not achieved in other writings.
Jennemans book focuses on Adornos work on radio providing useful
background material on his interests and work during his relatively short
period in the U.S. as well as important background material on the study
of antisemitism and attitudes toward race, The Authoritarian Personality.
But as we will see with respect to Jenneman there is hardly a glimpse at
what is going on outside of Adornos immediate interests. Generally,
Jennemans and Claussens works are intended to create a sympathetic
and ultimately unproblematic picture of their subject to secure him
against accusations of elitism. Despite these efforts, attempting to prove
or disprove such claims misses the major problem: that Adornos attitude
toward those in social classes below his strata of intellectuals is an inevitable outcome of his abandonment of the central requirements of historical materialist analysis.
Though not unsympathetic, others have sought to critique Adornos
work, as Susan Buck-Morss has, acknowledging his vision of the intellectual elite as the formulators of truth (1977: 42). Her The Origin of
Negative Dialectics, perhaps the most oft-cited resource on Adorno, establishes the links between his early and late philosophy and a detailed

exploration of his method. She also provides three chapters on his intellectual relations with Benjamin, constituting some of the most enlight
ening discussion of that issue alone. Gillian Roses earlier work, The
Melancholy Science (1978), is perhaps more critical on some levels, focusing on Adornos method and style, illuminating and attempting to clarify
many obscurities of his work. Other recent works where Adorno is not
the central figure but his presence is inescapable have contributed much
to the knowledge of his work and personality. Esther Leslies Walter
Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (2000), Erdmut Wizislas Walter
Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht: the story of a friendship (2009) and Mark P.
Worrells Dialectic of Solidarity (2009) are among those to be considered.
Serious and less sympathetic critiques of Adornos work are rare. Meszaros
devoted several pages to Adorno, scorning his style, excoriating his attitude toward class and questioning his other priorities designed essentially
to feather his nest in post-war German academia (1989: 91130). In his
short work on the Frankfurt School, Zoltan Tar concentrated on Adorno
and Horkheimer as the central figures of Critical Theory, pointing out
numerous contradictions between their stated program and what actually
emerged. The rather conservative philosophical background of both and
the absence of systematic application of historical materialism and materialist dialectics contributed to Tars conclusion that Critical Theory
dissociated itself from the basic tenet of Marxism: the unity of theory,
empirical research, and revolutionary praxis, a disengagement that led
to, among other things, a social philosophy of despair (Tar 1977: 79, 202).
Tars edited collection with Judith Marcus (1984) provides some of the
most important critiques of Adorno and other central figures of the Frank
furt School and is crucial to any complete understanding of the Schools
theoretical perspective and politico-philosophical shortcomings. All of
these works and others will have a place in this critique.
The Orientation of the Present Study
Except in a marginal way, Adornos work on literature and classical music
are not addressed in this study. My major interest is in two areas: the
works that employ an orientation to dialectics and ostensibly to Marxism,
and works that directly or indirectly address the working class and eschew
a meaningful praxis. Adorno will have his own defense of these areas of
interest in these pages, but these issues I find most problematic in at least
two senses. First, I share with others such as Tar (1977) questions about


chapter one

Adornos interest in and use of Marxism as a systematic and critical perspective. Adorno was free to choose his theoretical orientation, but notwithstanding the need for any theory to be fully understood, developed
and expanded consistent with changing social conditions. And once some
relationship to Marxism is implied, including dialectics, that selection
must be complete at least in the sense that Marxism requires a certain
orientation to analysis with a view to concrete action that begins with the
struggle between social classes and requires continuous attention to the
relations of theory and practice and to the development of consciousness.
Adorno avoided the class struggle altogether, and without that his
attempts at exploring the relation of theory to practice and vice versa
were insufficient to sustain his connection to Marxism, however tangential he claimed this to be. His failure to treat the working class, whether
politically active or not, as subjects of history, in reality or potentially, is
most serious. Secondly, largely contingent on the first and as we have
alluded to already, Adornos orientation to social criticism and analysis
includes condescension toward those who did not share his views or the
benefits of his own development; his was not a criticism of different perspectives or interests, it was a disdain that other perspectives against what
he saw as obvious conclusions could be taken up at all. His defense was
that the structure of capitalism, of modern, totally administered society,
not only fostered but demanded degrading interests be taken up jazz
and other forms of popular music, for example and people who did so,
did so willingly to the detriment of themselves and others, a willingness
that fostered the reproduction of existing relations of capitalism. In this
sense Adorno exhibited the modernist tendencies of late nineteenth and
early twentieth century literature. Georg Lukcs described this as a view
of man as solitary, asocial, unable to enter into relationships (1963: 20).
But Lukcs statement was given from a standpoint; that is, every reader
knew that his dialectics and materialist orientation to history was the
ground of a partisan position as it was, in a different sense, in the later
work of Adornos colleague, Marcuse. As has been suggested above, one of
the more serious problems with Adorno was that he provided criticism
but no means by which targeted thought or conditions could be sublated
or transcended. Such a practical orientation would have to be premised
on the belief that thought and social conditions may be reified but that is
not a permanent condition, something difficult to discern in his work.
Together these problems point to a larger one that Adornos work, for all
the claims made about it, has been systematized into a constriction
onconcrete means to address the problems of capitalism; it serves as a

control mechanism in the world of academia as had philosophy before
Marxs eleventh thesis on Feuerbach.
In examining these issues, another task of this effort will be to demonstrate where others in Adornos own time exhibited actions and thinking
very much contrary to his perspective. I also want to show that Adorno
made a choice between alternatives: to demonstrate that capitalism was
insurmountable and that the working class would, itself, choose unreflective acquiescence over challenge to capitalism and a revolutionary future.
In fact, the organized working class was developing a theoretical perspective on capitalism and its culture that included as an intrinsic element the
empirical evidence that alternative and oppositional action was being put
to concrete use in politics and culture.
Adornos Form of Presentation
Notwithstanding the significance of Adornos use of dialectics, perhaps
the single most important point with which to begin is the form of Adornos
presentation, the early work that is much of the concern here, but the later
Negative Dialectics as well. Adorno was a philosopher, one who in the
European manner claimed the social sciences within the domain of philosophy. His style of writing was not unusual among philosophers claiming some relation to Marxism and social critique in the inter-war period
although there are few other instances of the use of his style among the
original Frankfurt School members. Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch
both used a similar style in much of their work images developed from
esoteric language, literary and historical analogies not fully elaborated,
and an unsystematic form of presentation. Benjamin was probably the
least offender over the course of his work and Bloch set this form aside as
less likely to be conducive to understanding in books such as Natural Law
and Human Dignity and On Karl Marx. The accessibility of many of Blochs
and Adornos works suffered because of their style of presentation.
The form of the argument is more than its style, linguistic and otherwise. Specifically, in Benjamins early writings and in Adornos the form
centers on constellations, and in a somewhat different manner it exists in
much of Blochs work. Adornos use of constellations is discussed further
in chapter three, but for the moment it can be said that its usefulness lies
in its imaginative possibilities: what can emerge as concrete prospects
from the arrangement and relation of elements, a more systematic
approach for Bloch than for Adorno.


chapter one

As a general form of presentation, the key to a successful Marxist analysis is its grounding in historical reality. Benjamin did this best when he
abandoned his early appeals to constellations for analyses centered historically or arranged in terms of correspondences, although Lukcs had
considerable praise for Benjamins use of allegory (1963: 4044; 1984).
Bloch used this form of presentation with a consistent appeal to dialectics,
the concrete historical elements held as a backdrop but nevertheless with
a strong sense of presence in much of his work. He, of course, was more
poetic, even mystical in his presentation than others, but provided a
steady sense of movement in his distinction between objectively real possibilities and the possibilities of not-yet.
This form of presentation differs from other Marxists of the period,
notleast of which were philosophers such as Lukcs and Korsch. Theirs
was the traditional academic form of presentation characterized by more
clear links to historical evidence and systematic theoretical perspec
tives,extensive assessment and critique of the arguments of others and
ofcourse a more obviously partisan position attached to the communist
Adorno developed a form of presentation that is furthest removed from
the principles and needs of historical materialism. There are the masses,
for example, whose collective impotence and preoccupation with the
latest gadget became baneful to Adorno, an annoyance, causing him
immense irritation at times the dancing crazes, the jazz mania, the
material fads. But he needs them, for the distance of his form of presentation from comprehensive historical analysis requires casting a group in a
terminal idiom to justify what is essentially his defeatist perspective on
their own attitude and the objective potential for social change.
The form of presentation serves the purpose of criticism of capitalism,
the masses, the culture industry, total administration, etc., but rarely does
it enter the terrain of critique as we have discussed it above. Adorno tells
us what he believes we need to hear about the problems of capitalism and
about our neighbors or co-workers who dont think as clearly and critically as we do. Despite its quick judgements and the stylistic obstacles,
hismessage is an easy one, perhaps more in contemporary academia than
at the time of writing. More than he and his supporters would like to
believe, the form of his presentation is more doctrine than treatise. It is
a message to one faction of the converted those who have thought the
problems and presented their conclusions, but for whom thinking through
them is not a priority, and those for whom the errors of others practice
has become the proof of the necessary aloofness of theory.

The enduring problem of this form of presentation, especially with
Adorno, is the over-reliance on images, analogies, and abstractions to
express ideas that arise because of the relation of subjects to their history.
Where that history is underdeveloped in the argument, where the dialectics expressed in images and analogies are esoteric hints instead of clarification, the necessary knowledge the writer possesses is incompletely
conveyed, whatever the level of its sophistication and thoroughness.
Because of Adornos consistent form of presentation of unarticulated historical connections, and inexplicit relations of reality, operating as a
needed sense of difference manifested in an unfailing condemnation of
the masses, it is hard to reconcile Lowenthals criticism of those who saw
in Adornos work a secret hostility to history (1989a: 56). Despite similarities with Adorno in style, neither Benjamin nor Bloch lowered themselves to such denunciation.
A work of philosophy or social criticism can legitimately carry whatever
form and stylistic variances its authors choose; where it becomes questionable are those instances in which a specific social group is one of the
objects of the work. This is not a call for the dumbing down of philosophical discourse or social critique, but it does suggest the significance of a
philosophical language and presentation that can address its message to a
variety of levels of political and philosophical literacy. One aspect of the
argument here is that Adorno failed even to attempt to form his presentation in a way that mediated the existing political intelligence and interests
of the working class either in Germany or America.
Commenting on Adorno and Horkheimer, Gillian Rose suggested that
they seemed to recreate the evils of the old academic community
indulging in intense, idiosyncratic cultural criticism deeply embedded in
the scholarly and institutional constraints which they were committed to
transcend (1978: 8). An example of this is the premise of Dialectic of
Enlightenment, the authors description of its fragmentary character; such
a claim is of questionable legitimacy as it suggests a justification for the
incompleteness of the book and appears as a defense of the absence of
connection of the fragments to traditional disciplines or existing philosophical systems. This is, in part, rationalized by giving over to dominant
societal mechanisms the effect of language devalued by the tendency
of all form[s] of linguistic expression toward accommodation
(Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: xii).
Lukcs remark about James Joyce can be applied to Adorno: technique
is absolute; style is the formative principle of the work (1963: 18), and
since Adornos style is so much bound to his method we should regard it


chapter one

as an operative principle of his work as a whole. If style is a vehicle for

communication, the very character of that form was intentionally limited
as a matter of esoteric principle. For Kolakowski (1984: 95), Adornos last
work, Negative Dialectics, was not only written in a style of pretentious
obscurity but it was also devoid of literary form.
Adornos style places his work at the unstable edge of comprehension,
whether immediately or after deliberation. Rose (1978: 12) notes that he
discussed his method and style in everything he wrote, often at the
expense of discussing the ostensible subject of the piece. Not only with
respect to his use of constellations in philosophical inquiry, words,
phrases, propositions were tossed out under the assumption that a kind of
spontaneous combustion would announce their combination. The relationship or arrangement of the elements was never very clear, but ultimately whatever the relationship they could purportedly be brought
together and illuminated to see beyond the subject (Rose 1978: 12).
Distinctly different than other commentators, Rose discusses Adornos
style pointing out crucial rhetorical features. She explicates parataxis, for
example, placing propositions one after the other without indicating
relations of coordination or subordination between them. She also notes
his use of the technique of chiasmus, a grammatical figure by which the
order of words in one clause is inverted in a second clause (Rose, 1978: 13).
Adorno, Rose remarks, refused to define terms [but] the same term is
used in many different senses (1978: 15). Meszaros recognized the same
problem in that often Adornos arbitrary statements were substantiated
by nothing but equally arbitrary analogies (1989: 93). His use of indirect
communication and ironic inversion constitutes writing from the subjective standpoint of which Minima Moralia, Rose suggests, is the best example. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of his style at least in terms of
accessible communication is what Buck-Morss refers to as his antithetical concept pairs (1977: 59) opposing meanings, unexplained, turning language inside-out, frustrating any hope of a clearly organized and practically
usable critique, always with the purpose of reminding the reader of the
significance of non-identity. For Rose, such a style means that Adornos
works are read far too literally but should be read as method which, like
Nietzsche, was designed to resist popularisation (Rose 1978: 16, 19).
Lowenthal acknowledged this problem with Adorno, as did colleagues
such as Paul Lazarsfeld, but consigned it to Adornos striving for
genuineexperience in production as well as in received productive imagination (Lowenthal 1989a: 60; 1989c: 129).

Adorno sought a style as a defense against, even a refuge from the
necessity of a fully developed dialectical explication. Style as a motivation
for pursuing an obscure dialectics allowed him to minimize the historical
element, but permitted the operation of his analysis to assume that the
reader or listener should possess the knowledge that could be developed
by such an investigation. Arguably, some listeners and readers will possess
such knowledge, but it is an unMarxist and undialectical position to hold
that one can escape the obligation of developing and communicating substantive knowledge that arises out of social analysis. His degree of explanation is several steps below that of an Executive Summary, short on a
potential for analysis by which the body of knowledgeable and interested
persons might be expanded, and the structure of society and its culture
meaningfully comprehended and changed a project that throughout his
career he evoked as not feasible until it happened; in effect, not achievable until it was completed.
We will later expand on the earlier comment regarding Adornos view
of the concept-object relation, perhaps the most useful aspect of his dialectics in that there is a dissimilarity between an object and the concept of
it. But it seems ill-conceived to employ his view of that relationship as an
explanation, even a defense of his style as Martin Jay has done when he
argues that we should not take some of Adornos statements as perfectly
true to reality (Jay 1984: 265). This provides too much of a privileged space
for the language and other peculiarities of an intellectuals claims, accusations and ungrounded assertions when, in fact, Adorno presents such
statements as components of his thesis of reality.
It must also be acknowledged that Adornos approach to teaching seems
to have been the opposite of his style of writing. In recorded lectures published posthumously, such as Introduction to Sociology (2000c) and Kants
Critique of Pure Reason (2001), Adorno was open to the prior knowledge
students might bring to the lecture hall, attempting to take them beyond
their doubts to a recognition of a basis for understanding the difficulties of
Kant, for example. He also attempted to deflect students idolatrous relation to every word of the professor or scholar, and instead develop a basis
for pursuing their own knowledge (2001: 284). His teaching techniques,
such as the double movement, should also be noted with respect to students approach to texts. On the one hand, [the process of thought] should
immerse itself in the text, and keep as closely to it as possible; on the other
hand, it should retain a degree of self-control, remove itself from immediate contact and look at the ideas from a certain distance (2001: 37).


chapter one
Theory and Practice

If there is an absolute power of capitalism, as Adorno and Horkheimer

wrote in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1982: 120) it would seem to be delusional to attempt to act against it, either in polemic, critique, or on the
street. The closed and categorical character of Horkheimer and Adornos
position is intended to illuminate the strength of the consolidated system
of capitalism and its culture industries, and acknowledge its imperative of
domination over its consumers. The absolute power of capitalism is typical of the categorical statements found in Adornos work, although one
discerns in early writings, as has Martin Jay, a sense of optimism that
would be absent from his later work (1984: 258).
Elaborating his method of constellations in his 1931 inaugural lecture,
The Actuality of Philosophy, he argued that once such a configuration
was established the demand for its [realitys] change always follows
promptly (2000a: 34). Although the content of that transformation is not
articulated, and certainly not its practical means, one reads this as both
evidence of sincerity with respect to the problems of reality Adorno may
have wanted to address.
Significantly, others on the left have taken the view that capitalisms
power is, if not absolute, then powerful enough to prevent meaningful
change both materially and in the development of consciousness.
Although not in the same manner as Adorno, and somewhat unexpectedly, Mszros in Beyond Capital (1995), focused on the nature of capital,
its fundamental structure that set the conditions for maximum expropriation of surplus labor and the creation of ever more surplus value. The
nature of capital refers to its unalterable character, by which Mszros
means its objective structural determination (1995: 11213). No amount
of reform of political action short of changing the entire structure can
reconstruct this intentionality, which is essential to capitalisms substance
and direction. His position suggests that the objective conditions of capitalism are always sufficient to suppress the emergence of alternative forces
objectively favorable to the struggle for socialism, for trade union
demands, for racial and gender equality. This position withholds the actuality of correct objective conditions for such struggles until a point in time
at which the struggle itself becomes qualitatively different as a struggle to
consolidate socialism.
Though differently as well from Adorno, Willis Truitt alludes to the
same barrier of capitalisms power that disallows consideration for a
lengthy and developmental approach to the possibility of an ethics for a
revolutionary program. In this case Truitt gives priority to tactics over

e thics, the former having priority in the period of revolutionary struggle
while ethics acquires its historical significance as an ethics of duty (Truitt
2005: 8485) only in the period of building socialism.2
The present argument is not one for a gradualist approach to social
change. But the tendency in each of these perspectives seems to be to
highlight capitalisms insurmountably oppressive character to the exclusion of genuine efforts of social change that do not yet have the capacity to
result in a full-scale development of revolutionary and conclusive possibilities. Views such as these shut out actions, organization, and the development of consciousness that make headway into the terrain of social
transformation. Further, such views are predicated on rigidly defined categories that endanger the realization of the dialectical method. In Adornos
case, such rigidity the sense so often of absoluteness is a point of
departure toward safer sailing away from the shop and street wars of the
actual proletarian struggle, with an approach that affirmed the separation
of theory from practice.3
Such a categorical approach indicates the non-integral relation, i.e.
external relations, of theory and practice. In fact, Adorno cites the promotion of the unity of these two fundamentals as a central problem. The call
for unity of theory and practice has irresistibly degraded theory to a servants role, removing the very traits it should have brought to that unity.
This remark is directed to the East [and] left-wing Hegelianism (1973:
143), likely with Lukcs, Bloch and Soviet Marxism in mind, at least. At the
other extreme of the political world, he continues, are the short-winded
intellectual habits of the Western side (1973: 143). As often, neither element in this false dichotomy is treated to an analysis that specifies the
problem. The independence of theory needs to be recovered and maintained to ensure its superiority with respect to practice, to make the
changes practice continually pursues. The diminishing of theory occurred
because, for Adorno, it was defeated by power, by which the reader may
assume the politics of the Communist International, but more generally
important, theory suffered from its combination with practice. He implies
the necessity of theorys exclusive place against the failures brought about
by the prioritizing of practice. He allows this dichotomizing to stand as
sufficient analysis without demonstrating the necessity of theorys independence and superiority against concrete moments of its relation to
2See Lanning 2005.
3See also Lubasz, 1984: 80. Lubasz also points out the diversity of opinions regarding
the relation of theory and practice of various members of the Frankfurt School (see also 86,


chapter one

practice. It is the absence of a substantive relation between theory and

practice in Adornos work that deprecates human self-activity.
E.V. Ilyenkov (2008: 138140) noted that in the relation between theory
and practice, theory, like the reduction of the concrete to the abstract,
was a disappearing moment in that relation that had no significance by
itself, divorced from other moments. In that process,
Practice no longer has a higher goal outside itself, it posits its own goals and
appears as an end in itself. That is why each separate step and each generalisation in the course of working out a theory is constantly commensurated
with the data of practice, tested by them, correlated with practice as the
highest goal of theoretical activity.

Theory can indeed reflect on historical practice, Adorno writes, but if

[p]ractice itself was an eminently theoretical concept (1973: 144) theory
must keep at the ready its capacity to show its potential for practical
grounding, but this is something theory cannot do having been liquidated
by dogmatization (Dogmatisierung). The irresistible degradation of
theory, the irrationality of the primacy of practice, (1973: 143) are not
only the basis of his perspective on practice, but indicate his bias against
political intervention as a material force operating at moments that
are relatively autonomous from theory, but which must nevertheless be
informed by its relation to it. But the issue here goes beyond the theorypractice relationship; for Adorno, the unifying relation of theory and
practice constitutes an identity and, therefore, an example of identitythinking. These are combined in, for example, his attitude toward Bloch
whose inadequate critique of Marxism largely associated with the East left
Bloch identical with himself, as Claussen (2008: 297) remarks, not willing
to jettison his utopian orientation despite changes in society that, from
Adornos perspective, disallowed the possibility of genuine socialism.
Adorno is partly correct to advocate for theorys non-identity with
practice but his demand for the independence of theory, unlike Ilyenkovs
perspective, fundamentally changes the relationship between two necessarily interdependent elements. In Adornos hands the relation becomes a
hierarchical one in which theory always holds sway; this hierarchy undermines a relation that should allow the priority of one over the other when
such prioritization is required by the circumstances of an historical
moment. The dialectical approach demands that the independence of
either theory or practice is sustainable only relatively, as a moment. If
that moment shows the priority of theory it does so as theory is shaped
by practice as in the reversal of priorities. Like the priority of being over

consciousness (Lukcs 1979: 411; 1978b: 3132), the priority of theory over
practice can be sustained only in a dialectical relation. To argue for the
independence of theory ignores Marxs principle that the fundamental
unit of analysis of two or more entities is the relation between or among
them (Ollman 1993: 38), a dialectical principle that may include the
relative autonomy of phenomena, but the continuity of developing relations as well. We will return to the issue of Adornos guiding concept of
non-identity in chapter seven.
Politically Adorno was, and remains, a safe bet behind the lectern,
inside his books or as a subject of debate; he would not be on either side of
the class struggle if that was possible, nor would he stand in the middle,
for to him the class struggle was already lost. He wanted to think himself
outside altogether, commenting, showing his genius in obscure sentences
to be replicated by generations of critical academics. There is little dialectical space in Adornos work; his claim of neutrality clear-cut the space in
which the roots extended to both sides of conflict in capitalism, a space in
which their internal relations, distinctions and differences could be a
common ground of struggle. This absence repeatedly turns us back toward
the identity-thinking he claimed to despise and the formal logic sublated
historically and practically by Hegel and Marx, but the distinct shadow of
which overhangs Adornos work.
The Management of Politics and Personal Relations
Many artists, intellectuals and academics have their unpleasant side.
Adorno was no exception. He was certainly sheltered, even spoiled, in
his childhood and youth to the point, as Lowenthal notes, that his attitude
toward Hitlers likely duration in power showed a nave unfamiliarity
with the real world (1989a: 6364). Because of his position close to
Horkheimer when the latter was Director of the Institute for Social
Research, Adorno functioned as a gatekeeper of publication, the entry of
others into the inner circle and the financial assistance the Institute had
to offer. Lowenthals correspondence with Horkheimer at this time shows
not only criticisms of Adornos work but also the anxiety generated by a
possible confrontation with him (1989d: 164, 172, 181182, 198). It is also
well-known that Benjamin kept his relationships isolated from one
another where Adorno was concerned. Erdmut Wizislas (2009) book on
the relationship between Benjamin and Brecht reveals Adornos attempts
to protect Benjamin from Brechts influence intellectually and politically.


chapter one

Adorno and others were concerned that aspects of Benjamins intellectual

development would go awry under Brechts influence; Adorno was concerned that Brecht might take his place as Benjamins intellectual companion (Wizisla 2009: 1517). Notwithstanding possible criticism of
Benjamins work, Adornos attitude seemed to assume that his elder associate was somehow incapable of determining his relations with others and
what intellectual stimuli he might enjoy independent of anothers paternalistic direction.
Benjamin was not the only target of Adornos personality. During
Blochs difficult time in exile in America, without financial support from
the Institute or elsewhere, he survived on odd jobs. At one point he lost his
dishwashing job for working too slowly but subsequently got work packing paper. Under the circumstances Adornos comment is cruel and
He now has no time for writing. His relation to paper has finally become
realistic. He packs it in bundles eight hours a day, standing in a dark hole. He
has escaped the concentration camp, but this will knock some sense into
him. (Adorno qu. in Claussen 2008: 296)

And later, notwithstanding the fact that Bloch was not a practicing revolutionary in the way that Lukcs had been, for example, and certainly not
the way communist party leaders had been during the first half of the 20th
century, Adornos attitude toward him was directed essentially at his
political choices in the East, his post-war choice to reside in the German
Democratic Republic and his continued commitment to the possibility of
socialism. Fromm, too, apparently felt the bite of Adornos personality in
the dispute over his Weimar study of the working class partly because of
Horkheimers relation with Fromm and Lowenthal (Bonss 1984: 2). The
sometimes problematic relationship between Adorno and Sigfried
Kracauer is also well-known (Jay 1986: 217236). Kracauers experiences of
antisemitism were seen by Adorno to have been somewhat self-induced
by Kracauers thin-skinned personality (Campbell 2007: 910; Adorno
1992: 5960). Evidently, despite Kracauers mentorship role in Adornos
youth, the quality of intellectual pursuit did not cohere with the formers
expectations. There seemed to be almost excessive satisfaction, if not
gloating, in Kracauers record of his conversation with Adorno in 1960
over theoretical matters; Kracauer seems to be satisfied that he has made
Adorno at least a little uncomfortable with respect to the latters own
views (2012: 127132).

Without attempting to evaluate Adornos personality, we will see that
various statements by him in the works at issue here appear to reflect a
rather closed and unreflective person.
The Socio-Historical Context
The writings of Adorno under discussion here are a selection mostly confined to the period of the 1930s to the early 50s. The period in which most
of these were written was perhaps the most significant in the 20th century
with respect to the organized challenge to capitalism in Europe and in
North America before the Second World War. For the majority of this
period, since 1937, Adorno was living in the United States on the east and
west coasts where, besides some places in the rural south and industrial
north, opposition to capitalism was most visible and vibrant.
The two most important components of this challenge were the labor
movement, especially the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)
from 1935, and on the political front the Communist Party of the United
States (CP). While these two organizations were not integral, the success
of the CIO would have been doubtful without the work and influence of
communist organizers in the rank-and-file of many of the CIO-affiliated
unions. Many members of the CP were veterans of conflicts with the skilltrades-based American Federation of Labor. That organizations exclusion
of the unskilled was challenged most significantly by the Wooblies
(IWW) who, along with socialists, communists, anarchists and liberals,
mounted campaigns to address a wide range of class-related issues at local
and national levels. Campaigns to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti
throughout the 1920s, and in the next decade Angelo Herndon and the
Scottsboro Boys gained international attention and established voices of
protest rarely heard and struggle rarely seen.
Left wing political and cultural organizations were pervasive in America
during this period, largely associated with labor organizations. Ethnic
groups also organized in various ways to retain aspects of their politi
cal and cultural backgrounds and establish better footing on new soil,
especially for younger generations. Socialist Sunday Schools in the early
decades of the century were clearly class-focused, emphasizing the wide
disparities in American life and the unequal burden of war on the working
class (Teitelbaum 1993). The Communist Party devoted much effort to the
political socialization of the young with the expectation of securing a new
generation of activists. Some of these made their mark in the inter-war


chapter one

and WWII periods, some much later in the 1950s and 60s (Mishler 1999;
Kaplan and Shapiro 1998; Levine and Gordon 2002). Recent localized studies have shown the extent of inequalities and exploitation that motivated
neighborhood organization and action, and the extent of communist
activity in wider urban life (Kosak 2000; Storch 2007; Naison 1983). A
vibrant history of college-level student organizing also began in the 1930s.
Liberal and socialist students and many of their professors engaged in
activity around political, class and corporate issues (Cohen 1997). Efforts
to educate the adult working class raised the political and intellectual
content in college and university courses (Gettleman 2002).
Estimates of CP membership during the inter-war years are varied and
of questionable reliability. An important and objective measure of influence, however, was the large number of union locals and larger union
bodies led by communists. This has been thoroughly investigated and
analyzed by Stepan-Norris and Zeitlin (2003) and the results along with
other material from communist sources and recent studies provide an
inescapable conclusion: while neither entirely communist nor entirely
active, a significant proportion of the American working class, through its
self-activity and organizing efforts, was neither convinced of the dominance of capitalism nor willing to acquiesce to the manipulation of its
culture industries (Boyer and Morais 1955; Bonosky 1953; Allan 2001; Kelley
1990; Solomon 1998).
All this was virtually ignored by Adorno. His were not political tracts; he
avoided that kind of expression. But his orientation to the masses, the
working class and others on issues such as jazz and popular music, profascist agitation, and popular media, might have been quite different had he
been willing to take into account the evidence of working class political
and cultural activities and their organizing abilities. Setting aside this evidence allowed him to write with a clean slate, unencumbered by material
reality that would have made his categorical positions nonsensical.
The discussion that follows begins with dialectics as developed by Hegel
and Marx. This is followed by chapters addressing specific issues Adorno
took up early in his career: his interpretive orientation to philosophy built
around constellations, his writings on jazz, popular music and profascist
agitation specifically related to the masses. We proceed then to a discussion of mediation, an aspect of dialectics I consider lacking in Adornos
work, in this case discussed initially with regard to his relations with

Benjamin. The final chapter is devoted to aspects of Negative Dialectics
that includes issues of exchange and identity. I side with Buck-Morss
assertion that Adorno was consistent in his theoretical approach over the
duration of his career, notwithstanding the development of aspects of it
over time. This makes Negative Dialectics generally applicable to issues he
addressed in earlier works.
The title of this book is taken from comments Lukcs made, initially
in The Destruction of Reason, about the pessimism and emptiness of
Schopenhauers philosophy, describing his system as rising up like a
modern luxury hotel on the brink of the abyss, nothingness and futility.
And the daily sight of the abyss between the leisurely enjoyment of meals
or works of art, can only enhance ones pleasure in this elegant comfort
(Lukcs 1980: 243). In the Preface for the re-publication of The Theory of
the Novel (1971b) Lukcs included Adorno as one of the German intelligentsia having taken up residence in what he then called the Grand Hotel

4A different translation of the passage quoted appears in the Preface of The Theory of
the Novel.



This chapter will discuss aspects of dialectics crucial to Hegel and Marx,
and in some ways to Adorno. But our primary task here is to lay the basis
of assessing the differences in the perspectives of Adorno on the one hand,
and Hegel and Marx on the other, with the obvious recognition that the
last two differed significantly from each other. These points will be used
further in the discussion of Adornos approach to theoretical and practical
problems in later chapters.
Despite Adornos rejection of formal logic, his denunciation of identity
thinking, and his view of the limited possibility of transformative action
within capitalist society, his approach has much in common with the categorical trappings of formal logic: a thing is always what it is and not other
than it is. At times his analysis begins with an object or phenomenon and
becomes its opposite, not as a dialectical transformation of a detailed process but as a pronouncement of its occurrence. This is why Buck-Morss
(1977: 186) suggests that his negative dialectics had the quality of quicksilver: just when you think you have grasped the point, by turning into its
opposite it slips through your fingers and escapes. Where this is most
problematic and where it affects whatever connections he had to Marxism
is in his perspective on social change as I have noted in the previous chapter. For example, references to the absolute power of capitalism
(Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 120), and to jazz that can never be viewed
outside the features of commodity production inherent in it (Adorno
1941: 167) are manifestations of his unwillingness to view social reality
except through the dichotomy of the of capitalism and its insurmountable
conditions, on the one hand and on the other the meaningful change that
can occur only on the unconditional destruction of those conditions.
Supporting this view was the absence of a meaningful relation of theory
and practice, regarded by Adorno as unfeasible without undermining the
value of theory in itself. This view was expressed as well by Horkheimer.
But in regard to the essential kind of change at which the critical theory
aims, there can be no corresponding concrete perception of it until it
actually comes about. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the eating here is still in the future (1982: 220221). In Adornos work we see a

hegel, marx, dialectics31

future orientation in embryonic form in some early writings, such as the

call for music to express its social condition and to call for change, and to
reach out beyond the current consciousness of the masses (2002d: 393
394). But what he considered to be the intractable powers of the culture
industry embedded in the minds and behaviors of people in capitalist
society, and in the structure of society as a whole, are powers that prevent
the materialization of potentiality in the Hegelian orientation to future
development. Implicitly, he claimed support for a future development,
but what he says of Hegels approach to change is actually a mirror of his
own: in him [Hegel], connection is not a matter of unbroken transition
but a matter of sudden change, and the process takes place not through
the moments approaching one another but through rupture (Adorno
1993: 45). It will become evident in these pages that such a claim does not
meet the reality of Hegels work.
Notwithstanding the problem implied in his position on social change,
Horkheimers comparison of traditional and critical theory in the foundational statement of the Frankfurt School recognized the necessity of keeping the search open at every turn for the reasonable conditions of life
(1982: 199). Similar to Adorno, Horkheimer argued that critical theory was
not interested in the improvement of the existing structure of capitalism
because the system structured the social environment and the individual
toward an uncritical acceptance of the rules and conditions both individual and social that permitted capitalism to function. But Horkheimer
recognized the possibility of drawing out alternatives from existing social
conditions. Critical theory
considers the overall framework which is conditioned by the blind interaction of individual activities (that is, the existent division of labor and the
class distinctions) to be a function that originates in human action and
therefore is a possible object of planful decision and rational determination
of goals. (Horkheimer 1982: 207)

Like Adorno, Horkheimer sees a complete transformation of society as the

only meaningful goal, although he does locate the transformation in the
intensification of the struggle with which the theory is connected (1982:
219). But neither man has a theory of political action nor sees the merit of
critical theory forming and engaging in a systematic organization of the
practical activity of political struggle and progressive change. The intensification of the struggle is something that emerges indirectly from critical
theory not directly out of the moments of conflict informed by its theoretical analysis.


chapter two

By contrast, Marcuse was more committed than they in recognizing the

greater potential in the contradictions exposed by dialectical analysis. In
his study of Hegel, he accepted the latters dialectical reasoning that
potentiality, movement and change lie in the essence of phenomena. It is
the essence of the actual to be always more and other than what it is at any
point. The immediate actuality which we find before us has in itself the
determination to be sublated [Hegel] to be the mere condition for
another (Marcuse 1987: 96). While this statement would cohere with
Adornos overwhelming concern with non-identity that by implication
excluded the conundrums of actual or potential practice, Marcuse was
interested to lift dialectics, especially the discovery of contradictions,
from a purely theoretical context to a place in which its relevance to political practice could be demonstrated.
The sense of process, change, development that is absent in Adorno
finds expression in the work of others. Bloch, for example, distinguishes
three categories of the dialectical process and premises his version of it on
the capacity of hope, forward-thinking and anticipatory consciousness.
In addition,
Front is the foremost segment of time, where what is next is determined.
Novum is the real possibility of the not-yet-known with the accent of the
good novum (the realm of freedom), when the trend toward it has been activated. Matter is not just mechanical mass, but both that which has being
in accordance with possibility and hence that which in a particular case
conditionally determines the capacity of something to become historically
manifest. (Bloch 1971: 38)

Adornos rejection of formal logic and his concentration on the problems

of identity thinking and equivalence are central to his theoretical
approach. But, rather than a rejection, the sublation of formal logic
(Ilyenkov 1977: 109114) is a necessity for anyone who approaches social
phenomena from a dialectical perspective. But Adornos concentration on
identity-thinking and equivalence retains elements of a formalistic or categorical approach that is integral to the kind of thinking he rejects as a
driving power of bourgeois society.
Hegels dialectical logic was intended to reconstruct the boundaries
that established knowledge through formal logic, although he recognized
that philosophers were drawn to formal categories for the immediate but
incomplete knowledge such categories could provide. He contrasted
formalism with the inner activity and self-movement of [an objects]
existence. The formalist approach, he argued, citing the speculative
Philosophy of Nature, creates a false unity of distant elements and fails at

hegel, marx, dialectics33

expressing the Notion itself or the meaning of the sensuous representation (Hegel 1977: 30). In his objective idealist fashion, instructive for historical materialists as Marx knew, Hegel argued that formalism, despite its
inadequacies, will not vanish from science till the cognizing of absolute
actuality has become entirely clear as to its own nature (1977: 9).
Hegels caution against formalism also recognizes the attraction of
categorization more strongly, compartmentalization as everyday
thinking allows and encourages. The residual formalism (see Kracauer
2012), appearing in Adornos work as categorical thinking, corresponds
somewhat to part of Hegels statement, above: not until X exists or
becomes known will Y occur. But Hegel was clear that until something like
absolute reality was actualized it remained only at the level of a formal
possibility. Further, it is difficult to find Hegels other condition in Adornos
work, that inner activity and self-movement are the constant companions of the existent awaiting its full realization, its actuality. Adornos
excessive reliance on non-identity acts as a constraint on this actualization. This suggests that even with the process of development and change
that is dialectics, Adorno compromises the method by introducing an end
result as a condition of the investigation. Dialectical development has its
stages, levels and discontinuities but these are not formalized by a preceding false unity of dissociated objects or events.
A formalist approach to knowledge is in some ways, as Hegel suggests,
immediately rewarding, especially for the purposes of establishing knowledge and therefore having a basis for its dissemination. A formal or categorical approach provides a neatly trimmed block of ideas and data that
can be named as cause, event, or thing, and that is free of what might generate complications, such as moments, contradictions, or transitions.
Dialectics recognizes the distinction between the immediate and the
comprehensive, the generative process and the moments that at any point
can be cited as the existent X or Y. This is the difference between the S is
not P of formal logic and the S is not yet P of Blochs dialectics, where P is
anticipated, grounded in the internal dynamics of its relation to S.
The residual formalism that I suggest plagues Adornos perspective
does throw us back to the boundaries of formal logic. In the dialectical
approach to logic, Hegel negated the command that formal boundaries
had over knowledge but not because of the advancement of philosophy
as such. The crucial point had to do with the inherent irrationalism of
formal logic, the residual of which exists in any formalistic approach
regardless of the extent that logics boundaries have been retained or
transcended. The problem lies in the absence of any sense in which a


chapter two

ossible other is in some measure immanent in the original, not as a seed

awaiting its inevitable sprout but as an element to be influenced in its
development by the mediative power of interactions and contradictions
of multiple determinants. The absence of such recognition neutralizes
thevery contradictions that move the object and the problem outside of
its immediate existence.
The initial emergence of becoming and its sublation is dependent
on contingent relations that bring about the unrest of a thing at least in
the same measure as its inherent qualities. The unrest or instability of
a thing is constituted by its contradictory determinants pressing for emergence in the field of possibilities. What is possible is not yet fully in
existence as a relatively autonomous thing but as the given reality conceived as the condition of another reality (Marcuse 1960: 151). However,
in Marcuses development of Hegels proposition on facts, the fact is,
before it exists (Hegel 1969: 477), he expresses it insufficiently in terms of
Before it exists, the fact is in the form of a condition within the constellation of existing data. The existing state of affairs is a mere condition for
another constellation of facts, which bring to fruition the inherent potentialities of the given. (Marcuse 1960: 151152)

As to the conception of fact, Hegel is correct; as to the existing facts

being a condition for other facts we can also support. But we want to
always ensure that what is inherent is developed in relation to, and is
inseparable from, its contingent relations. This will be a major point of
concentration here.
The Individual
In his early period in Frankfurt, Hegel had placed the individual at the
centre of his inquiries. In large measure, this was due to his recognition of
the social changes affecting the quality of life, what he saw as the instrumental objectification of the individual only to be overcome by a vague
moralistic conception of love (Lukcs 1975: 112113). Lukcs comment on
Hegels position is telling with respect to the relation between the subject
and the objective environment that forms and shapes it, and the way this
complex is approached in idealism. It is perhaps unintentionally a reflection of Adornos lifelong pre-occupation with the absence of the critical
capacity in the bourgeois subject. Reflecting on Hegels reduction of the

hegel, marx, dialectics35

social problems producing what he will later understand as alienation,

Lukacs comments:
For man in bourgeois society the entire world consists of impenetrable,
incomprehensible objects mechanically separated from man and each
other; he drifts among them in empty, unsatisfying activity. He has no real,
substantial relationship with the objects, his fellow men or even with himself. (Lukcs 1975: 116)

But Lukcs himself did not succumb to such a reduction.

Social change occurs through the actions of classes, within which are
the individuals who, in their distinct forms of labor, constitute the primary content of class and who must come to understand the determinants of themselves as the subjects of the history of a class-divided society.
As subjects, individuals establish a relative autonomy within the structural pressures and contradictions of their class in relation to other social
conditions. Adorno is not directly concerned with the individual; the individual is there as an indistinguishable element in a mass and is the eager
and unreflective consumer of the culture industries of capitalism. He is far
less concerned about the role of the individual as a force of political or
cultural action, as a distinguishable, conscious individual. But consciousness within the individual is a crucial, if embryonic, aspect at the beginning of Hegels Phenomenology (1977: 55), where consciousness requires
development so that it acquires a consciousness of consciousness.
Increasingly through the 20th century, it has been possible to generalize a
level of consciousness based upon the growth of both institutionallybased knowledge such as formal education and knowledge derived
through experience in political action and in other contexts. The development of consciousness is based on access to such forms of knowledge,
the precondition of which must be a self-aware interest in social participation, and the guide for development within individuals must be an interest
in knowing and exercising their capacity for critical self-reflection. In
Hegels terms (1977: 113114), this is the development of self-consciousness
as, initially, being-in-self and, through struggle, an independent selfconsciousness. Lukcs (1980b: 135) emphasized that the struggle for
self-development and self-mastery came through elementary, progressive
acts of freedom; that is, the possibility of relatively free action as an objective expression of the subjects conscious opposition to the power of
existing objective forces. There is no guarantee that such consciousness
and action will come about even if proper, comprehensive knowledge is
ascribed either from outside the individual or achieved by his or her


chapter two

c reative development of what has been internalized from the experience

of self-activity. Lukcs much disputed and too often rejected notion of
imputed class consciousness organizes the individuals consciousness
around a program of collective action and succeeds only on the basis of
the individuals interest in choosing among existing alternatives or those
alternatives that may emerge through the growth of political organization
and action. While the degree of individual interest may reflect the conditions of alienation, neither interests nor conditions negate the potential of
conscious development.
The individual response to and development from the pressures of the
relations of any social structure must be a central element of any consideration of Marxism and of dialectics in a social context, for it is the relative
autonomy afforded by modernity that provides the space in which the
economic, cultural and political relations are experienced. That one or
another ideological position is adopted, or is used to adopt aspects of the
content of the social environment always involves the individual in a
complex of opportunities and possibilities. Where Adorno sees the acquiescence of the masses to the immediate environment he should also see
not only the power of the culture industry but also the possibilities for
developing the individuals relation to such powers and the possible alternatives in the face of it. This is true as well if we focus on the class as a
whole in which the individuals interests are grounded. Where such alternatives exist, as they almost always do to one degree or another, each
must be assessed in terms of its origin, development and influence on
decisions and the direction considered, rejected or taken. But such a practice is only relevant to a philosophical approach that has as one of its foundational pillars the continuous attention to the developmental and
mediating elements of the process toward the fully-developed individual
whose self-consciousness is an active instrument in a broad effort of social
Adornos criticism of the structure of capitalism embedded in the culture industry is the ostensible foundation of his conception of the tasks of
philosophy. This perspective provides a faade that allows him to retain
his status as a quasi-Marxist for his audience while providing the cover for
his more dominant focus: demonstrating the irrevocable alienation of the
masses of modern society, their insurmountable ignorance, as much if not
more self-imposed than a consequence of the structure and relations of
economics and culture.
Hence, it is necessary in this discussion to maintain some sense of
theplace of the individual, the alienated object of capitalism, in order to

hegel, marx, dialectics37

provide the space for its becoming the self-conscious subject of history.
Even while the ostensibly predominant interest in Marxism is in classes,
we only see classes arising as conscious collectivities in situations in which
a class presence has been produced, in the genuine sense of the term,
brought forward, from in this case a political response to an immediate
or historically extended problem. This must begin through a discussion of
dialectics, through Hegels Logic and its historical materialist development by Marx and others. In taking this course it is worth acknowledging
Ilyenkovs introductory and concluding note to his Dialectical Logic
(derived from a comment by Lenin) that provided an historico-philosophical analysis of logic from a Marxist-Leninist perspective, that the work
could rightly bear one of three possible titles: Logic, Dialectics, or The
Theory of Knowledge (1977 8: 370).
Being and Self-consciousness
Marx argued that the final chapter of the Phenomenology both summarizes Hegels approach at that juncture of his career and provided the
bridge to its historical materialist correction. He comments: For Hegel the
human being man equals self-consciousness (1975b: 334). Considered
in reverse, self-consciousness is the human being, or as Marx would argue
in the same work, self-consciousness is the full development of the capacities of the species-being (Marx 1975b: 275277). To be self-conscious is to
know that ones subjective sense of being is actualized only in its objective
presence, its social action.
Whenever real, corporeal man, man with his feet firmly on solid ground,
man exhaling and inhaling all the forces of nature posits his real, objective
essential powers as alien objects by his externalisation, it is not the act
of positing which is the subject in this process: it is the subjectivity of the
objective essential powers, whose action, therefore, must also be something
objective. (Marx 1975b: 336)

Self-consciousness is the essence of the non-alienated human being, or

the person self-consciously attempting to emerge from conditions of
alienation. This is Hegels Spirit, der Geist. The full realization of self-
consciousness is a process of development and change, externalization
and recollection. This process is neither linear nor is its end result necessarily awaiting fruition at the inception of the process. As noted in the
previous chapter, contingent conditions of social, economic and historical
relations will shape the process of development. The seed is not waiting


chapter two

its inevitable sprouting; rather the seed is open to determinants in its

environment that may nourish, delay or nullify its inherent potential.
Hegels argument in this regard is that a particular quality realizes its
otherness in absolute continuity.
A quantum, therefore, in accordance with its quality, is posited in absolute
continuity with its externality, with its otherness. Therefore, not only can it
transcend every quantitative determinateness, not only can it be altered,
but it is posited that it must alter. (Hegel 1969: 225)

Read linearly, the seed becomes the plant, an exploited population a subordinated class. In this respect the argument is structured categorically as
if the process attains insulation from contingent conditions and interventions as it proceeds in development to its end. However, an objects otherness, like the object itself, is not linear in its development, nor is an
immanent trajectory guaranteed for it, for otherness is just as contingently
influenced as is the original object. Hegel implies as much in his
Thus e.g. the plant is developed from its germ. The germ virtually involves
the whole plant, but does so only ideally or in thought: and it would therefore be a mistake to regard the development of the root, stem, leaves, and
other different parts of the plant, as meaning that they were realiter [in reality] present, but in a very minute form, in the germ. (1873: 161)

The manner in which such processes are affected by varied and unanticipated contingencies confirms their objective character. Their objectivity
is further confirmed by the inadmissibility of an imminent future state
arising unconditionally. The complex of possible contingencies arising
from either the natural or social environment or their combination, presents new problems, contradictions and alternative avenues of development whether forced or relatively autonomously chosen (Lukcs, 1978a,
10607). The plant and the human being are distinguished by their relative complexities, each having its distinct, but at times roughly integrated
trajectory of development, contingency and change. The otherness as
such of specific entities is pre-figured as indwelling potential but its course
of development is neither fixed in form nor in content. Other realities,
external objects, can be restricted or abundant in volume, variety and
influence, etc., only by their contexts, their historical determinants an
objects present condition at a given moment in its development.
The more important immanent quality is not a logically anticipated end
result found in embryo nor is it the outcome that becomes necessary
solely under the influence of possible contingencies. Rather, it is the

hegel, marx, dialectics39

c ombination of the latter with the indwelling potential for its realization
through which contingent relations become manifest and are appreciated
as such. This is different than the notion that each object contains,
inembryo or idea, its precise future development. The point here is that
the seed to be developed must be integrated with objects and conditions
that favour its development or that can intercede and move its development in another direction. The seed of object A must be affected by and
be the effect of the contingent relations offered by objects or processes
X, Y and Z, just as the seeds in any of those objects or processes must
affectand be the effect of contingent relations of A. These are the internal
relations of dialectics. This does not speak to a hierarchy but to a priority
of quality that exists prior to its influence by other factors that shape
and determine an end result that becomes necessity, even though such
anecessity may be only momentary. The emergence and consolidation
of what is deemed to be immanent or becomes necessary through the
complex of relations is the unity of necessity and contingency. (As we
will discuss below, Hegel would prefer a rephrasing of the last point; not
unity but inseparability or unseparatedness of necessity and contingency.) Thus, notwithstanding Hegels fundamental orientation to selfconsciousness development through the mind, he nevertheless retains
and develops an orientation to the objective world, the material origin of
The being or condition to be developed requires self-consciousness of
externality and otherness, and these provide the fundamentally necessary
awareness of the possibility of reality changing the being or condition
because they are objects in reality.
Suppose a being which is neither an object itself, nor has an object. Such a
being, in the first place, would be the unique being: there would exist no
being outside it it would exist solitary and alone. For as soon as there are
objects outside me, as soon as I am not alone, I am another another reality
than the object outside me. For this third object I am thus a different reality
than itself; that is, I am its object. (Marx 1975b: 337)

This further diminishes any claimed dominance of an imminent future

condition as such.
Implicitly referring to Hegelian potentiality and certainly reflecting his
argument about identity and concepts, Adorno focuses on the objects
(the individuals) immanent character. What is, is more than it is. But the
more remains immanent and is not imposed. The implication here is
that what a thing or individual becomes is the effect of its indwelling
potential coming to fruition, although a caveat is that its innermost core


chapter two

is both essential and extraneous to it (Adorno 1973: 161). This formulation does not exclude the contingent influences coming to the object from
outside itself, such as the crystallization of communication with others
(1973: 162), the objects development is a shared construction by external
factors that are the extraneous component of its core. Anticipating the
argument in later chapters, one might ask whether the alienated individual, for example, has simply and formally an alienated essence, or is it an
essence diverted from development toward liberation by contingencies
absolutely beyond its control, or only beyond its immediate, unmediated
control? The last of these is where the emphasis must lie for the innermost core can interact with extraneous influences or the latter can
intervene from a conscious source to shape the development of that
core. But the caveat to any of these formulations is Hegels insistence on
inseparable components at the outset, a point addressed below.
The relationship between the individual and society the concrete
effect of one on the other synthesize immanent qualities and distinctly
contingent influences that, as it is at any specific moment and as the relation proceeds to develop, undermines any notion of a linear advance from
the condition of immanence. It is that non-linear conception of movement that provides the space for self-consciousness. Self-consciousness
cannot arise through contingent relations alone, nor merely out of an
imminent condition or the mere assertion that there is potentiality dwelling within. Notwithstanding Hegels aforementioned priority of the mind,
Lukcs argues that Hegels conception of social being
does actually have an existence which is independent of the individual
consciousness of particular men, and has a high level of an autonomously
determining and determined dynamic in relation to the individual. But this
does not change the fact that the movement of this dynamic is a specific
synthesis of individual acts and passions [the] causes and results [of
which] are still very clearly distinct from what the individual himself
thought, felt or intended. (1978a, 25)

Self-consciousness is not only a product of such processes but is also a buttress against the ascendance of a mechanical conception of movement
through immanence alone, for self-consciousness concerns possible trajectories. First, self-consciousness must take as one of its objective responsibilities the possible future condition of a thing or social condition and
its potential growth given its determinations and mediations. Secondly,
to be legitimately called self-consciousness it must meet the obligation
to know its determinants, the pace and complexity of development,
the direction of movement and the possible discontinuities that may

hegel, marx, dialectics41

occur in each. These may be seen as contingent moments of the essential

qualification: Self-consciousness achieves its satisfaction only in another
self-consciousness (Hegel 1977: 110) which is more than merely another
Hegel describes being as movement beyond the immediate, a path of
knowing that goes beyond being or rather penetrating into it as it
moves toward becoming essence (1969: 389). The knowing subject is a selfconscious subject. Yet self-consciousness, though evidently developmental in its concreteness, its actuality, is not to be understood at the inception
of the process as gradual, cumulative, quantitative change but as quality.
The self-conscious subject as a knowing subject exists as quality, the goal
of a thinking subject and the material of the subjects knowledge. As quality, self-consciousness has its determinants and is, itself, determinate.
We begin with something, a determinate thing that is a quality. Quality
is immediate determinateness and as primary is that with which the
beginning must be made. In this Hegel corrects previous philosophies
that had assumed that quality is preceded by quantity (1969: 7980). But,
for Hegel, a quality is immediate (1969: 111) and then it moves, is moved; it
changes, develops. Outside of the natural world, although not entirely
exclusive of it, development is social: what is observed and responded to
is determinate quality in the context of the social. This is presented initially by Hegel in his objective idealist manner but, as noted earlier, with
at least one foot in the objective, material world. What is at issue for individual development is that initially we perceive, experience things as
immediate qualities, largely due to their familiarity and use within particular contexts as with virtually anything that is immediate. It is integral
to the history of human social development.
We have long since learnt from ethnography that, long before counting, i.e.
the quantitative comprehension of objects, was developed, human beings
practically mastered in a purely qualitative manner, on the basis of qualitative perceptions, those complexes of facts that we are today accustomed to
grasp quantitatively. (Lukcs 1978a: 105)

Max Raphaels (1945) analysis of paleolithic cave paintings is an example

of this. Paulus Gerdes (2003) offers a concrete example of this premise in
his historical materialist analysis of the origins of geometry. Counting or
any valuation of social facts built on the accumulation of things springs
from an existent to which additions are amassed to present the quality as
qualitatively different than it was, as an other without complete loss of the
essential characteristics.


chapter two

Thus, if the individual human being is our starting point we have begun
with a quality the eventual being of self-consciousness a capacity that
lies within the species; it is a capacity to be developed as a future condition of the individual itself. This quality self-consciousness is more
in itself and in its otherness when we consider the possible direction and
intensity of its development through a deliberate selection of variables
contingent relations consistent with the augmentation of Hegels
determinate being by Marxs species-being.
Dialectics is movement. This is central to Hegels Science of Logic in his
discussion of the first two concepts, being and nothing, which are given
only a moments distinction before vanishing into becoming. Becoming
sustains each of being and nothing because it is their difference. Their
difference is therefore completely empty, each of them is in the same way
indeterminate; the difference, then, exists not in themselves but in a third
(1969: 92). Hegel rejects what is an apparent obvious third, opinion, as
inappropriate to an exposition of logic. The appropriate, necessary third
element is becoming which, as Lukcs points out, carries objectively
greater ontological weight than being (1978a: 64). The empty difference
is due to the indeterminate nature of being and nothing; to the extent they
are distinct from one another that distinction must be expressed by
becoming a third element arising from their difference (Hegel 1969:
Because becoming arises from the empty difference between being
and nothing as each vanishes into the other (Hegel 1969: 84, 90, 105) the
concept of becoming quickly loses itself as such; becoming at this point,
out of the unity of being and nothing, is determinate being (1969: 106).
Hegel asserts two crucial points particularly important for the present discussion. First, as we alluded to earlier, he finds the term unity to be an
unfortunate subjective expression of comparison, more so than identity
(1969: 91) because it rests on the similarity of one or more components of
different objects. (Identity is also a subjective term but less so.) Secondly,
his suggestion for replacement terms for unity, unseparatedness and
inseparability, allows for the retention of the relation between being
and nothing a relation containing mediation within itself (1969: 74, 91)
and, therefore, shows the positive side of the relation, a requirement of
Hegels dialectics (1969, 73; Lukcs 1978a, 41). Becoming is mediation.

hegel, marx, dialectics43

Thus while unity became a term of reference in the discourse of dialectics

under Marxism, and indeed has a practical value as a term of organizational activity, it does not, in Hegels terms, point toward a higher level of
relationship. Determinate being, however, already denotes the formation
of an object from the influence and effects of its environment, the complex of internal relations in which it finds itself. Determinate being retains
a dynamic character and is, therefore, an expression of movement toward
synthesis and resolution. Recognition of the determinateness of an object
calls for a full recollection of the path to its composition and condition in
relation to other objects at any moment. However, the sense in which
unity may be insufficient is if it is taken to imply things coming together,
or being brought into unity, as in the unification of similar but non-
identical objects or phenomena. Hegels terms, unseparatedness and
inseparability, refer to his concept of the whole in which each component,
each particular, contains the whole. In one respect, Hegel is saying that
components do not come together nor are they brought together, for
they were never fully apart. In other words, each component already
exists within the whole, totality. Rotenstreich (1944: 245) understands
Hegels position as an argument that the whole is a simultaneous entity.
Hedevelops this further:
totality precedes the assumption of particular terms. The particular terms
are merely a manifestation of totality. The totality of logical possibilities
cannot be considered as assumed by way of induction; totality precedes
each particular possibility, as the totality of possibilities preceding each particular possibility. (1944: 251)

On the other hand, even as this totality of possible relations already exists,
Hegel also argues that as a concrete object it is affected by contingency
and arbitrariness which depends on which determinations the subject
brings to it. It is the mediated development of components that allows for
the development of a given synthesis1 [in order] to discover its implicit
content (Rotenstreich 1944: 253). Hence, Hegels meaning of dialectic:
the Dialectical principle constitutes the life and soul of scientific progress, the dynamic which alone gives immanent connection and necessity
to the body of science (Hegel 1873: 81). Unity must carry this connotation as a reference to its underlying structure, relations and the task it has
already, but not yet, carried out.
1Rotenstreich uses the triad thesis, antithesis, synthesis in his analysis. Hegel rejected
the triadic form as intuitive in Kant and otherwise a formalism without, however, citing
explicitly the above mentioned triad.


chapter two

Determinate being sublates becoming although the latter as the

d ominant sense of movement is preserved in the determinate being and
as it appears in its positive moment to cease movement. That is, becoming
ceases as an active process at a specific juncture of sublation development and change but it does not lose its potential for revival and continuation as a negation [that] always has to be supplemented from the
positive side (Lukcs 1978a: 41). Thus, determinate being consists of, as
inMarxs concrete, a synthesis of many determinations (Marx 1986a: 38)
and arises through its sublation of becoming as a unity of those determinations, but not as multiple factors, objects or mediations brought
together but a togetherness of internal relations already existing in totality. Hegel explains the two senses of sublation (aufhebung) as to preserve
and to cause to cease. In dialectical terms, it refers to what has only lost
its immediacy, but is not on that account annihilated (1969: 107). The
determinate being that sublates becoming is a self-consciousness that is
itself and nothing else. Yet as self-consciousness it is obligated to secure
knowledge of those determinations to eventually be for-itself. We return
to this in chapter seven.
Lukcs found that contradiction had been raised to the central category in
Hegels thought (1978a: 2). Indeed, this is borne out in the first pages of the
Logic in Hegels discussion of the place of negation (1969: 5355). If the
dialectic is the real vehicle of history (Lukcs 1978a: 3) it is because contradictions are recognized, exposed and activated. Hegels effort to understand the character of reality as dialectical was theoretical but grounded
in aspects of the socio-historical context in which he lived. Contradiction
increasingly became not only the foundation of his thought but of all
thought and being as such and his fundamental humanist tendency
(Lukcs 1975: 97, 146, 204).
Hegels proposition, everything is inherently contradictory (1969: 339),
gives us a sense of the relations of things as well as the motive force of
movement; contradiction is, then, movement and change considered dialectically. Movement exists in two inseparable, integrally related domains,
internal and external. The latter provides the premises of physical relations and empirical explanations of reality. External movement exhibits
the immediate existence of contradiction as in the assertion that a
moving object is here and not here at a particular temporal and spatial

hegel, marx, dialectics45

juncture. External contradiction is more readily applicable to inorganic

nature, though not exclusively. Zenos arrow (Marquit 197879) is a prime
example of this. Internal contradiction illuminates a similar kind of
motion in the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, selfcontained and deficient, the negative of itself (Hegel 1969: 440). Internal
contradiction applies to the inorganic but is more applicable to organic
nature, the social and the individual. Internal contradiction should be the
means by which opposing determinations within a single entity person,
social condition, political organization are understood and addressed as
immediately represented in the determinations of relationship. Hegel
cites left, right, father, son, and so on, as examples, the opposition existing
for one only in so far as its opposite, its other, exists. Opposites, therefore,
contain contradiction in so far as they are, in the same respect, negatively
related to one another or sublate each other and are indifferent to one
another (1969: 441). The problem (to which Adorno is specifically drawn)
is that ordinary thinking (Hegel) is not aware of contradictions other
than their presence as a constraint or interruption with respect to the
immediate or anticipated satisfaction of a situation, the instrumentality of
desire, want or need. Ordinary thinking differs from Intelligent reflection
[which] consists in grasping and asserting contradiction (Hegel 1969:
441). Intelligent reflection is a capacity of self-conscious, determinate
being. We have just noted, above, its obligations as such.
Thus we can say as a further example of internal contradiction, that
ordinary thinking and intelligent reflection oppose one another withinthe
social condition of the individual and within the individuals mind. Intel
ligent reflection is not the end result, it grasps the contradiction, a rticulates
it and brings it to the threshold of critique through consciousness. Intel
ligent reflection sublates ordinary thinking. Why sublate but not neutralize or annihilate? Because the basis and rationale of ordinary thinking
(common sense)2 is a manifestation of the complex of consciousness and
social conditions. In Marxist terms, false consciousness is produced from
this relation. The development of consciousness by intelligent reflection
occurs on that basis of undeveloped thinking. In the movement that
resolves that contradiction the residual significance of that basis must be
2Common sense, however seemingly informal, is an immediate response to phenomena and legitimated through the requirement denoted in the roots of the word, common.
In Latin communis refers to common, but when munis is distinguished it carries the meaning of obliging or obligation; in common sense that is an obligation to adhere to the established consensus of meaning and action, and in this sense carries formal sociological and
logical implications.


chapter two

retained as it is overcome.3 Consequently, every contradiction must

become an object of knowledge; the possible resolution arising from
contradictions raising the contradiction to a higher level sublates the
earlier moment of intelligent reflection. Intelligent reflection observes
and responds to a quality by referring to those factors and processes by
which it is formed. In this way Hegel denies things, qualities, their own
unconditional security, but ensures their integrity by the awareness of
contradictions that will break that integrity.
Hegels Positivity, Critical Theorys Positivism
Before pursuing other aspects of dialectics it is important at this point to
provisionally address a problem in Adornos dialectics: the rejection of the
positive moment to which we have alluded; or, more relevant to the subject, the rejection of any behavior that appears to be positively oriented to
the appearance of advancement, progress, partial resolution or sublation
of contradictions; in other words, anything short of the complete negativity and annihilation of existing conditions. We will necessarily have to
return to this in the chapter on negative dialectics (chapter seven),
but brief attention to this issue belongs to this general discussion of
Two central elements of Marxs dialectics are relations and development. Ollman (1993, 3338) has forcefully argued that relations between
and among phenomena, especially what he classifies as internal relations,
are essential for understanding their concrete determinations and their
development. Adornos emphasis on negativity and a continuous state of
non-identity undermines the necessity to comprehend, contextualize and
build on the outcome of moments of a process. If such moments come to
be seen as ends in themselves, the problem of positivity arises, and the
process of development and change is seen to be sufficient, requiring no
further movement. This is where the emphasis on positive as problematic should lie. Another emphasis should be that such moments do not
necessarily constitute a gradual step toward full resolution of any contradiction but recognition of such moments cannot be reduced to an accusation of mere reformism or gradualism in social change. From a Marxist

3Lukcs made the point that the conditions under which false consciousness occurred
must be investigated to understand the circumstances and processes of its development.
See Lukcs 1971: 52.

hegel, marx, dialectics47

perspective positive moments must be conditions of labor, exploitation

and so on that are objectively, though relatively, different than previous
moments; to put it in other terms, these are moments in which the potential for future development is demonstrably altered against the backdrop
of relations developed historically up to that juncture. Marxs categories
are negative and at the same time positive: they present a negative state of
affairs in the light of its positive solution, revealing the true situation in
existing society as the prelude to its passing into a new form (Marcuse
1960: 295).
Although distinct from the positive moment in dialectics, for reasons to
be discussed below, it is crucial to consider the concept of positivity in
Hegels early writings and his gradual transformation of the concept into
externalization and alienation. Adorno specifically criticizes Hegels
view of the positive moment as if it was identical with Hegels early use of
positivity, although it is not clear to which of Hegels writings he is referring. He argues that the non-identical is neither positive nor obtainable
by a negation of the negative. The positive that Hegel believed emerged
from negation has more than its name in common with the positivity he
fought in his youth (Adorno 1973: 158).
Horkheimers critique of traditional theory articulated critical theorys
concern with positivism, distancing its orientation from Marxs focus on a
critical political economy. The concern with positivism was more extensively, if cursorily, developed in Dialectic of Enlightenment. There are connections to be made between Hegels concept of positivity and its later
revision and development, externalization and alienation, and the meaning of positivism that became the dominant object for critical theory,
Adorno in particular. Adornos rejection of positivism is a response that
parallels his rejection of the positive moment in dialectics as if the latter
constitutes an immutable identity.
Lukcs (1975: 314) notes that positivity, for Hegel, referred to a quality
of social formations, objects, things. He quotes an early definition Hegel
used in his discussion of religion in his Berne period. A positive faith is a
system of religious propositions which are true for us because they have
been presented to us by an authority which we cannot flout (qu. in Lukcs
1975: 18). For Hegel, a positive religion or a positive faith is distinguished
from a virtue religion by the fact that the latter seeks to fulfill the essential aim of all religions, the development of morality (Hegel 1971: 68).
Apositive religion reduces the human element to adherence to the commands of a religious authority (1971: 71). He accepts the positive principle
of knowledge of duty and Gods will although it must be premised on


chapter two

the commands of virtue (1971: 75). Morality, given priority over mere
doctrine, assumes the relative autonomy of the religious subject, and that
duty is based on reason rather than the power of religious authority. Thus,
the distinction between the religious and the historical subject. Lukcs
understood Hegels positivity to refer to the suspension of the moral
autonomy of the subject (1975: 18). Thus it is the positive authority of a
doctrine (or the authority of a positive doctrine), inseparable from the
institution behind it that negates the relative autonomy of the subject.
The feelings of a positive religion, writes Hegel (1971: 167), are forcibly
and mechanically stimulated, the actions are done to order or from obedience without any spontaneous interest. Hegels main objection, as Lukcs
(1975: 19) points out, is that positive elements are incompatible with freedom and the dignity of human beings; that is, positivity diminishes the
capacity of the human subject, especially so when the person uncritically
accedes to it. Further, for Hegel, the theological elements of morality must
be removed; they are moralitys positive elements, they can be known and
therefore they can and should be superseded by the person who becomes
an historical subject (Lukcs 1975: 19).
For Hegel, unity in relation to positivity is a false union. He regards
positivity as the unification of the irreconcilable; things that are (a) contradictory, and (b) can interact, recognize their togetherness, or become
unified but cannot reach a relation that resolves their contradiction at a
dialectically positive moment, as sublation. If the latter occurs, this inability results in things remaining essentially positive. Thus, the negative must
be found or introduced, in some way come to the relation and, with
respect to the subject, to consciousness. In other words, positivity can
unite two entities but not, as Hegel wrote, in the way they should be.
Lukcs regards this as an unclear synthesis of a mere idea (1975: 127128),
but significantly the only way to eliminate the positive is through human
activity, for Hegels conception of positivity in these passages is akin to
the materialist conception of false reflections of objective reality or a
false synthesis (Lukcs 1975: 127, 154). This, of course, does not negate
Hegels primary interest in accounting affirmatively for religion. But he
also problematizes notions of religion explained as merely manifestations
of human nature, arguing against the empty universal concepts of
human nature (Hegel 1971: 170).
Hegel eventually replaced positivity with externalization and alienation
(Lukcs 1975: 333334), two concepts that indicate a reified state of phenomena. In his still early use of positivity with respect to religion, the connection to these two concepts is implied, but so, too, is the significance of

hegel, marx, dialectics49

the positive moment or social sphere. A religion becomes positive when the
social mood senses a need for greater freedom thereby beginning the creation of and transition to the new form: then and only then can [the] former religion begin to appear a positive one (Hegel 1971: 170); that is, when
it has been at least partially surpassed in the consciousness of the subjects.
In other words, any religion that can be described in Hegels terms as one
that requires the renunciation of ones will and requires the subject to
shudder before an unknown Being (1971: 169) is not positive until its subjects become conscious of their subordinated to it. Its positivity affirms an
authority relation that diminishes the subject, and it is the immediately
available authority of the positive religion that confirms the alienation of
the subject; i.e. without an attempt at negation. Lukcs points out that the
concept of positivity had placed a one-sided emphasis on the dead, alien
aspect of social institutions (1975: 333), that is, the old institution of religion
that had been distanced by a change of mood, yet remained an authority.
The concept of externalization emerged with Hegels increasing understanding of economics and the development of his basic triad of need,
work and enjoyment, along with labor as the annihilation of the object
(Lukcs 1975: 324). Externalization is a specific mode of human activity as
a result of which specific social institutions come into being and acquire
the objective nature peculiar to them (Lukcs 1975: 314). Hegel describes
the process of externalization through the activity of work: In labouring,
I make myself into a thing [and at] the same time I externalize this existence of mine, making it something alien to myself, and preserve myself
therein (Hegel 1983: 123). This process points to a progressive humanist
element in Hegel, as well as the groundwork for the later development of
a materialist analysis of economics. But Hegel is limited to a belief in
the possibility that the subject will overcome alienation within itself.
Nevertheless, this passage (from his Realphilosophie) essentially refers
to the subject externalizing his or her existence to the authority of an
institution, an institution in which truths must be held to be truths independently of our own opinions (Hegel qu. in Lukcs 1975: 18).
What Hegel is leading to here, perhaps indirectly, is the positivism that
was the object of critical theorys conception of modern society. Since
Comte, positivism had been a guarantee, if only embryonic, of the direction of change and predictability, and when formalized as scientific
knowledge it became established truth, capturing social development and
relative human autonomy in an evolutionary string of events as unnaturally natural as the positivity of religion. Positivisms truths that are
independent of our own opinions may, in fact, be truth. But what Hegel


chapter two

saw as alienating and what critical theorists saw as the pressure toward
conformism was the absence of relatively autonomous engagement of the
subject with the moral principles that should underlie the rational construction of social relations.
This brief discussion does not fully answer the question about the validity of a notion of a positive moment in dialectics. What it does do is set the
basis for a distinction between Hegels early conception of positivity and
Adornos attribution of it to positivism as such on the one hand, and the
contextualization of the positive moment in dialectics that surpasses the
immediacy of identity on the other. This topic is developed further in
chapter seven.
A Note on Dialectical Logic
We have already noted that in contradictions the place of unity (unseparatedness) in opposing moments and forces becomes the vanishing
(Hegel) of one thing into another being, nothing, becoming.
A is enunciated, and not-A, the pure other of A; but it only shows itself in
order to vanish. In this proposition, therefore, identity is expressedas
negation of the negation. A and not-A are distinguished, and these distinct
terms are related to one and the same A. Identity, therefore, is here represented as this distinguishedness in one relation or as simple difference in the
terms themselves. (Hegel 1969: 416)

Marquit (1990: 150) suggests that Hegel is qualifying his concept of identity
dialectically in that the law of identity is meaningful only if the identity is
also associated with a difference.
Hegels employment of third elements in his logic has implications
directly related to mediation if we take the latter in its simplest connotation an intermediary. This is ultimately too simplistic, although it is sufficient as a beginning. Logic itself includes its own law in this matter. The
determination of opposition has also been made into a law, the so-called
law of the excluded middle: something is either A or not-A; there is no third
(Hegel 1969: 438). Hegel then corrects this principle of formal logic. The
third element is that which is said to be excluded. The third element,
therefore, is that which is neither A nor not-A (1969: 438), that which is
ultimately objectified by being named as absent or not possible in formal
logic. The object, neither A nor not-A, does exist since it is stated to be
comprised of the A and the not-A; the linguistic and concrete copula is
the neither/nor in the statement, denoting a relation to an actual object

hegel, marx, dialectics51

where there was none in traditional logic. Further, the implication of the
law of contradiction is that there is not a third that is indifferent to the
opposition (1969: 438), but the third that Hegel recognizes as a necessity
in his logic is, in fact, indifferent to the opposition of the two original
extremes but present in A and not-A. In its indifference, the third does not
take either the side of A or not-A, but is related to each and because of
that relates each to the other. Indifference to the opposition means that
the presence and purpose of the third lies, first, in its non-intervention
in the opposition as such; secondly, its presence and purpose is to nullify
the exclusivity of the original two, thereby entering the relation between
them. This is both an empirical and a cognitive exercise.
To repeat what was noted earlier, this is what Hegel meant in his discussion of being and nothing, that becoming arises through this relation
but neither being nor nothing are annihilated as the third emerges (Hegel
1969: 107). Thus, there is an affirmation of non-identity of A and not-A.
This is a negative moment, but it is not a negation of being and becoming
as such, but a sublation of their separateness. Equally, if not more important to this condition of non-identity is what Hegel sees produced, brought
forward, from this relation: the positive moment of the emerging third,
A and not-A (combined), or as Lukcs put it, noted earlier, negation must
be supplemented from the positive side (1978a: 41). Hegels perspective
on this issue put an end to categorical thinking in philosophical and social
The relationship between essence and phenomena, too, requires a
third element, a material object; together these constitute a three-term
relation as Marquit (1981, 321) puts it citing an example from Marx: Thus,
capital presupposes wage labour; wage labour presupposes capital. They
reciprocally condition the existence of each other; they reciprocally bring
forth each other (Marx, 1977: 214). Marquit asserts that the third term
obviously represents the forces of production and subsequently refers to
such relations as mediated or indirect contradictions, in contrast to the
direct contradictions of logic (1981: 321).
The process of development and change that are central to dialectics
are represented by social phenomena that are mediated or in a different
expression, contradictions that mediate the sublation of an oppositional
relation. Mediation as a process of sublation and resolution is often
objectively incomplete, a momentary settlement of tension or opposition,


chapter two

or a partial resolution of a contradiction, or a preservation of phenomena

even as they are superseded aufhebung. This incompleteness or momentariness are reasons for not emphasizing a mechanical movement toward
a pre-determined end (e.g. from seed to tree), given the possible contingent interventions that may occur.
Mediation needs to be understood as having two distinct but related
(non-exclusive) expressions, and to be operative in two domains. I make
these distinctions here not only for theoretical reasons but, more importantly, for reasons of praxis. To suggest that mediation has different
expressions is not to suggest there are different forms of mediation, or different interpretations of it. Rather, two expressions only speaks to the
manner in which mediation is enacted and the vantage point4 from which
it is experienced, a vantage point that leads to a more complete understanding of its practical import in cognition as well as in practice. These
expressions of mediation ultimately amount to its substantive action, the
negation of immediacy and the unleashing of potential development
inherent in objects and developed through relations with other objects.
This action requires elaboration and clarification which will be taken up
here and later in this discussion. To be clear, when referring to two distinct expressions we are not referring to two types of mediations; the two
expressions are not divergent but are continuous. In practice, one might
also refer to these somewhat inadequately as sequential.
We will begin with what we might provisionally call the second stage
of the process of mediation. Consider Hegels example of the plough as a
tool by which a person enjoys, in the immediate sense, the produce
derived from using it to work on the land. We can elaborate this example
as the mediation of the relationship between (a) an agrarian laborer to
(b) the soil, a relation that is intended to result, simply put, in (c) food on
the table.
Hegel states,
To this extent the means is superior to the finite ends of external purposiveness: the plough is more honourable than are immediately the enjoyments
procured by it and which are ends. The tool lasts, while the immediate
enjoyments pass away and are forgotten. (1969: 747)

In this example, the plough is the means by which relations among (a) the
laborer, (b) the soil and (c) produce of the land are to be enjoyed; it is
established as a productive relation, and as a relation that negates the
4For the concept of the vantage point and its value in dialectics, see Ollman 1993.

hegel, marx, dialectics53

inherent oppositions between the laborer and the land that, without the
tool, can only produce so much sustenance but has the potential to produce plenty with superior technology, even the most elementary plough.
The end result is active in its means (Hegel 1969: 7456) as mediation.
But the means is the external middle term of the syllogism which is the realization of the end; the rationality in the means manifests itself as such by
maintaining itself in this external other, and precisely through this external
other. (Hegel 1969: 747)

In this case the plough is a third element in the relationship of agrarian

laborer and food on the table. The plough is external, yet integral to the
quality of the relation of laborer to soil. In the production of food a plough
as such is not absolutely necessary, but the laborer establishes a relation
with it to produce food of a certain quantity and quality. Notwithstanding
Hegels rejection of the triadic form, an agrarian laborer, plough and
produce (food) form a triangle in which, given Hegels terms, at the apex
there appears to exist the superior element of the complex, the plough,
(not separable from the other elements of the triangle), and the agrarian
laborers efforts are channeled through that element to the end, food.
This expression of mediation is distinguished as the intervention of an
external other that arose through the opposition of labor and land.
Wewill return to this.
Without the plough, the agrarian laborer can still produce food for the
table but less efficiently, in less quantity using instruments of lesser quality than with the plough, just as the agrarian laborer will later do better at
production with more qualitative interventions ploughs of different
configurations, a plough attached to a tractor, multiple ploughs attached
to a single tractor with greater horsepower, and so on. That the plough in
Hegels view is the superior element in this triangulation, reflects the qualitative function of it in relation to the agrarian laborers time and energy
to get the land to produce food, as well as the function of enabling the
agrarian laborer to produce more food than he needs immediately and
selling the surplus in the marketplace, producing income, profit, household security, and so on. The quality of the mediation is carried further by
Marx in his example of the creation of a consuming public via the product
which is possible provided historical conditions prevail for certain qualities of a public to be created, as when an objet dart creates a public that
has artistic taste and is capable of enjoying beauty (Marx 1986a: 2830).
The need of the agrarian laborer and the potential embodied in the
soil exist in a relation: the tool, the plough, mediates the becoming of the


chapter two

food that will arise from the relationship of soil, seed and labor. Need
and possibility, laborer and land, oppose one another; they are related
through the plough in their opposition to one another, a relationship that
develops the capacities in each that are drawn into the relation with compatible capacities in the other. Both the agrarian laborer and the land
undergo transformation as a result of the intervention of the plough, but it
is a particular quality of transformation specific to this relationship which
does not exclude other transformations from, for example, natural
The intervention of the third, the plough, as the practical intervention
distinguishes three dissimilar elements that are pressed into a relationship. The intervening element is a necessary development of the relation
of the original two components; it is not inevitable or a product of evolution, but one that is worked out, so to speak, through the human discovery
that an instrument configured into something that comes to be called a
plough can address a need by reducing the opposition. The plough is not
arbitrary, but neither is it an outcome that is inherent in the original relation. The plough is determined to be the necessary intervening third by
those human beings who imagine they can create an instrument to solve
their problem of food production, and it is derived from their awareness of
those aspects of their natural and constructed environment that are adequate, at least, for the crafting of the plough.5
The third element also denotes purposiveness acting through intelligence that externally determines the multiplicity of objects by a unity that
exists in and for itself, so that the indifferent determinateness of the objects
become essential through this relation (Hegel 1969: 736; see also 734). In
formal logic the concluding term of a syllogism offers an immediate termination of the argument. In recognizing that the excluded but actually
existing third relates the two premises, Hegels third is not an end but
mediation, distinguished by possessing within itself a negative moment
(1969: 675). The third in logic finds its place as the middle term of a syllogism, uniting the two extremes (Hegel 1969: 683). The determinations
articulated in the syllogism confront each other as extremes and are
united in a different third term as in the particular uniting the individual
and the universal (1969: 667), and the something that has been formed by
its determinations and has thus been constituted and unites determination and constitution in its position and function as the middle, mediating
term (1969: 124).
5On necessity in this sense, see Gerdus 2003, on the necessity of geometric angles.

hegel, marx, dialectics55

Marx employed Hegels logic in his analysis of value and exchange in

which two commodities are united by a third term, value (Marx 1967: 45;
Ilyenkov 1977: 331ff). A third element that is neither linen nor coat, for
example, and is indifferent to the opposition of these two materials as
such, is able to unite them containing, as value does, something of the
relative value of linen from which the coat is made and something of the
equivalent value of the coat that exists as potential to be developed from
the linen. The third or middle term that is developed to rationally express
a relation between two other things does not do so simply because a like
component such as a natural fibre is contained in both make them comparable. Equally significant is the presence of an identical property of each
object that makes them comparable and is expressed by the middle term,
in this case labor. Comparable in this instance means that two things are
subject to comparison because each represents the same common element (Marx 1971b: 143144, footnote); they are comparable because of the
common element, not simply because they are similar. Marx uses space as
the common property by which the distance between two things can be
expressed. Similarly, when explaining exchangeable commodities he concludes that the two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in
itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchangevalue, must therefore be reducible to this third (Marx 1967: 45). So, two
common components, natural fibre and labor, are ranked: fibre as a natural component initiates production; labor, the social component, completes the production and is extended into exchange relations.
In Hegels example of the plough, mediation appears to be expressed as
a triangulated relationship as noted above. This is incomplete and inadequate, but important from a particular vantage point. In fact, Hegels position is that a mediating element expressed as a distinguishable third such
as the plough in this example does not intervene exclusively from outside
the relation between a subject and a desired result. Thus, we take a step
backward to the first stage of the sequence or process. We have already
begun to do so in a point made above, that the laborer and the land are
related through the plough in their opposition to one another. That is, any
mediating element (any third or middle term) arises from the relation
itself, the opposition between the original elements; arising from but
retaining its indifference to the opposition itself, as noted earlier, mediation within itself (Hegel 1969: 74). In other words, the initial expression of
mediation is the interaction a reciprocation6 between opposites so
6The predominant meaning of reciprocate is equal return, but in this case at least, it
should not be taken to mean a symmetrical relation.


chapter two

that the idea of an innovative instrument, such as a plough, arises from the
contradiction between the need for food and the inability to turn sufficient
soil to plant a crop able to satisfy the needs of a number of people. Without
recognition of that contradiction, no intervening instrument would arise
because none would be sought. But the intervening instrument in this
case, when the need of it becomes a conscious requirement, is not something that arises outside the relation (Hegels external other, above, still
holds) but is integral to the initial relation of hungry people and capacity
to plant, grow and harvest. While the instrument may not be an immediate
result in time of the contradiction, it is something that emerges from a
combination of the initial contradictory relationship and the recognition
of the need for the production of such an instrument, or the factors that
inhibit its production. In this case, once the plough comes to consciousness through the laborers imagination, the recognition of its necessity, it is
evident that the contradiction and the resolution comprise a triangulated
relation that includes a distinguishable third as a practical intervention
arising from the initial contradiction; it is observed as an introduction or
intervention of a third element when, in fact, it was the reciprocal relation
of laborer and soil that generated the idea, initially, of the plough.
We do not need a distinct, intervening third (one that nevertheless
arose from the relations between the original two) to form a triangulated
expression of mediation as in the case of the plough; this is evident in
Marxs comments in the Grundrisse on production and consumption.
There mediation, no less significant or superior a component in the relationship, emerges directly from interaction rather than what may appear
as an external intervention. But, again, this is the initial step of the process
of mediation; the intervention appears as such only from a particular
vantage point. Marx writes, Production is thus directly consumption,
consumption is directly production. Each is immediately its opposite.
Production and consumption are separated as phenomena and oppose
each other in the economic system, and yet as integral elements these
make up the basis of that system. The choice in analysis is to retain this
immediate separation, reifying the opposition, or to consider such opposition valid only if the determinants are developed and analyzed, that is, the
qualities in each that will render the opposites inseparable but fruitful in
their relation. Marx continues,
At the same time, however, a mediating movement takes place between the
two. Production mediates consumption, for which it provides the material;
consumption without production would have no object. But consumption
also mediates production by providing for the products the subject for

hegel, marx, dialectics57

whom they are products. The product only obtains its final finish in consumption. A railway on which no one travels, which is therefore not used up,
not consumed, is only a railway [potentially]. (Marx 1986a: 28)

Each is opposite the other, yet elements of each form the mediating relation, making it possible for each to be completed in the other. Every
object contains a potential for mediation with another for no object or
phenomena is considered so stable that its composition or place in reality
sufficiently guards against change. In each of production and consumption there is implied a) other elements, and b) movement or force for
changing the relationship between both actions and within the make-up
of the actions themselves, and facilitating the emergence of a qualitatively
different relation. We will refer to this expression of mediation as that
which arises from a reciprocation, even while it remains contradictory; i.e.
without any sense of equality between the two initial elements. However,
due to the interaction of the two, the realization of the potential for
change and development, in this case, for example, the character of the
market, is in each as it vanishes into the other; mediation itself effectively
becomes a third force as it develops out of the contradictions of the inherent qualities of each object. If the vantage point is that of the internal relations of things it does not appear as an intervention but as a product
drawn from the integral relations of the original objects. Thus, production
and consumption, for Marx, are opposites and dynamic in that each, as
Hegel argues (1969: 8283, 90, 105), vanishes into the other as an immediate, independent object, or process. Production and consumption interact
as Hegel defined mediation itself as a process towards another state.
Hegels discussion of consciousness as an aspect of the relation between
Lord and Bondsman further illustrates this form of mediation. Each of two
consciousnesses supersedes itself as an independent consciousness, a
consciousness in-itself begins an existence for itself through another consciousness (Hegel 1977: 110). Like Marxs production and consumption,
Each is for the other the middle term, through which each mediates itself
with itself and unites with itself ; and each is for itself and for the other, an
immediate being on its own account, which at the same time is such only
through this mediation. They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing
one another. (Hegel 1977: 112)

Thus, using Hegels example again, the need mediates the production of
food; the contradiction between need and not having necessitates the
imagination and subsequent building of the plough, the idea of which
emerges from the initial contradiction need and not having, laborer and


chapter two

soil. In the reciprocating expression of mediation we do not see a distinguishable third element as the intervention in the original two, in contrast
to the vantage point that perceives the mediating element of the plough.
But where we are addressing contradictions in which human agency
plays a part, as between laborer and land, it is the imaginative, self-
conscious subject, the subject aware of its capabilities, its place in the
complex of relations one of the original sides of the contradiction that
employs its imagination and creativity to develop the opposition.
Consciousness of a particular quality, able to comprehend its potential,
moves and develops itself in its contradiction.
Besides its two expressions mediation must also be understood as having two domains, a generalized domain and a particular domain where
mediation can be seen to act in ways specific to a component of the context. These are not categorical and, therefore, cannot be treated as separate. Again, there is a theoretical interest in this distinction as well as an
interest in its value for practice, especially because vantage point remains
a crucial position for each domain. The generalized domain is the mode
and relations of production; in developed capitalism it is its entire organized system. This becomes important when we examine Adornos criticism of Benjamin in chapter six. The generalized domain of mediation is
the totality of economic, social and other processes. The prevailing mode
of production mediates, effects, influences all aspects of social relations,
notwithstanding the potential for the relative autonomy of any such relation. In bourgeois thought, however, each of these relations, each fact of
society appears as nothing more than an isolated immediacy (Lukcs 1971:
With the generalized domain of mediation we can come back to the
reciprocal relation of production and consumption. Both production and
consumption are abstractions of capital. An analysis of the internal relations of capital reveals that each partially determines the other along with
additional determining factors, and that each is a component of the complex of capital. Marxs method as illustrated in the Grundrisse demonstrates the set of internal and historical relations relevant to the discussion
of this type of mediation. Thus, the complex of capital, the processes and
relations of which it develops, its resulting production and, in turn,
consumption constitutes a broad, many-tentacled mediation. This is particularly relevant when considering cultural production and other superstructural activities. The interaction that takes place between production
and consumption is, itself, the mediating element, but the interaction can
only develop through, and because of this broader complex of relations.

hegel, marx, dialectics59

It may seem trite, but it is essential to dialectical thinking that neither

production nor consumption in the context of capital would exist as
abstractions of capital without the complex of historical, technological
and class relations that make up the active relations of capital. The context of any relation, however complex, presents, as a whole, a body of
knowledge available as means to mediate a relation. Marxs consideration
of conditions, concrete determinants, mediated the complex of the whole.
Mediation, then, must be understood, in part, as a cognitive action whose
fruit is a tool in discontinuous relation to the original elements. Further,
an integral element of the complex and, therefore, of mediation is the
individual who properly makes the abstraction of production and consumption from capital, and who comprehends the mediation that is the
interaction between them. Abstraction is a mental category. A complex of
relations presents a multitude of possible abstractions along with a range
of possible instruments, concepts, ideas that may be used in mediation.
Thus, mediation and abstraction as mental or cognitive acts are acts that
reflect consciousness of the entire complex that constitutes the context of
mediation between or among phenomena.
While the generalized domain of mediation is the source of social development in its basic economic forms as well as necessarily influencing
aspects of the superstructure, it cannot completely subsume all specific
domains of mediation. The latter may obtain within particular conditions
a relative autonomy from the generalized domain (e.g. art). In other words,
particular instances of mediation operate within the frame of the mode of
production but specifically in the location in which they are generated
and relate to opposing sides of a contradiction. What makes up their content need not be wholly confined to economically-derived motivations.
Thus, Hegels plough emerges from the generalized domain of the mode
of production that is the basic mediation of all relations and includes all
possible, relevant contingent relations. We noted above with respect to
the triangulated expression of mediation, the dissimilar elements pressed
into a relationship this is generalized mediation or mediation in
the whole social process because the pressure derives from the mode of
production. But in the same place we noted that the plough became necessary as a deliberate response by the human beings concerned. That the
plough became necessary implies alternatives; thus, the invention that
becomes intervention was a choice between alternatives in a specific
domain of human activity.
This is most important when we consider such issues as class conflict
and political parties or other organizations constituted to address and


chapter two

resolve social contradictions. Class conflict is the contradiction between

two socially and economically constituted classes. In that contradiction,
following Marx, each class mediates the other in this case, in varying
expressions and intensities of conflicting relations. The contradiction
between the two is the mediation of their relations. But, it is historically
evident that as a result of the recognition of an initial contradiction, political organizations arise trade unions, workers parties, student organizations, and on the other side, the state, employers organization and so on.
These intervene in the relation between classes, develop the relation,
draw it toward a more clear expression of the oppositional content of
the relation, and propagate the necessity of conflict and its possible resolutions to broaden the mediating element by attracting ever larger and
more organized numbers to both sides of the relation. These appear as
interventions, yet arose organically from the components of the initial
In specific domains of mediation, an individual or organization constitutes the intervening element of a relationship or process and is less complex than Marxs relation of production and consumption. As an example
we can use Lucien Goldmanns citing of the change in the real consciousness of Russian peasants through the year 1917 from supporters of the
Tsar to at least tacit supporters of the Bolsheviks (Goldmann 1977: 3233).
At issue was Lenins slogan, land to the peasants. The Bolshevik organization, through which the slogan was communicated, and the ensuing
discussion and agitation mediated the transition from one quality of consciousness to another. This led, in turn, to a reformation of the political
alliance of sectors of the peasantry with the Bolsheviks in an effort to overturn the peasants previous political alignment. Lenins introduction of
the slogan and accompanying organizational direction were qualitative
interventions. In other words, for Lenin there was no simple intervention
of the Bolsheviks between peasants and their land. Not just any slogan
would have the same effect as land to the peasants, although other
slogans, tactics by other organizations would and did have some effect
on peasants political orientation and action. But the qualitative character
of Lenins mediation was based on his understanding of peasants his
torical relation to the land and the direction the Bolsheviks wanted to
move them.



Discussing the sexual meaning and dream content of jazz, Adorno provides an example of his method. Although he refers to the social function
of jazz as a concrete historically determined constellation of social identification and sexual energy this concrete constellation is conditioned by
his interpretation of its elements: hot music, derivations of salon and
march music, authoritative expressions of the band leader and the unfree
subject a victim of the collective (2002b: 488). If we follow Adornos
original exposition of the method we will, presumably, benefit from the
flash of knowledge the agglomeration of elements will produce. While he
argues for what is concrete and historically determined underlying the
connection of the elements of the constellation, the absence of historical
evidence and clarity as to the relations among elements become glaring
omissions. The absence of these, however, affirms for Adorno the power of
esoteric theorizing, of thought that is generated by an image, a snapshot of
reality as perceived.
At least in his initial period of intellectual activity, the method was the
construction of constellations for philosophical interpretation. From an
historical materialist perspective a number of questions arise from this
approach. Is there any accounting for the determinants of a constellations elements, or any accounting for what these elements are determinate of? What is the character of the relationship of each of these elements
to others, to the complex as a whole? In other words, is this complex an
inter-connected whole, dialectically sustained and changeable through its
historically determined internal relations?
With modifications, Adorno appropriated Walter Benjamins somewhat obscure exposition of a method in his The Origin of German Tragic
Drama (Trauerspiel), to form the basis for his 1931 inaugural lecture, The
Actuality of Philosophy (2000a). The employment of constellations as a
presentation of his thought was a more or less continuous component
from that point on of Adornos cultural criticism. Notwithstanding his
consideration of materialism and dialectics in Actuality, his use of
constellations as a form of analysis brings into question his relation with


chapter three

Marxism most certainly at the level of method. A focus on constellations

draws attention to a key point of Adornos perspective that whatever
degree of development took place over the years, his philosophical and
political outlook retained a strong coherence with its original moment.
Benjamin, too, continued to compose many of his works around the idea
of constellations, such as Arcades Project and the Second Empire essay
on Baudelaire. But Benjamins approach was far more grounded in the
material of history and the structure of social relations than Adornos use
of this perspective.
In Actuality Adorno was attempting to formulate a program for his
own work and to identify the task of philosophy. While his claims to a
materialist perspective are numerous in that lecture, it is not of great
depth and is of significant distance from the historical materialism of
Marx; as well, Adorno affirms the significance of dialectics for philosophy
without much substantiation. Whatever the impact of materialism on his
program, it is overshadowed by some fundamental shortcomings in the
method. In the 1931 lecture, Adorno reduced philosophy to tasks that fundamentally originate in the subjectivity of the philosopher.
Adorno began his lecture with a brief review of late trends in philosophy and the relation of the discipline to science, the latter with respect to
whether science could take the place of philosophy liquidate it; essentially, whether philosophy had been negated altogether by the positivism
of the distinct sciences. It was his intention to reinvigorate philosophy by
explaining and contextualizing its actuality; namely, could the cardinal
philosophic questions (2000a: 29) be answered. The empirical methods
could be left to the sciences; philosophy would emphasize interpretation.
Adorno juxtaposed science to philosophy while retaining (2000a: 32)
an aspect of the relation at least from the side of philosophy: the idea of
science is research; that of philosophy is interpretation, and more specifically, philosophy perceives the first findings which it lights upon as a sign
that needs unriddling (2000a: 31). Finding or assigning meaning to portray reality as meaningful (2000a: 31) is not the task of philosophy and it
is not to justify reality as implied in the work of the positive sciences.
This position is related to Adornos use of intentional and unintentional
truth and reality. He eschewed the teleological version of history which
was history as intentional. Unintentional history or unintentional reality emerged from human-constructed constellations. The connection
with materialism is superficially present in that the interpretive task
of philosophy is centered on this unintentional reality, aspects of reality
that do not emerge individually through subjective intentions but come

aspects of adornos method63

together in function or purpose that is unintentional in relation to the

initial conscious or unconscious activity. This is a rejection of truth being
intentionally contained within history and revealed by its movement and
development, a rejection of aspects of Hegels view of history. Here the
basis of a connection with historical materialism is clear. To what extent
is it sustained?
In the previous chapter we have given some details of Marxs method,
derived and developed in large measure from that of Hegel; it is sufficient
at this point to note that the burden of historical materialism is to reconstruct the determinants of objects and phenomena, their internal relations and development not as the intention of history but as the objectively
knowable construction and substance of any historical condition. Given
Adornos use of constellations, it is not clear that this is what he has in
mind. His view of history in method is confined to historical images in
configurations constructed through an unclear and unsystematic process
of selection. The historical images and the subsequent configurations do
not arise as intentional history, and it is not clear how these arise through
the intention or interest of the historical subject. Adornos emphasis is on
selection and experimentation by the philosopher. He proposes this
approach in contrast to the research of the positive sciences, or that which
is framed by formal categories which assumes the reduction of the question to given and known elements, an approach that would tend toward
fixed meaning (2000a: 31). Positivism, as we have noted, was a central
interest of critical theory. In Actuality it appears more as a straw-man
argument; what is contrasted with the method of constellations is not
comprehensively developed, and while the reduction he alludes to may
certainly capture positivism, the matter of fixed meaning becomes a routine object of Adornos criticism whether directed at positivism or
Interpretation is a step in the method preceded by elements of sciences questions brought into various groupings long enough for them to
close together in a figure out of which the solution springs forth, while the
question disappears (2000a: 32). The function of riddle-solving, he
argued, was to light up the riddle-Gestalt like lightning and negate it
(2000a: 31). What the philosopher negates are the isolated elements of
reality discovered and articulated by science to which philosophy is
always bound (2000a: 32). In this way Adorno retained a provisional relationship with materialism. Buck-Morss (1977: 100) refers to the constellation as making the contradictions visible. If that is the case, the burst, the
flash of congealing and dissolving is given sufficient powder by Adorno to


chapter three

illuminate only a second of darkness but not enough to sustain a beacon.

But we will see Adornos later qualifications of the constellation below.
While retaining a connection with materialism, Adorno superimposes
the produce of science on the construction of figures or images by the philosopher whose task it is, again, to interpret unintentional reality. It is
these images that mediate the tenuous relation between materialism and
the philosophers task. While our images of perceived reality may very
well be Gestalten [form, shape], the world in which we live is not; it is constructed differently than out of mere images of perception (2000a: 31).
Yet, such images reappear as a tool of analysis when articulated as a constellation by the philosopher and interpreted.
Which elements converge or are assembled into a constellation? This is
not articulated except as the philosophers prerogative and the allusion to
the thinking of materialism (Adorno 2000a: 32). But it is a crucial consideration of the method that becomes all the more important because the
answer is inexplicit.
Buck-Morss understands Adornos approach to be somewhat similar to
Diltheys historico-cultural perspective, although distinguished from it by
Adornos emphasis on unintentionality (1977: 7879). Dilthey and Adorno,
like Benjamin, focused on cultural objects. Through hermeneutic procedure Dilthey wanted to interpret the artists or producers original meaning (Rickman 1979: 69, 148), while Adorno wanted to concentrate his
interpretation on outstanding features of cultural objects what they
intend, so to speak, in themselves that is of interest to those who later
appropriate that object via listening, reading, viewing. (His message in a
bottle, noted in chapter one, may well be a cultural object in this sense.)
While meaning, for Dilthey, emerged through the subjective, Adorno
(notwithstanding my earlier point concerning his subjectivism) laid claim
to interpretation through the objective structure of the economy, the
location of the unintentional. This distinction between the two is substantive. Similarities in the hermeneutic language of Dilthey and Benjamin, as
Buck-Morss points out, illuminates the non-identity of the two positions
(1977: 79). However, this still does not address sufficiently the similarities
of language between Dilthey and Adorno or the structure and presentation of their respective interpretations that, especially in the case of
Adorno, do not get us beyond subjective rationale of the selection of elements by which the constellation is constructed. His thought experiments with the commodity structure provide little relief to this problem,
but provides distance from other aspects of Diltheys orientation, such as
his irrationalist vitalism.

aspects of adornos method65

But what should be taken from Dilthey through Husserl to, even peripherally, Heidegger is more telling; namely, their intuitional components
drawn into Adornos method. While the unintentional, as used in this
context, must be accepted as an understanding of reality it is also a freefloating element in Adornos program where objects and ideas are grasped
experimentally through their viability within a proposed constellation,
a viability evident only at the bursting-point, the point in which it can be
assumed that the appropriate relations (for Marx, concrete determinations) have congealed and ignited to the point of dissolution, as Adorno
would have it.
Constellations were constructed by trial combinations, the successful
combinations fall[ing] into a figure which can be read as an answer, while
at the same time the question disappears (2000a: 32). The selection of
phenomena, the trial and error combinations were to be the interpretive
functions of the philosophers primary task, riddle-solving. While Adorno
makes claims to the objective character of phenomena and the process of
constellation construction, the claim of the latters sudden illumination of
the complex lends the entire process and result a subjective and arbitrary
Adorno provides a sense of dialectics valuable to a process of analysis
even if it does not help his own method emerge from the subjective. The
notion that a constellation is formed from certain ideas and material elements that converge into a question, constitutes a formative and formal
sequence. That the solution springs forth while the question disappears
understates the necessary residual character of the question. The justifiable questions, as Lukcs remarked in his critique of Webers sociology,
are those that are posed by reality itself (Lukcs 1980a: 614615). If the
question disappears what has happened to the component of the constellation that formed the question? The procedure expresses something of
Adornos excessive concentration on continuous negativity. The question
must remain at least residually, for the question can only be formed by the
material conditions out of which it arises and is consciously constructed.
If we apply this problem to a principle of Marxs the difference in positions
becomes more clear. Marx asserted that the working class is the only class
not interested in its continuation, but to be organized toward its own
dissolution. Hence, the question of its existence and the determinants
of its transformation are a product of the conflicts and contradictions
that become evident in the history of its internal and external relations
and may result at some historical juncture in a solution springing forward. But this would be due (as discussed in chapter two) to the internal


chapter three

r elations that the two classes had recognized as their unity in difference
since it was the needs of the bourgeois class that created its other; that
which springs forward from this contradiction is integral to that relation.
Although there may be objective forces in that intervention, or priorities
designated among possible contingencies, the elements of selection and
interpretation carry less weight than the material history of class.
If the conditions of the working class under capitalism are transformed,
they are sublated, they do not disappear, such conditions are not annihilated. Thus, the question remains as historical fact and the root of the
transformation. That the question might be annihilated by the solution
devalues the internal relations of the determinants of the transformation,
if such are more than an agglomeration of subjective selections of the philosopher and are powerful enough to elicit an answer. They can only do so
adequately when their internal relations are enunciated. Thus, BuckMorss comparison of Adornos and Marxs method needs qualification.
She notes that Marxs analysis of the commodity was governed by principles of abstraction identity and reification. Adornos constellations
were constructed according to principles of differentiation, non-identity,
and active transformation (1977: 98). First, the identity attributed to
Marx should more accurately be designated as unity (or in Hegels preference, unseparateness) of aspects of commodity production, a unity
already in the totality of relations, premised on his use of identity as [different] expressions of the same fact (Marx 1968: 410411), a point explored
further in chapter seven, below. Secondly, the degree of transformation of
elements in Adornos constellations cannot be significant or sustained;
the suddenness of their transformation is attributable to the shallowness
of the relations the analyst constructs around them.
In Adornos formulation there is an unnecessary division of labor
between philosophy and the sciences. Science is assigned the tasks of
research and the construction of questions while philosophy, although it
always remains bound to science (2000a: 32), is assigned tasks of interpretation and illumination. Yet when Adorno uses the commodity structure as an example of his program for philosophy his interpretation is
only possible because the commodity structure, as Marx articulated it, is a
structure of rational scientific thinking. The components of the commodity structure are relevant based on the rational discovery of their determinants and form the binding material of Marxs method. Interpretation
assumes that the object must be read again and read differently if we are
to be able to understand it. What, in fact, this means with respect to the
commodity structure, its internal relations and so on is unclear. What is

aspects of adornos method67

clear is that Adornos call to interpret, implies, quite rightly, that a different quality of consciousness may well be what provides the difference
between a first reading and reading again, but it is not something he
extends to the masses who are, in effect, stuck at the first, erroneous reading. Our discussion of identity and change (chapter seven) will clarify this
point. Interpretation is superfluous for at best it can only inform the rearrangement of the components based on a re-reading of the evidence. But
that, too, is a scientific endeavour to which, as Adorno argues without
clarifying details, philosophy must remain bound.
Adorno cites the relationship of configuration to reality by its philosophically certified [name]: dialectic (2000a: 34), and links the interpretive process to praxis and social change. But, the argument that through
the construction of a configuration of reality the demand for its [realitys]
change always follows promptly is not clearly defined, although we might
take a cue from the statement, the historical images are manageable and
comprehensible instruments of human reason (2000a: 36).
Notwithstanding the underdeveloped, yet clearly existing dialectical
aspects of Kants work based in synthetic judgements,1 the method
Adorno proposes is an experiment in thought and relies on thought that is
possible a priori, clearly associated with Kants process of knowledge
development. For example, Kant defines synthesis as
the act of putting different representations together, and of comprehending
their manifoldness in one item of knowledge. This knowledge may at first
be crude and confused and hence in need of analysis, yet synthesis is what
really gathers the elements for knowledge and unifies them into a certain
content. (Kant 2007: 103104)

The problem lies in Adornos reticence to commit the theoretical to a

meaningful relation with practice.
Thus, there must be more to ground the selection of elements gathered
into a constellation as well as the interpretation of them. What is it in the
elements of a constellation that links one component with another and
leads to the burst of truth? Or to knowledge? The answer is the pretence of
contradiction, a superficial view taken merely by naming the problematic
objects and their relations with others without a comprehensive enunciation of those relations what brought them about, where do they stand at
a particular historical juncture, to what will the contradiction lead if fully
1See, for example, Adornos argument that dialectic, though in crude form, is already
present in Kants Critique of Pure Reason (Adorno 2001: 8788).


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developed and sublated. With no answer to such questions in Actuality,

too much space is left for the philosopher to exercise a privileged selection
and interpretation.
For example, Jameson (1990: 96) cites several statements from the long
note, Man and Animal, in the Notes and Drafts section of Dialectic of
Enlightenment in support of his notion that this piece is one of the central
constellations of that work. While it may be described as a poetic sojourn
through a supposed history of the human-animal relationship and that
between men and women, it hardly qualifies, as Jameson argues, as one of
the philosophical ancestors of the ecology movement or as more than a
gesture of Frankfurt School proto-feminism.
As is typical of Adorno, especially evident in the Dialectic of Enlight
enment, the piece takes only the slightest deviation from a subjectively
posited moral norm to undo reason from all that it is or may become.
Unreasoning creatures have encountered reason throughout the ages in
war and peace, in arena and slaughterhouse, from the lingering death-throes
of the mammoth overpowered by a primitive tribe in the first planned
assault down to the unrelenting exploitation of the animal kingdom in our
own days. (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 245246)

The genus-condition of animals is described as non-rational,2 without

speech, experiencing short-term happiness if happiness at all. Humans
infuse their own emotions and needs into animals and in the condemnation of the character of fellow-men by consigning the failed to the body of
an animal in folklore and fairy tales. The form of domination of humans
over animals is masculine; subordinated women are assigned to care for
Adorno creates a false dichotomy between humans and animals; the
relations this dichotomy illuminates are one-sided, the bridge between
the two consists only of instrumental, exploitative domination of one over
the other. As we noted in the introduction, this cannot be put down to the
rational distance between concept and object. The cognitive difference
exists that affects, for the animal, new constraint[s] beyond which no
idea can reach. But, does every moment (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982:
246) of an animals life bring about such constraints and negativity?
Indeed, the religious and ritualistic relation of human to animal is historically demonstrable as a constant reminder of human rationalization of
2Unvernunft is translated as irrational whereas its meaning is, more accurately,
dumbness, stupidity or non-reasoning.

aspects of adornos method69

their own superiority and power. But assertions of an absolute, ungrounded

and de-contextualized character are what sustains Adornos non-identity
between humans and animals.
Animals are only remembered when the few remaining specimens, the
counterparts of the medieval jester, perish in excruciating pain, as a capital
loss for their owner who neglected to afford them adequate fire protection
in an age of iron and steel. The tall giraffe and the white elephant are oddities of which now even the shrewdest schoolboy would now hardly feel the
loss. (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 251)

The human animal relation is one-sided, such as the Nazis choice to

add spice to power through the terror [Great Danes and lion cubs]
inspire (1982: 253) and the distorted faces of the manipulated lineage of
the Pekingese (1982: 251).
That woman is not a being in her own right, a subject describes her
historical condition, but hardly serves as historical materialist analysis. To
Jamesons comment about proto-feminism, above, one could easily reply
that women combined with the remarks on animals in Horkheimer and
Adornos analysis are like Russian dolls aphorisms tucked neatly inside
one another, devoid of an illumination of the roots of their existence and
The examples from this brief text annunciate the pretence of contradictions for they are surely not the contradictions of a fully inclusive dialectics, nor do they have the stature of contradictions so crucial to Hegels
logic. Indeed, this is a note or draft, not a fully-developed essay although it
is among the longest in that section of Dialectic of Enlightenment, yet
Jameson gives it the status of exemplar with respect to Adornos method.
It was a dated text by the time of Jamesons comment with respect to cultural attitudes toward animals. Nevertheless, like many of Adornos jazz
articles, as we will see, the text was written in a vacuum with respect to the
internal relations of its various components at the time and, in fact, in the
longer history and contextualization of those relations.
Adorno structures the text as a panel of oppositions that are not drawn
out as an assertion of their contradictoriness, but merely as oppositions.
This is what occurs when the determinations of phenomena, and determinations of their opposition, are not clearly grounded in an exposition
of their relations so that the sublation of determinants can be demonstrated through the levels and intensity of the interaction. Nor is there
any sense in which the relations are mediated. Again, we acknowledge
the draft-character of this text, but one would assume that a more developed text would elaborate and clarify the lacunae of Man and Animal.


chapter three

Similar to Jameson, Buck-Morss makes an argument for Adornos 1936

essay, On Jazz: it contains the meat-and-potatoes principle of dialectical logic that what appears to be one thing was essentially its opposite
(Buck-Morss 1977: 100). Hegel, Marx, and others show that this staple is
more complex, less immediately revealing than this comment suggests.
We will return to the essay and the topic of jazz in the following chapter.
But if Man and Animal is a good example of a constellation it also
serves to illustrate the fundamentally arbitrary make-up of that theoretical tool.
Thus, an obvious question is what prevents Adorno from using elements for which he can clearly define the objective determinants and that
illustrate the sublations that emerge from relations of contradiction?
Buck-Morss asserts the following about Adornos constellations:
Each of Adornos essays articulates an idea in Benjamins sense of constructing a specific, concrete constellation out of the elements of the phenomenon, and it does so in order that the sociohistorical reality which
constitutes its truth becomes physically visible within it. (1977: 96)

The sociohistorical reality that becomes visible will be conditioned by the

interpreters purpose and intellectual sources, and many of Adornos
essays exhibit only the most vague of sociohistorical contexts. But for all
the problems associated with the use of constellations as a form of analysis, Benjamin does it with a more thorough material grounding, not leaving his analysis at the level of ideas alone. The same applies to Buck-Morsss
comment on Marxs analysis of the mystery of commodities, although he
submitted these to dialectical and historical analysis rather than interpretation. When Marx set out to decipher the mystery of commodities,
he noted explicitly that their true nature was imperceptible, that it
had absolutely no connection to their physical qualities (Buck-Morss
1977: 96). This is both narrowly correct and incomplete. First, the complete phrase that includes the word imperceptible, is that commodities
are social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and
imperceptible by the senses (Marx 1967: 77, emphasis added). Secondly,
Marx is writing of commodities in the sense of an abstraction, things qua
commodities, and in the context of fetishized relations. It is commodity
fetishism that produces a special social relation between producers and
their products, a relation that obscures the origin and properties of things
and relations to other phenomena. That Marx was concerned with the
sociohistorical character of things, whether sheep, wool coats or gold, is
evident in his discussion of commodities and exchange in the first chapter

aspects of adornos method71

of Capital. In other words the qualities and relations are present and can
be understood, thus they are perceptible through reason and critique in
finding an alternative to appearance and immediacy.
The fact that Adorno was less concerned with economic factors, as
Buck-Morss notes, and more concerned to discover the truth of the social
totality (which could never be experienced in itself) as it quite literally
appeared within the object in a particular configuration (Buck-Morss
1977: 96), actually does make a substantial difference in both the outcome
of the project and its content. She notes the differences between Adornos
and Marxs criteria for analysis (1977: 98), with Adornos emphasis on the
phenomenal elements out of which constellations were to be formed by
the philosopher. However, despite his acknowledgement in The Actuality
of Philosophy of the materialism of Marxs analysis of the commodity,
Adorno preferred a less material, less grounded approach to construct his
constellations. It was not organized around determinate relations but his
own intuitive selection, motivated in large measure by his rejection of any
conception of totality as irrelevant to philosophy. His selection of elements is determined by his imputing to objects and phenomena the criteria and relevance for their admission to the constellation. He determines
the relevance of particular elements in their isolated state, arguing
simultaneously that philosophy must learn to renounce the question of
totality (Adorno 2000a: 32). This is evident in the fragment Man and
Animals. In Marxist and Hegelian dialectics, isolation is only a momentary possibility. This was never a simple notion of the interrelation or
interconnection of things, but of the linkages provided by determinants,
contradiction, sublation, and partial resolution at a higher level. The rejection of totality, ignoring the explicit significance of determinate relations
follows hand-in-hand with Adornos crucial distancing of his program
from the social: the truth content is in principle different from the historical and psychological conditions out of which it grows (2000a: 33).
If there is no such connection, it is hardly possible that this vague materialism could be seen as even a precursor to taking up Marxs more
fully-developed method. Nor is it possible to see this as more than a fundamentally subjective approach.
But at that point in the essay Adorno was questioning the possible resolution of the thing-in-itself problem using the commodity structure as his
example. Kants thing-in-itself fundamentally neutralized efforts to investigate and analyse it with the claim that it cannot be known to us (Kant
2007: 2324). Adorno, then, asserts the misdirection of Lukcs attempted
resolution to the problem when he sought to show that somehow the


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social conditions might be revealed under which the thing-in-itself problem came into existence (2000a: 33).3
In this regard, Buck-Morss acknowledges the influence of Husserl on
Adornos method (1977: 96). Although not citing Adorno, Lukcs points to
the consequences of an approach without the depth and intensity of relations. The relation of the ideas to objective reality is disrupted from
that of concrete content, and a method is created that blurs and indeed
erases the distinction between true and false, necessary and arbitrary, real
and merely imagined (Lukcs 1980: 483). Commenting specifically on
Husserls method, Lukcs states that it amounts to nothing more than the
subjectivist-idealist statement: it is my ideas which determine the essence
of reality (1980: 483).
Marxs method is a movement of concretization, the ascent from the
abstract to the concrete (Ilyenkov 2008: 5960 and passim.); that is, a concretization of abstract elements, abstractions of socio-historical reality
that once concretized reveals totality. His method is detailed in the economic manuscripts in the section, The Method of Political Economy
(Marx 1986a: 3745). Through examples, beginning with population, he
outlines the process of analysis in which the value of several aspects of the
method that are developed in contrast to that of earlier political economists. Of particular importance with respect to Adornos method of
constellations is Marxs emphasis on controlling abstractions via concretization, through the internal relations that inform the interactions of all
components. By itself, each component remains an abstraction; the correlation of each through analysis results in the concrete concept of population. The movement of analysis is to locate all phenomena that are
determinants of population that contain aspects or attributes of other
phenomena as a part of the internal relations of each including population itself. Upon completion of this process population is concretized by
the agglomeration of all phenomena through the internal relations discovered in the process of analysis. This process not only produces the concrete population but contributes to the concretization of each component
as these are internally related to all other components culminating in
population as concrete. All the components of population, then, cohere
by way of their internal relations, because each and all are determinants of
population. Marxs principle in this process is that the concrete is concrete because it is a synthesis of many determinants, thus a unity of the
3Lukcs attempt to work out this problem is found in the section, The Antinomies of
Bourgeois Thought of the chapter on reification in History and Class Consciousness (1971).

aspects of adornos method73

diverse from abstract determination by way of thinking to the reproduction of the concrete (1986a: 38).
Unlike Adornos approach, Marxs is a summing up of internal relations of each component that contains some of the attributes of components to which they are related (Ollman 1993: 37). The course of abstract
thinking, Marx writes (1986a: 39), which advances from the elementary
to the combined corresponds to the actual historical process. The relationship of thinking to the historical process gives priority to materialist,
concrete analysis; in this way no social phenomena or combination could
be understood immediately but only as it historically developed out of
and in relation to other phenomena. While there is evidently a relationship among the components of Adornos constellations, they have been
subjectively posited and this cannot bear a strong relation to those phenomena in Marxs method that are dialectically and historically related. In
the latters analyses there is no flash of an answer and no disappearing
It is not possible to construct a simple comparison between Marxs
method and Adornos. The latters is neither a critique nor a develop
ment of Marxs method. Referring to Adornos 1931 lecture, Buck-Morss
(1977:24) suggests that it is difficult to attribute to it a Marxist sense while
affirming that it was not Marxism. However, his later discussion of constellations in Negative Dialectics does approach Marxs method most
significantly in his referencing of the history contained in objects making
up the constellation, and the consciousness of that history by a knowledge mindful of the historic positional value of the object in its relation to
other objects (Adorno 1973: 163, see also 172). The processes that have
contributed to the formation of the object become known when the object
is understood in the constellation, implicitly acknowledging the neces
sityof relations among the various elements. Although he maintains the
notion of the constellations sudden burst of revealing knowledge, this
will not occur by way of a single action but through the effect of a combination of contributing factors.
If we use Marxs method to address an implicit question of Adornos,
What is the relation between human beings and animals? the analysis
would look much different and the outcome more concrete. The root of
Adornos comparison is that animals are not humans, animals do not possess the capacity to think, animals are subject to domination by humans;
the result of these factors is that animals are unavoidably miserable in an
environment populated also by the wilful terror of human beings. Happy
animals there are, but then how short-lived is their happiness! The life of


chapter three

an animal, unrelieved by the liberating influence of thought, is dreary and

harsh (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 246247). But even here Adorno
does not take animals as they are with capacities relevant to their species
and to the contexts in which they live without being dominated and
exploited by human beings. Rather, the harsh and dreary lives is a consequence of having no capacity for thought, by which he means human
thought; a false dichotomy.
A Marxist analysis would begin with the essential differences between
the two.
Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or
anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves
from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a
step which is conditioned by their physical organization. (Marx and Engels
1976a: 31)

A determinant of each, human and animal, is physical organization of

the brain, its structure and capacity. Thought, which is Adornos basic
distinction, plays a part, but for Marx and Engels it is not thought as such,
but that capacity to construct in the imagination and physically produce
tools external to their physical organization with which, as a consequence, humans produce their subsistence. Hegels plough is an example
of this. Marxs example of the architect and bee is a further qualifica
tion of the basic difference (Marx, 1967: 174), as is the human beings
initial animal consciousness toward nature as a completely alien,
all-powerful, unassailable force (Marx and Engels 1976a: 44). Humans
produce their subsistence, animals find it or, in the case of domestic
animals are given it.
Additional determinants are the varied purposes that form relationships between humans and animals: the relationship that produces meat
and hide; the relationship between a human and a greyhound that produces the comparatively short-lived muscularity designed to win race
prizes; the relationship that produces domestic care, comfort and security
for people and dogs or cats or horses without the domination and exploitation that govern the relationships in Adornos constellation. But within
that constellation is the residual formalism constructed of the dominating
structure of capitalism and its culture industry, and its entrapment that,
for Adorno, must be overcome before the relation between humans
and animals (as well as other relations) can contain a non-exploitative
content. If the constellation of animals and humans is one of overwhelming domination by the latter, Adorno perpetuates it. We will see Adorno
return to this idea in his essays on popular music, jazz and profascist

aspects of adornos method75

a gitation where the focus shifts from animals to the working class devoid
of the liberating influence of thought.
How did Benjamin employ the method he outlined in Origin? In
addressing this question, the issue is not whether Adorno employed
the method accurately as it was articulated by Benjamin, particularly
since the method was of provisional status in the latters own work at the
time though developed in other ways later. Rather it is the substantial
differences between the two authors that are largely due to the respective
intellectual sources and the purposes they brought to their individual
As Adorno would do, Benjamin (1998: 33) begins his The Origin of
German Tragic Drama with a rejection of philosophical systems, except
where they are inspired in their basic outline by the constitution of the
world of ideas. Benjamin preferred philosophical contemplation based
on constellations indirectly relating to or underlying an idea, exuding the
brilliance of the mosaic (1998: 29), of fragments held together. Concepts,
he argued, mediate the relations of phenomena and ideas as the latter are
expressed through objects. Although not without qualification as to its
limits (1998: 43), the method is inductive, gathering the multiplicity of
ideas for representation (objects, phenomena) by criteria not fully explicit.
Benjamin claimed Origin could be adequately read only by thorough
knowledge of the Kabbalah. Sholem wondered about Benjamins rationale for this claim that was made to others but never to him despite his
knowledge of Kabbalah texts. He suggested that the common understanding of the Kabbalah was its difficulty to decipher inner secrets and that
Benjamin may have wanted to defend his method in the first chapter
against the reproach of [its] incomprehensibility (Scholem 1981: 125).4
This may have been the case, but Scholem also acknowledges what
Benjamin knew: the mysticism and revelation of mystery in the Kabbalah
and its various interpretations (Scholem, 1998: 46 and passim). Thus,
whether originally intended or not the Kabbalah model indirectly had its
presence in Origin but the discussion of the mysteries was more materially based. Adorno, however, revelled in the power of the philosophers
privileged knowledge upon which an even more privileged interpretation
of inner secrets could be made; in his work, the riddle stood in the place of
Benjamins Kabbalah mystery.
4Sholem also points out that Benjamin may have modified a comment Sholem had
made to students, that in order to understand the Kaballah, nowadays one had to read
Franz Kafkas writings first, particularly The Trial (Sholem 1981: 125).


chapter three

Beyond the introductory chapter, Origin is indeed more easily comprehensible. Adornos constellations, with their sudden, unexplained bursts
of light differ from Benjamins analysis of the baroque tragic dramas. His
approach was to focus on the allegories and their multiple elements as
illustrative techniques of the dramas. Benjamin provides a clear historical
and material context (though not, strictly speaking, the model of historical materialism) in which dialectics is evident in the relations he discusses:
history, objects, convention, the dialectical relation of antimonies and
that of written language and sound, and most importantly, the allegory as
an object of knowledge. The secreted meanings drawn into the open are
based on a theological orientation, though less apparent than in his essays
on language of the same period (see for example, Benjamin 1996).
For Benjamin, allegory is a schema of knowledge that does not emerge
as a natural expression of an object or idea; rather, it is a cultural product
of the allegorists comprehension and critique that intervenes in the
power of the symbol that attempts to establish an unequivocal relation to
the subject.
If the object becomes allegorical under the gaze of melancholy, if melancholy causes life to flow out of it and it remains behind dead, but eternally
secure, then it is exposed to the allegorist, it is unconditionally in his power.
That is to say that it is now quite incapable of emanating any meaning or
significance of its own; such significance as it has, it acquires from the allegorist. (Benjamin 1998, 183184)

A passage in Adornos Actuality appears to be somewhat similar; in fact,

he sets apart his philosopher from Benjamins allegorist. Historical images
that form important aspects of Origin are, for Adorno, the manipulation
of conceptual material by philosophy (2000a: 36). Produced by human
beings, historical images are legitimated in the last analysis alone by the
fact that reality crystallizes about them in striking conclusiveness but
they are borne of fantasy which abides strictly within the material which
the sciences present to it, and reaches beyond them only in the smallest
aspects of their arrangement: aspects, granted, which fantasy itself must
originally generate (2000a: 3637). This is another example of a method
and style intended to render knowledge opaque, to make it a privilege to
access. Buck-Morss argues that this was Adornos attempt to give priority
to the object and to avoid the absence of dialectics in subjective idealism
and the inadequacies of vulgar materialism; but she is also aware of the
difficulties of realizing such a program without distorting the object itself
(1977: 90).

aspects of adornos method77

Adorno offers what is, in the end, no clear method. He continues from
the passage, above:
If the idea of philosophic interpretation is valid, then it can be expressed
as the demand to answer the questions of a pre-given reality each time,
through a fantasy that rearranges the elements of the question without
going beyond the circumference of the elements, the exactitude of which
has its control in the disappearance of the question. (2000a, 37)

What are these elements? What is their spatial arrangement that gives
them a circumference in which the fantasy can comfortably work? More
over, how can this be compatible to any degree with a dialectics of the
In Benjamins initial use of imagery, constellations are altered toward
an ostensibly more materialist reading by Adorno in the 1931 lecture, but
Benjamin also revised his use of them a decade after the Trauerspiel book,
especially in The Paris of the Second Empire, which Adorno rejected as
insufficiently mediated. The latter essay was constructed around images
and constellations that had not only a more materialist grounding but also
a stronger and more explicit basis in Marxist analysis. Benjamins initial
use of constellations was clearly a product of the mind through his analogy of the timeless constellations of ideas in relation to objects and heavenly constellations (1998: 34) but later became more materialist and less
In Adornos hands the interpretation of the philosopher is fundamentally intuitive and subjective. While he claimed otherwise, his version of
interpretation does not meet the threshold of an historical materialist
analysis. A major part of this can be attributed to Adornos style; he understands the images and constellations he creates; he believes them to be
self-explanatory if one follows fully his construction and if one takes as
given the assumptions drawn from his interpretation.
Adornos Bilderverbot and the Negation of Messianism
Constellations are only one use of images in Adornos work. Images can
provide us with a mental image obviously, or a physical layout in the
imagination of a social condition or problem. But the onus is on those who
imagine or project in this sense to provide an explication of the image
from root to material actuality of a condition or problem.
Another example of Adornos images is the curiosity that appears in
a few instances within his writings that advances his dissuasion from


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ossible concrete action. This is the backward reach to a prohibition on

images and has been taken up by several commentators. Bilderverbot is
the German word for the English, aniconism, the biblical ban on idolatrous images or images of false gods. Adorno took some licence with this
metaphor and others have taken additional liberty with his use of it.
He does not employ Bilderverbot in strictly religious terms, its origins in
Judaism or its adoption into Christianity and Islam, but in terms that are
theological, including the claims of negative theology. The manner in
which he appropriates such images more to the point, the image of such
images exposes his use of Bilderverbot as a denial the banned image
of a possible alternative. If Pritchards argument is accepted that Adornos
use of the Bilderverbot is the reality of damaged life and the revelation
of fallen reality (2002: 295), then the metaphor is an effective denial of an
important development out of late nineteenth-century Judaism, secular
While Adorno and others refer to Bilderverbot as the ban on images,
more than one commentator has erroneously called it a ban on the naming of God. In the first instance, the Torah demands no outright ban on
images, only those deemed to be in denial of God and, thus, for purposes
of idolatry false gods, craven images (Exodus 20: 45; 34: 14, 17); it is a ban
on any alternative to the one God.5 The Torahs ban on images is specified
and limited.
As to the ban on naming, the voice answering Moses question on
Mt. Sinai merely refused to give a name by which the deity could be
defined (Exodus 3: 1315). Being defined and having ones attributes
known in the biblical world implied some measure of control over
the person; the attributes of God, according to Philo and much later
Maimonides, could only be stated in the negative (Magonet 1998: 13;
Sandmel 1979: 93; Biale 2011). This is consistent with Adornos argument
about the inadequacy of concepts and the potential entrapment by their
definitions. But, given the many substitutes for the name of God (YHWH,
the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Adonai, ha-Shem) among the religious, the ban is limited in effect.6 Thus, Jays claim that it is the Jewish
taboo against uttering the sacred (1973: 262, 263) is quite a narrowly
defined ban, linguistically and traditionally; a taboo that hardly defines
5Despite the commandment, the idea of a single God in Judaism was not established
until several centuries later with the canonization of the Torah. See Arnold 1995: 4950;
Magonet 1998: 1518.
6This may have been the first instance of the well-known custom among Orthodox
Jews to find ways of circumventing Sabbath laws. See Dundes 2002; Ettinger 2009.

aspects of adornos method79

Jews as a whole. Nor can Horkheimers claim that philosophy intends to

organize language so that all things are called by their right names be
legitimately linked even indirectly to this ban (Horkheimer 1974a: 179; Jay
1973: 262), or his inexplicable claim that an essential relation between idealism and Jewish thought was the impossibility of giving a name to the
Divine (Horkheimer 1974b: 113). Finlayson points out Adornos assertion
that the ban has been exacerbated. The latter states that Once upon a
time the image ban extended to pronouncing the name (1973: 401402);
however, both bans purportedly occurred in the same historical moment
which, according to the stories of the Jewish bible is not consistent with
the history of one god, as noted above. Finlaysons reading of Exodus 20: 7
contributes to the confusion by suggesting that the ban on pronouncing
the name of God is found there when that verse actually prohibits the taking of the name in vain; that is, showing a lack of respect.7 Jay argues that
Horkheimer and Adorno are not approaching this issue in theological
terms; nevertheless the claims that he and others make imply a connection to religious elements of Judaism that are limited in scope and do not
consider the secular alternative that informed so many struggles for social
change beginning in the late 19th century.
If the ban is sustained beyond images affirming or opposing religious
representation and theological explanation, i.e. into the 20th century and
beyond, then of what does the concept, or image, consist? In other words,
can the ban be meaningfully extended to a form or picture, and if so is it
limited to God, an idol, or extended to a future orientation? Or, given the
claims about the ban, is it all these rather indiscriminately treated as a
singular truth? Pritchard notes that for some readers of Adornos statements it was a theological matter, negatively so; for others, including other
critical theorists, Adornos allegiance to the ban undermines any contribution [to] emancipatory praxis (Pritchard 2002: 291292).
Adornos oft-quoted statement upholding the Bilderverbot is as
The materialist longing to grasp the thing aims at the opposite: it is only in
the absence of images that the full object could be conceived. Such absence
concurs with the theological ban on images. Materialism brought that ban
into secular form by not permitting Utopia to be positively pictured; this is
7Both the King James version and the Masoretic Text used for the 1917 Jewish
Publication Society Hebrew bible limit Exodus 20: 7 to that meaning of the commandment. However, the New English Bible cites making wrong use of the name and those
who misuse his name as violations of the commandment.


chapter three
the substance of its negativity. (Adorno 1973, 207; see also Pritchard 2002:
291; Finlayson 2012: 26;8 Comay 1997: 55)

This remark is preceded by a concern for the relation of theory and practice, and the object of theory in relation to knowledge. At issue for Adorno,
as we have noted, is the problem of the unity of theory and practice; what
is not at issue for him is the relation between the two as a mediating one.
The object of theory is not something immediate (Adorno 1973: 206),
thus it is not immediately either an image of God, theologically speaking,
nor the projection toward a secular utopia the object of emancipatory
praxis. Such mediation that would emerge from the relation of theory
and practice would not be intended to carry home a replica (1973: 206) of
the object of theory, that would be too mechanical and too immediate.
But the negativity that Adorno attributes to materialism in this instance
is not an absence of an image or a projection of possible of utopias. The
absence, rather, is Adornos unwillingness to conceive of the image or the
picture in terms other than the absolute, the finality of the construction of
utopia. In other words, it is his unwillingness to see it in the same way he
conceives of the inability of concepts to fully or adequately, for more than
a moment, cover the dynamic substance and relation of things. Pritchard
argues that, in fact, this is the orientation of Adorno, but it remains a theological orientation, an end of emancipatory praxis, not one that is open to
the contingencies that mediate what is not yet complete. Thus, her argument does not hold that Adornos view of the ban is directed at the social
reality that begs close scrutiny and careful correction (Pritchard 2002:
301), especially premised on the rather static account that things have an
excessive character; rather, things are dynamic, they do not hold still and
are not to be held motionless, that is the meaning Adorno cites as the
problem of concepts that he does not extend to other domains.
Adorno concedes that the ban goes beyond pronunciation of the name.
The ban allows him an avenue to despair: the ban has been extended
against hope: the mere thought of hope is a transgression against it, an
act of working against it (1973: 402). But this remark is still within the
realm of the theological, extending it, illegitimately, to the secular the
hope of something new, something changed, something imagined and
worked toward enaction utopia.
Finlayson suggests that Adornos austere negativism is based on two
claims, that there are no possible vestiges of the good, of utopia, or right
8Finlaysons is a slightly different translation than that in Ashtons translation of
Negative Dialectics.

aspects of adornos method81

living, and existing conditions make a reliable conception of the right

life impossible (2012: 5). He suggests that the last of these claims is linked
to Adornos view of the ban on images; both, in fact, appear to have that
connection. Notwithstanding the remarks on theology, above, Finlayson
is correct that much of the literature on Adornos views of the ban place
too great an emphasis on the religious element (2012: 8).
I have suggested that the adherence to the ban, directly or through metaphor, is a denial of the Messianic strain in Judaism, especially its secular
manifestation. Although not limiting critique and change to political
activism alone, Horkheimers intention was that critical theory be broader
and more intense than the exposure of bourgeois culture since understanding the negativity and relativity of the existing culture does not imply
that the possession of such knowledge constitutes, in itself, the overcoming of this historical situation (1974a: 183). Although the last part of this
statement held in critical theory, much of it, especially in Adornos work,
revolved around the possession of a perspective on existing cultural problems. Thus, the damaged life, fallen reality limitations on language
became the concentration. Implications that Adornos approach had
strains of Jewish philosophical and historical experience might be sustainable if these were less selective and, fundamentally, less arbitrary.
Rabinbach (1985: 82) refers to modern Jewish Messianism as a phenomenon that is a Jewishness without Judaism. Benjamin, Bloch, Lukcs, and
others claimed affinity to some secular version of Messianism in more or
less revolutionary form. But long before them, secular messianism (in versions of more or less adherence to Judaism) had taken hold among
European and Russian Jews. Not every socialist organization can be said to
be guided by this orientation, but many of their members or would-be
members were moved by the Haskala beginning in the late 18th century in
the same period as gradual emancipation in Germany began up to the
moment of its formalization in the early 1870s;9 notably, this period of a
century also included the development of Reform Judaism that emphasized Jewish tradition and its moral content. This was a period of growing
anti-Semitism on the one hand and, on the other, developing consciousness of the place of Jews in European society and the expectation that
greater possibilities could be won. Weisberger (1997) has argued that
European Jews not only embraced the idea of socialism as a political
option in the post-emancipation period, but also saw it as an ethical
9See Goldfarb (2009) for a broader discussion of the process and consequences of


chapter three

choice as the process of secularization became an alternative to traditional Judaism. Within this movement, the idea of messianism emerged as
a legitimate secular idea because of its place in traditional Judaism and
because it is inherently volatile and can produce profound political reverberations (Weisberger 1997: 115).
For a Jew (Adorno had limited connection to Judaism10) who proclaimed a socialist orientation or anyone informed by messianic principles (these might be the same) how is it possible to have a future
orientation limited by constraints on its communication and imagination? The language of the image ban for Adorno and others, including
contemporary commentators appears to be none other than the ban on
what moves the imagination of utopians, for whom its realization is possible but beyond any feasibly foreseeable future. The difficulty is the
extent and legitimacy of the extrapolation from Jewish traditions to critical theorists visions or assertions that would correspond with either the
earthly future or the hereafter that reflects its principles back on the present seated in a future prospect.
I have noted the ban on naming God which is not a real ban at all, given
the various circumventions of it and the temporal distance from the purported ban to the point at which Judaism established the only-one-god
principle of its faith. Further, any orientation of future conditions or possibilities drawn from that historical period cannot claim any notion of
afterlife, or the hereafter for Judaism at that time gave priority to the
earthly existence, the problems and possible resolutions, not to what
might be beyond this life (Telushkin 2010, 186189). Certainly Jewish secularism, messianic or not, gives priority to this-worldly actions and prospects. The point is that what has been portrayed as a perspective informed
by historico-religious practices has been illegitimately appropriated to
ban secular models of action that would reveal and settle the future.

10Adorno was born to a Catholic mother and a fully assimilated father of Jewish background. He was baptized Catholic and later confirmed as a Protestant but maintained
atheism in his adult life except for a brief flirtation with Catholicism. After the fate of Jews
began to be known in the early years of the war, Adorno wrote that he could no longer
separate himself from that fate (Claussen 2008: 267).



In 1930 when the Nazi Party assumed power in the German state of
Thuringia an ordinance was imposed that Adorno considered a new legal
situation (2002a: 496). The ordinance was directed against Negro culture prohibiting jazz band and drum music, Negro dances, Negro
songs, Negro plays (Kater 1992: 24). The legal precedent was significant
for Adorno because its substance reflected the cultural correctness of the
law, a drastic verdict that was long ago decided in fact: the end of jazz
music itself. For no matter what one wishes to understand about white or
Negro jazz, there is nothing to salvage (Adorno 2002a: 496). Whatever
suspicions Adorno may have had of National Socialism at the time, at least
the fascists legislative efforts against jazz could be affirmed as an appropriate decision. The clever art composers will have to find another means
of developing music, Adorno (2002a: 496) continued, but in the surviving
clubs the last interjected false bar [Scheintatk], the last muted trumpet, if
not unheard, will soon die away without a shock. Claussen (2008, 195)
merely states that Adorno reacted to the Nazi ban on Negro jazz in 1933
with the essay Farewell to Jazz, failing to note that it was an affirmative
reaction wholly agreeing with a ban on a particular kind of music associated with an historically oppressed group of people. Adorno (2002b: 485)
attempted to soften his initial response a few years later suggesting that
the Nazi ban, though powerless, had more to do with the surface tendency to reach back to pre-capitalist, feudal forms of immediacy and to
call these socialism. This makes little sense because at one stroke it nullifies his argument relating jazz and military march music and displaces the
rise of jazz in its various forms from its development in the period of the
consolidation of capitalism from the late 19th century.
In this chapter I focus on aspects of Adornos views of the masses evident in his discussion of jazz, popular music and radio. His views not only
place the masses in a position of subordination to the culture industry but
assign to them significant responsibility for their own social condition of
subordination and the reproduction of capitalism that was the source of
their oppression. From his point of view they did this willingly, in large
measure to satisfy their pathological needs. In both the jazz and anti-fascist


chapter four

essays (discussed in the following chapter) Adorno accomplishes this

through a style that rests on assumptions that require, in his view, little
explanation; it is a categorical language that relies on, as we have noted,
Adornos antithetical concept pairs (Buck-Morss 1977: 59). The style and
language of this work are legitimized behind the barricade of theory against
which practice, in Adornos view, can make few, if any, substantive inroads.
Once paired with practice, theory becomes subordinate to it.
Beginning in the late 19th century, and certainly after World War I, the
relatively greater availability of free time, in no small measure a result of
technological development, encouraged the growth of an entertainment
sector, broadly-based and varied in content. It is here that the popular
music once limited to collective social activity by specific customs and
use, as well as technological conditions, took on the characteristics of
commodities: utility and a value-form, characteristics fully realized in the
context of exchange relations (Marx 1967: 54) in the growing consumer
society. But much of what made up or was incorporated into that sector
had its roots in popular culture, some of which, especially prior to World
War I, drifted into the petty mode or small commodity production with
little exchange of commodities to produce surplus-value and little need
for it.
Everything Adorno wrote about popular music and jazz must be understood within the frame of one focus of his work, the culture industry. This
concept was intended to serve as the most adequate expression of contemporary capitalism, an abstraction of the complex of production relations. Adornos use of culture industries, however, often became the
conceptual cover for, and consequently the inadequate expression of the
internal relations of capitalism. An historical frame and a clearly articulated process of development for Adornos conception of the culture
industry were not aspects of his work on that issue. We have noted
Horkheimers comment (in Claussen 2008) as to his intention for the
chapter on the culture industry in Dialectic of Enlightenment, an unfulfilled intention for the whole chapter buried the concreteness of historical
materialism and failed to address the contradictions of capitalism to
which he alluded. But, most importantly for the present discussion, the
culture industry as a concept served Adorno as the sufficient basis for analyzing the masses which he had otherwise avoided by hiding his message
in a bottle.
As Horkheimer and Adorno (1982: 132) initially defined it, the culture
industry was produced out of the general laws of capitalism and its best
examples were located in the developed market of liberal industrial

jazz, radio and the masses85

nations. It was an industry mis-named as entertainment; it was, rather,

nothing more than business arrangements to defend the existing social
order. Vagueness, repetition, monotony, reliance on the facts of the existing world as such were standard elements of the culture industry
(Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 136, 144, 147148). The culture industry
smothered creativity, disallowed meaningful dissent by turning both creativity and opposition into saleable commodities.
No one escapes. The grip of the culture industry obscures boundaries
that would otherwise identify the contradictions and oppositional forces
that have developed in capitalist relations but which are absent in
Adornos ahistorical account. He and Horkheimer attest to the lack of
opposition through incorporation into the mainstream of existing institutions and ideology.
[C]ulture now impresses the same stamp on everything. Films, radio, magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part.
Even the aesthetic activism of political opposites are one in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system. (Horkheimer and Adorno
1982: 120).

Radio, film and later astrology columns and television all reflect the prevailing order and the need for conformity, or exhibit the utter destructiveness of new technology. Adorno might well have respected Benjamins
opening paragraph in his essay on art and mechanical reproduction in
which he alluded to Marxs method that
showed what could be expected of capitalism in the future. What could be
expected, it emerged, was not only an increasingly harsh exploitation of the
proletariat but, ultimately, the creation of conditions which would make it
possible for capitalism to abolish itself. (Benjamin 2003b: 251)

One can find elements of truth in many of the statements made about the
culture industry, but they do not constitute a substantive historical materialist analysis. In Dialectic of Enlightenment the analysis comes in the form
of statements that are categorical, characterized by an often impenetrable,
dogmatic style, and free of the encumbrances of complex socio-historical
relations. Aspects of the argument within that text convey the liberating or
disempowering function of the culture transformed by the Enlightenment,
often alluding to both. For example, Every progress made by civilization
has renewed together with domination that prospect of its removal
(Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 40; see also xiii) expresses the kernel of
truth within the dialectic but also begs for further historical analysis to
demonstrate its veracity. Regardless of the aims of Enlightenment, such as


chapter four

knowledge, freedom, security, peace (Sherratt 1999: 36) it is harnessed to

the dominant mode of production just as in antiquity it was harnessed to
the household economy (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 93, 6061). It is
not a relation that implies possible elasticity or anomalous but allied relation between culture and economy; the meaning for him is, rather, that
culture is yoked to a wagon and utterly controlled by the muleskinner of
capitalism. Under these circumstances, capitalism and culture have no
relationship except the categorical determination of the latter by capitalism and the unnavigable space between categories they nevertheless
share. Besides some esoteric and ultimately subjective interpretation,
what does it mean, for example, in Adornos later reconsideration of the
culture industry, to suggest that the color film with which the genial old
tavern is represented is actually more destructive than bombs could ever
be?1 There are also missed opportunities. Why remind the reader, for
example, that culture in the true sense raised a protest against the petrified relations (Adorno 1991b: 86, 89) and not explore this potential of
culture, not to mention an explication of cultures true sense.
The Masses and the Culture Industries
Although the technical issues he raises are not to be dismissed, Adornos
essays on jazz and popular music are aimed at the psychological, cognitive
and emotional condition of its audiences. While ostensibly directed
toward the working class the responses of other strata are effectively
treated in the same way. The perspective I take here is that, regardless of
appearances otherwise, Adornos ostensible focus on capitalism and its
culture industries, although obvious elements of the constellation he creates, actually gives way to his preoccupation with those sectors of the population he believes incapable and uninterested in engaging in negative
thought. For Adorno, the way in which the masses appropriate jazz and
popular music is a manifestation of their alienation and subservience.
What or who are the masses to Adorno? He alludes to only minor distinctions in class when applying this term in reference to the audiences of
jazz and popular music. Because of the absence of specifics, the masses,
like mass used generically, becomes an undifferentiated generalization
with respect to status, attitudes, frustrations and group adherence. The
1Kracauer commented on the use of color in his Theory of Film, describing it as a weakening effect and alluding to the normality of black and white (1997: xlvii).

jazz, radio and the masses87

terms mass and masses have had more positive or politically affirmative
meanings than pejorative ones; the former have been associated with the
political and labor left over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. Marx
and Engels contrasted mass the great mass of the proletariat with
the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties
(1976b: 497); this phrasing alludes to the internal relation of the two and
the potential dialectical development from mass to Lenins vanguard. One
also thinks of The Masses, one of the most important political and cultural
publications of the early 20th century left in America (19111917); one
thinks also of the innumerable calls to revolt in the factory or the street
that referenced not an undifferentiated glob but a collective force of frustration, alienation and commitment moving in a new direction a mass,
more voluminous and heavier than a clique or an elite. But the masses as
often used by upper classes also referred to the unwashed, uneducated
crowd transformed by a shout into an uncontrollable mob. The term is a
political one regardless of the perspective from which it is employed.
Hence, the term could well be used in the way Adorno does without violating one of its historical connotations; but if there is a prior need, as in
the case of the jazz essays, to precede its use with sociological characteristics and qualities, it will have quite another meaning. Without such an
intervention, the reader has little choice but to assume that all who might
fall into the most prevalent definition of the masses will be tarred with the
same disparaging brush.
Adornos use of masses is a way of collapsing all social classes below
the level of the bourgeois class into a single field. The working class, perhaps the middle, lower-middle classes, the lumpenproletariat (this is not
clear), are the targets of these components of capitalist development and,
for Adorno, these are the social groups most willing to exchange their
human potential for material goods and the momentary illusion of happy
alienation. Thus, implicitly the term is used in its standard lexical sense of
a coherent body of matter (Oxford). Masses cohere because of the similarity of the substance of each particle, melding, thus adhering to the similar construction of particles on all sides and, therefore, losing the
particularities of any individual adherent. A mass has no shape except
that which is thrown onto the potters wheel, rubbed, squeezed and
thumbed until the shape has satisfied the potter. But, finally, with respect
to Adornos orientation to dialectics, the masses, as he uses the term,
violates his view of concepts in general in the sense, as he rightly argues,
something always remains after the definition, or that once a concept is
defined it is necessary to discover what it covers (2000a: 32; 1973: 153154).


chapter four

The masses, degraded by their own complicity in massification have

nothing remaining after being herded into the pen.
Not surprisingly, the masses are treated differently by some of Adornos
associates during the period of most of the essays on jazz, albeit while
sharing some of his criticisms. Most significantly is Kracauers discussion
of the masses with respect to cultural activities, particularly the essays on
film on the late 1920s, and in aspects of The Salaried Masses. In the
film essays the masses manifest the characteristics and pre-occupations of
alienated beings, moved and shaped by the immediate externalities
of cultural innovations, technological and architectural faades. If they
looked backward from Berlin, for example, the masses might recognize a
heritage they refused to accept any longer, a refusal prompted and legitimized by the economic changes that left the provinces behind (Kracauer
1995b: 325). They accepted as culturally attractive the rubbish the upper
class left them when they tired of it (1995b: 324), perhaps the basis
of Adornos denigration of the democratization of jazz, as we will see
below. Kracauer continues this line of criticism in other essays, such as
Little Shop Girls go to the Movies and Film 1928. But a crucial difference from Adornos work is Kracauers dialectical approach to the problem he addresses as, at once, a cultural and a political problem.
The distraction of the movie palaces, the films, the revues, and so on, is not
treated as the inalterable goal of capitalisms culture industries.
Rather, Kracauer accepts the dialectical necessity of this distraction, for it
is the externalizing of the masses reality and, as such, discloses distraction as the disorder of society, that is essential for sustaining that
Here, in pure externality, the audience encounters itself; its own reality is
revealed in the fragmented sequence of splendid impressions. Were this
reality to remain hidden from the viewers, they could neither attack nor
change it; its disclosure in distraction is therefore of moral significance.
(1995b, 326)

Kracauer had earlier noted the marginal subversiveness of some films,

although neutralized by critics giving priority to innovation and aesthetics in, for example, Potemkin (1995a: 291). Hence, the masses have, potentially, another side to their acquiescence to being shaped by outside forces.
It is this recognition that imputes to the masses a consciousness of its
own and lends Kracauers conception of them a meaning more clearly
associated with the political connotation given to the term, the masses.
We will return to others conceptions and implications of the masses in
the following chapter.

jazz, radio and the masses89

The Jazz Essays

Eric Hobsbawm referred to Adornos writings on jazz as Some of the stupidest pages ever written about jazz (qu. in Witkin 2000: 145). Robinson
has countered with apologetics for Adornos perspective. Adorno could
not have known that when he took up his pen to polemicise against jazz
he was writing about a specifically German brand of music, and this can
be assumed because Adorno will be treated [in Robinsons article] not as
a socio-cultural theorist but as an astute observer of the popular music of
his time (Robinson 1994: 1). He also argues that Adornos essays can only
be understood in the Weimar context, despite his emigration and subsequent jazz writings. This begs the question as to his motivation for support of the Nazi law against Negro music, not simply the general category
of jazz.
Adornos jazz essays were written over a twenty year period (19331953)
when not only were there changes in jazz and popular music, but equally
important there were significant changes in his location, from Germany to
England to America and back to Germany, and the corresponding opportunities to comprehend jazz in different cultural contexts with their
respective historical determinants. Robinson discusses the rather stunted
development of jazz in Germany, the substance of which, he suggests, was
the motivation for Adornos initial, negative reaction. But he also notes
that Adornos exposure to the more wide-ranging jazz in the U.S. did not
cause him to revise his views, even when he was able to assess the genre in
its original milieu and to take advantage of comprehensive histories of
jazz as he did in reviewing two books on the topic (Adorno, 1941: 167178;
Robinson 1994: 24). Witkin (2000: 147) makes a similar point that
Adornos period in Oxford, where he could have been exposed to a variety
of jazz, caused no revision or modification of in his views. Gracyk (1992:
533) notes how resistant Adorno was to alternative knowledge, especially
with respect to jazz composition whether involving musical technicalities
or empirical evidence concerning its socio-historical context. The absence
of an historical element in virtually all of Adornos work also deprived him
of an adequate basis for understanding the relationship of jazz not only
to European but to African music as had the German musicologist Erich
M. von Hornbostel in the mid-1920s (Herskovits 1958: 262263).
Notwithstanding the general adequacy of Hobsbawms verdict,
Adornos view of jazz requires more than dismissal for it is indicative of
much deeper issues, the most important of which are the problems of
method and his undialectical approach to cultural analysis. Adornos


chapter four

approach must be taken seriously if only as a means of emphasizing the

necessary components of historical materialist analysis that are absent or
inadequately represented in his jazz essays. Historical context and material evidence is the place to begin.
Robinson discusses the context of jazz in Germany in the period
immediately after the First World War, noting the absence of American
performers until the mid-1920s. He argues that German jazz musicians
had to rely on their own commercial traditions, upon which they
imposed vague notions as to the actual sound and nature of the fabled
music from America (Robinson 1995: 4). The economic climate, at least,
diminished the possibility of a substantive musical exchange during that
period. However, Rainer Lotz has discussed the much longer exposure of
Europeans, Germans in particular, to the music of African Americans.
Although performing primarily coon songs and cake walks, Germany at
the end of the 19th century was a place for black entertainers from the
U.S. as well as a destination for early sound recordings of black music
made in the 1890s (Lotz 2007: 7585; see also Southern 1983: 304305).
The rags of Scott Joplin, which certainly go beyond coon songs and cakewalks, were among the music performed and recorded on metal discs up
to World War I. Lotz (2007: 73) argues that Europeans had been exposed
to black music and even knew how to perform and arrange it for mechanical music before the end of the nineteenth century. Thus, if German
musicians had to rely on their own commercial music some of that was
likely the black-influenced music of the late 19th century and the jazz of
African Americans of the early 20th. Most certainly, by the time Adorno
wrote his first jazz essays the field had changed considerably, including
the introduction of march-influenced music. But if Adorno knew more
of the history of jazz than his essays indicated, he was more influenced
by the immediate presence and perceived problems of a few specific
forms which did no justice to the wider field of the music and those who
played it.
American, British and Canadian musicians were playing extensively in
Germany from the mid-1920s and included bands playing symphonic
jazz, dance bands, purist jazz artists performing New Orleans or Chicagostyle jazz, including those whose reputations were well-established and
would continue to grow, such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong
(Kater 1992: 611). Variations of jazz were played in Germany in the late
1920s and early 30s, including indigenous variations very likely to have
been one target of Adornos dislike, the type of music related to American
nut jazz centering on drum noise and musical distortion that was

jazz, radio and the masses91

intended to be humorous rather than a serious representation of the genre

(Kater 1992: 14). Another likely object of Adornos criticism, implied by his
comment about jazz being stabilized as a pedagogical means of rhythmic
education (2002a: 496), was the inclusion of jazz in Leipzigs Karl Marx
primary school in 1932 and the earlier development of an academic jazz
class at the Hochshe Konservatorium in Frankfurt under the directorship
of Adornos former teacher Bernhard Sekles (Kater 1992: 17). But ultimately, for Adorno, jazz was nothing other than the music of fascism
(Robinson 1994: 2021; Adorno 2002b: 485).
For someone who considered this music to be static (Adorno 1981: 121;
1991a: 30; Gracyk 1992: 534), his views of jazz are themselves reified in standard Adorno-trope. His attitude toward the genre was personal bias combined with wilful ignorance. His writings on the topic are notorious for
their absence of concrete and thoroughly analyzed examples, and for their
lack of historical contextualization. The purpose of these writings was not
confined to disparaging a form of music but was in tended to demonstrate
the total acquiescence of its practitioners and consumers to the dominance of the culture industry, an acquiescence that facilitated its reproduction and further entrenchment as a commodity.
Prior to the essays specifically devoted to jazz, Adorno produced an
essay more comprehensive in its coverage of music, both as form and
style, and in terms of technical characteristics. Parts of On the Social
Situation of Music, published in 1932, evidence his early but unsustained
approach to historical materialism. In this essay there is a clear contextualization of musics social conditions and an acknowledgement that in the
interaction between music and social theory both have an obligation
to reach out beyond the current consciousness of the masses (2002d:
393, 394). As with any art form, then, music can be seen as a vehicle
advancing the mental outlook, the social awareness of a group. Contrary
to his later, more inflexible view of social change Adornos attitude in this
essay is consistent with a genuinely Marxist approach in that the role of
music is not merely to become more widespread, politically or otherwise,
as use music, one form of musics commodification, but by developing
in agreement with the state of social theory all those elements whose
objective is the overcoming of class domination (2002d: 394). Music that
lacked awareness of socio-historical knowledge could not make this contribution to social change; its situation could only change with the change
of society (Adorno 2002d: 393) thus reinforcing not only the relation
between art and social theory, but affirming, with reservations, the necessary connection between theory and practice.


chapter four

In his review of Walter Hobsons American Jazz Music, Adorno cites the
authors discussion of the language of jazz, remarking that these claims
are made without any attempt at an historical or pragmatic analysis of its
elements (1941: 167). This may be an accurate criticism but hardly distinguishes Hobsons method from Adornos regular practice of ignoring or
subordinating historical factors. For example, in the opening of his 1941
essay, On Popular Music, he alludes to the difference between serious
and popular music, a difference of levels considered so well defined that
most people regard the values within them as totally independent of one
another. These different levels require clarification, Adorno admits, but
he rejects an historical analysis of the division as it occurred in music
production and of the roots of the two main spheres. While he qualifies
circumventing an historical method as one that would necessitate examining differences in both European and American contexts, it is precisely
this approach that could have provided the material he was lacking in his
understanding of popular music and jazz. Since he was concerned only
with the actual function of popular music in its present status the convenient dichotomy of popular and serious was unreflectively retained
(Adorno 2002c: 437).
Without detailing every aspect of Adornos criticism it is more advisable at this point to provide a series of hypotheses derived from his
essays followed by a fuller discussion of aspects of Adornos work in this
area. (This discussion excludes the important issue of black or Negro
contributions to jazz which will be treated in a separate section.) In what
follows, there is a loose categorization of elements of his view of jazz
and popular music that, as noted in chapter one, constitute an example
zof Adornos method of immanent critique. Buck-Morss (1977: 154)
noted that Adorno made the characteristics of fetishism, reification and
exchange visible inside the phenomenon of listening to music. I would
argue that this is a superficial visibility, more precisely, an immediate visibility of characteristics that is neither developed nor analyzed giving
the attribution of immanent critique, in this case, an unsteady claim to
a)Jazz and popular music are commodities because, as noted above, they
arise from the general laws of capitalism (Horkheimer and Adorno
1982: 132).
b)Regardless of its apparent expression of free music, looseness, innovation, improvisation, etc., jazz music is standardized by the requirements of the capitalist marketplace (Adorno, 1991a: 43; 2002a: 496;

jazz, radio and the masses93

2002c: 438, 440, 445), the demands of its audience taken in by the
pseudo-individuation of the experience of jazz (1981: 126; 1991a: 31);
despite appearances, there is no actual variety (2002c: 499; 1981:
123, 124).
c)The standardization that negates free expression in jazz, (b) above,
commands the obedience of the masses (1991a: 42; 2002c: 460461) in
listening (2002c: 442; 1991a: 41) and behavior (1981: 126; 2002c: 455),
even though the masses fail to comprehend the music (1981: 128; 2002c,
444) which, at best, serves only as a diversion (2002c: 458) and a partial
satisfaction of their base instincts and drives (2002b: 490).
d)Obedience, (c), is made possible by the total subjection of the masses:
their passivity (2002c: 465466; 1991a: 30), their need for psychological
adjustment (2002c: 460; 1981: 131) their unreflective identification with
bits of music (2002c: 455), industry stars (1981: 128) and a willingness to
be manipulated (2002b: 474; 2002c: 442443).
e)The masses accept their subjection, (d), because they relish their role
as customers (2002c: 458) possessing a tune as their personal property
(1981: 3336; 2002a: 497) and having acquiesced to the notion that any
possible revolt only entraps them further in existing social relations
(1981: 46).
As a list of components of Adornos essays, stated here as hypotheses, this
is incomplete. But if these are treated as experimental elements of a constellation they will, upon agglomerating in some configuration, flash
Adornos conclusion.
For the moment in which he wrote and thereafter it is possible to understand but not completely accept a basic point of Adornos that jazz
is a commodity in the strict sense: its suitability for use permeates its production in terms none other than its marketability. It is subordinate to the
laws and also the arbitrary nature of the market, as well as the distribution
of its competition or even its followers. (Adorno 2002b: 473)

Through the music of Tin Pan Alley, dance music, the popular song on the
screen, and the technical distribution of music on vinyl, tape and eventually digital, it remains a commodity. That the popular use of the music that
pre-dated but informed jazz generally escaped commodification in the
strict sense that he implies is not of concern to Adorno, an issue to which
we return below.


chapter four

A key statement in On Jazz2 relating the problem of alienation to

standardization asserts that the use value of jazz does not sublate alienation, but intensifies it (2002b: 473). The use-value of objects is almost
always directed toward immediacy, although not necessarily in a temporally proximal sense, but in the sense that use implies a value to the subject in existing conditions and relations. Hence, when Adorno states that
the immediacy of its use [is] not merely in addition to but also within the
work process itself (2002b: 473), he makes an important assertion. This
unity is created for particular circumstances of music: listening, dancing,
film and other entertainment.
Adorno repeatedly cites the music industry in terms of the production
of commodities (1941: 167; 1981: 124; 2002b: 477, 478; 2002c: 454, 456; 2002d:
391; Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 160) but, as often, he is caught up in the
problem of immediacy. The immediacy of use within the work process
itself is directed to musicians as the producers of the commodity, jazz.
But an object is not a commodity until it is exchanged (Marx 1967: 48).
The production of music, in the club, cabaret or recording studio, is an
object of exchange, not for kind but for the universal equivalent (Marx
1967: 90), money: the ticket sold at the door before the performance begins,
the royalty received beyond the time of the recording session, and so on.
The immediacy of use implies the immediate using up of the object, music
as it is heard and danced to; this is his perception of the character of the
commodity, jazz, not a statement of its commodity value. Value acquired
through the medium of exchange is expressed in objects deemed to be
equivalent: labor, value and ultimately, exchange value. One of Marxs initial characteristics of a commodity is its embodied labour. Money as
a measure of value, is the phenomenal form that must of necessity be
assumed by that measure of value which is immanent in commodities,
labour-time (Marx 1967: 97). The internal relations of production denote
a process that leads to money-value, the exchange of goods for money,
but it begins in the social production, labour, of the object. Having reached
the point of exchange for money deepens the significance, the meaning,
of the commodity in the exchange relation. As we will see in chapter
seven, the masses, according to Adorno, are blinded by equivalence,
and the value of this insight via Marx though significant is overrated
and, in any case, is only one component of the latters analysis. Granted,

2In his contribution to The Intellectual Migration, Adorno says of his 1936 jazz essay
that it to be sure suffered severely from a lack of specific American background but at any
rate dealt with a theme that could pass as characteristically American (1969: 340).

jazz, radio and the masses95

thecomplexity of the exchange relation is historically different for linen

and coat than for ticket and dance music.
The sale and acquisition of cultural commodities such as a night at the
cabaret is a market relation, and they do, indeed, get used up in an immediate temporal and spatial context. However, residual elements of such
moments are not entirely confined to market relations. Adorno alludes to
such residual elements in his derogatory remarks about reducing music to
quotation listening and other abuses (2002c: 456; 2002e: 261265).
Notwithstanding the problem of alienation the consumer of music as a
commodity does not treat it as something he or she can exchange again in
the marketplace; rather it is treated as something that can be exchanged
as a medium of social engagement. Therefore, it can result in culturally
significant non-market relations, secondary but nevertheless integral to
its original market relations.
Tin Pan Alley is the label given a kind of musical produced for some venues in the period prior to and immediately after World War One, especially for theatre and variety shows. The music turned out by musicians in
this context was voluminous: timing, wording, phrasing standardized for
public performance and sheet music sales. As such Tin Pan Alley became
entrenched as an institution of cultural production and marketing, and a
deserving target for any discussion of standardization. But Adorno hardly
confines his comments to this form of music.
To Adorno jazz was of industrial origins, characterized as something
for immediate consumption, something progressive, modern, up-todate that was disguised as art appreciation through such techniques as
improvisation (Adorno 2002a: 497) that covered the requirements of standardization. Here he is partly correct, but only to the extent that historical
research demonstrates the industrial origins of some kinds and some
aspects of jazz music such as its instruments (2002d: 414), recording and
distribution. Research shows that jazz as a musical genre was at least concurrent with industrial development but its precursors pre-dated industrial forms.
Adornos attitude toward improvisation is evidence of another lacuna
in his orientation to both music and method. Improvisation, as with all
innovations in capitalist culture becomes, in Adornos view, merely one
more standardized element of jazz, a rehashing of basic formulas in
which even the deviations ultimately conform to a benchmark. Thus, any
musicians claim of improvisation as innovation is nothing other than a


chapter four

declaration of pseudo-individuation (Adorno 1981: 123, 126). In other

words, as the musician creates, the culture industry grasps his or her score,
deviations and creativity, and immediately readies and reifies them for
the marketplace. The marketing of music and musicians amounts to the
same thing. In some respects in a capitalist society, this could be true of
any form of creativity.
Adorno rightfully connects improvisation with a desire to be free of
conventions, although such relative freedom becomes compromised. We
have noted in the introductory chapter his standard for social change and
we alluded to his view of improvisation in his review of Sargeants jazz
text. It is worth quoting in full:
Sargeant regards it as his main task to show the origins of jazz patterns in the
forms of Negro folk music. This tendency seduces even him at times to overrate the improvisatory freedom of jazz production, although as soon as he
carries through his technical analyses he becomes fully aware that it is not
true freedom. (Adorno 1941, 168)

This is more than a turn of phrase regarding true freedom. Improvisation

in jazz arises within a specific cultural and economic environment and is
without question an expression of relative autonomy within the broader
context of alienation. Adornos statement presumes musicians themselves believed their key to freedom was their ability to mix notes, vocalize, riff and so on. There are at least two elements of this: music-making
(of any kind for a market), with which Adorno seems most concerned, and
musical means of breaking away from standards, whether internal to a
form of music or social conditions, as a means of breaking open new possibilities. These issues are at least a recognition of alternative or oppositional cultural forms and, therefore, legitimate ground for dialectical
As we have noted above, Adornos focus is commodified, standardized
music made for the market in advanced capitalism, a market in which the
culture industries are sophisticated enough not only to master mass production and promotion, but to have constructed a self-serving theory of
consumer need. The source of the need is social and emerges through the
problem of alienation. The need is satisfied by the musical product; there
is no intention in the production of this commodity that the satisfied need
will address the problem and source of alienation, but only to mask it.
Thus, theatre, variety shows, clubs and cabarets, dance venues, military
parades and later movie houses and radio, even in their early stages of
growth were markets for a variety of music.

jazz, radio and the masses97

Conscious acquiescence to the demands of the market through jazz and
popular music ran parallel to other claims that more clearly illustrated
obedience and the wilful absence of self-control. Listening to such music,
for example, was something people could not help but do given their mental states, such as sado-masochism, that diminished their strength of mind
(Adorno 1981: 122). The purposeless syncopation in jazz, which of all the
tricks available [was] the one to achieve musical dictatorship over the
masses (1981: 125) also corresponded with premature or incomplete
orgasm (2002b: 490). In a passage on fans (fanatics, as he noted in
Perennial Fashion Jazz) in On Popular Music he referred to fans
flocking unreflectively to join the ranks, and a footnote is appended: On
the back of the sheet version of a certain hit, there appears the appeal:
Follow Your Leader, Artie Shaw (2002c: 468). Despite a recognition of the
distinction between use value and surplus value, Adorno immediately collapses both into the basis for obedience and subjection. Such demand for
conformity and the implied relinquishing of control provided links among
the masses, their music and their attraction to fascism. The connection
has many tentacles of which, according to Adorno, the need for selfish
possession and the hurting of others are two. We will also address the
problem of obedience and conformity in the following chapter as well.
d)Subjection of the Masses
Notwithstanding the overall sense of an arrested, categorical argument,
the relation of the masses to music is characterized in a number of specific, but related ways. Consistent with Adornos orientation to commodity power within capitalism, the masses were exploited, oppressed by the
market structure, specifically, for example, by the music publishers whose
propaganda apparatus hammers hits into the masses (2002b: 475). The
masses are also related to the market through their acquiescence to all
manifestations of the power of capital. Even while the masses may want to
resist or break away from the fetishized commodity world they do not
want to fundamentally change it (2002b: 478).
Adorno characterized popular music as an expression of the alienation
of the masses; that focus rather than the more generalized and structural
problem of alienation was the object of his criticism. The working class
was the irreducible and unrecoverable substance of the indistinguishable
mass. As jazz became more popular it moved down the strata of society
from its original home among the upper-middle class. In doing so it


chapter four

became more reactionary, more beholden to banality, until it ultimately glorifies repression itself. The more democratic jazz is, the worse
it becomes (Adorno 2002b: 4753). There is an explicit measure of acceptance for the forum of upper class jazz consumption, a more intimate
reception than merely being delivered up to loudspeakers and the bands
in clubs for the masses (2002b: 474; see 2002d: 419). The democratization of jazz, like the development of industrial society since the
Enlightenment, in which conformism is a requirement for production,
results only in the impotence of the worker (Horkheimer and Adorno
1982: 37) the machine operator, the domestic, the saxophone player. The
pseudo-democratization of class relations through jazz confirms the
consciousness of the epoch: immediacy, tricks, deception (2002b: 475).
Here Adorno begins to create positive links between jazz and popular
music on one hand and on the other the authoritarian threats growing in
Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Such threats become manifested in
the manipulability and acquiescence of the working class, even as they are
victims (2002b: 474). The concern with authoritarian politics of National
Socialism in this instance and elsewhere is a far different response than
his affirmation of their laws to ban Negro music. Adorno held similar
views regarding the connection between traditional music, folk music,
and nationalist tendencies in Europe (Jenemann 2007: 59).
Adornos point is to show that jazz and popular music, while existing in
a commodity form, have their real significance, even durability in the
moment of their use for the musician who makes the music, the audience member who appropriates it in the same moment, but also the listener of radio and recorded music. The audience and the listener have,
respectively, bought their ticket and their radio set but it is the use of the
music, repeated attendance and repeated listening, that secures, for
Adorno, their subordination.
A good portion of the working class had succumbed to the attraction of
utility music, (Adorno 2002c: 456, 464) jazz, movie sound tracks or
advertising jingles that served as popular music, attractive because of
their dependable, easy-to-memorize patterns. Like the masses acquiescence to formulaic music, they read, among other things, the novels of
official optimism where, according to Adorno (2007b), the proletariat
triumphs against the oppressor because the Party has prescribed the plot,
the characters and the outcome.
3See Robinson (1994: 19) for a different translation.

jazz, radio and the masses99

The attraction to popular music, Adorno argues, is in part the need to possess it as something of the fans very own, to restructure it, and revise it as
they please. Their pleasure in possessing the melody takes the form of
being free to misuse it. Their behaviour toward the melody is like that of
children who pull a dogs tail. They even enjoy, to a certain extent, making
the melody wince or moan (2002c: 456). There is a sense in this of personal attacks made from the conviction of his intellectual and cultural
superiority. His ostensible target was the commercialization of music in
all forms but particularly popular music, appealing as it did in his view, to
the baser instincts of the masses. This was not a concern of Adornos
alone. In his classic of jazz history, Shining Trumpets (1946), Rudi Blesh
took up the issue in a manner not dissimilar from Adorno.
Commercialism [is] a cheapening and deteriorative force, a species of murder perpetrated on a wonderful music by whites and by those misguided
negroes who, for one or another reason, choose to be accomplices to the
dead. Commercialism is a thing not only hostile, but fatal to [jazz]. (qu. in
DeVeaux, 1998, 488)

Similarly, Winthrop Sargeant, whose Jazz: Hot and Hybrid, Adorno

reviewed in 1941, argued that by the mid-1930s with advent of hot jazz,
that there was really nothing new in fact, it was essentially the same kind
of music it was in 1900 (1959: 259) but with changes in formula designed
to create a public demand for dance bands, sheet music, phonograph
records, or other products of the commercial music industry (1959: 16).
But this is capitalism and commercialization of virtually all matter is
unavoidable in the system. The question is, What is to be the response to
such commercialization, and will it be allowed to dominate and bury the
essence of the music and the relations that brought it about, or can these
be sustained in some way? Although in a less categorical manner, Adornos
concern is both affirmed and qualified in an appreciative essay on Mahalia
Jackson by Ralph Ellison. He offered an example of precisely the dilemma
of commercialism and cultural production to which Adorno alludes, but
he avoided the condemnation of either the singer or her audience. Ellison
remarks, Since the forties this type of vocal music, known loosely as gospel singing has become a big business, both within the Negro community
and without (1995: 253). Although an admirer of Bessie Smith, Jacksons
religious commitment steered her away from performing jazz and blues.
Singing in the church was her chosen place, not solely because of the gospel that her music surrounded, but also because it was the religious and


chapter four

cultural center of the many African American communities in which she

performed, whether in a small town or in the midst of urban areas. The
function of her singing, Ellison writes, is not simply to entertain, but to
prepare the congregation for the ministers message, to make it receptive
to the spirit (1995: 255). It may be argued that her commercial career in
entertainment and music that became profitable was accidental, in a dialectical sense, to the quality of Jacksons voice and the intention she had
for her music and her audiences, whether inside or outside the Negro
Marx is explicit that a distinction must be made between a system of
production and capitalist exploitation of it (1967: 398); the same would
apply in substituting a musical and cultural form for industrial production. Marxs argument is crucial to developing the knowledge political
knowledge that individuals can attain within such systems of production and exploitation, and the dialectical retention of the distinction is
crucial to the potential of individual and class development. At the same
time, manipulations of African American musicians in terms of style,
appearance and behavior were normative occurrences and designed to
expedite market consumption. As Angela Davis (1998: 123, 152154) has
argued, during the 1920s and 30s recording companies (including the
black-owned Black Swan) chose their African American blues artists based
on voices and lyrics with which a white audience would likely be more
comfortable. In choosing not to record those who more clearly represented the conflicts and socioeconomic patterns of African American life,
such selectivity became as much a class issue as a racial or cultural one.
Thus customers and what they consume takes us back to the substance
of the initial hypothesis concerning commodities. Merely concentrating
on the commodification of music and its descent into commercialism, as
Adorno does, sets up all cultural production as nothing but a manifestation of the structure and purpose of capitalism. Commodification cannot
be ignored, but neither can the process that transforms cultural practices
into commodities, or the reasons people undertake cultural activity as a
means of self-expression, social presence and resistance. These are precisely the historical materialist points that Adorno does not include the
method and the analysis that provides the link and therefore denies the
convenient, and false, dichotomy of cultural practice at one end of a continuum and its commodification at the other, and which at its most developed and problematic stage, is out of the sphere of control of the artist.
Clearly a change in the structure of society would enhance the range of
control an artist has. But would a change in social structure preclude the

jazz, radio and the masses101

development of art forms such as jazz? This was, of course, a problem in

the Soviet Union for a time, but that approach to jazz is neither an inherent nor necessary component of socialism.
The argument becomes simplistic and self-serving to suggest that all
forms of music that are commodified leads to the increased alienation of
both artist and consumer. Sidney Finkelstein (1988: 111) made the point
that jazz could be defined but only in terms of a flexible, growing art,
which changes under the conditions in which it is performed change, and
because thinking individuals arise who, responding to new needs, add
something new to something old.
Similarly, Zora Neale Hurston discussed the changes in Negro spiritual
music that obscured some of its unique historical features: their jagged
harmony, dialect in the religious expression, and the audible breathing that is the antithesis of white vocal art. She believed that Negro glee
clubs held much responsibility for the absence of these features, especially
the variation in performance the roots of which informed later jazz. Keys
change. Moreover, each singing of the piece is a new creation. The congregation is bound by no rules. so that we must consider the rendition of a
song not as a final thing, but as a mood. It wont be the same next Sunday
(Hurston 1970: 224).
But what if such music becomes a viable commodity, even through the
standardization of its inherent variation of wording, keys and untamed
harmonies? It may produce surplus-value in the production and exchange
relation, but does that fact render it so far removed from the original
intentions, and relative autonomy of artist and audience, that the music is
immediately and permanently reduced to utility, privatization and profit?
Kracauer makes a similar argument. Remarking, parenthetically, on the
rapid rise of films as big business, he writes,
(Yet in stigmatizing the commercialization of art, the discerning critic will
have to acknowledge that it does not necessarily do away with art. Many a
commercial film or television production is a genuine achievement besides
being a commodity. Germs of new beginnings may develop within a thoroughly alienated environment.) (Kracauer 1997: 217218)

Marx, Music and Relative Autonomy

That Adornos interest in jazz did not include the history of the music is
not a sufficient reason to ignore such history or to claim that its false
origins were inventions of intellectuals. Thus, in remarking on black


chapter four

musiciansin jazz he notes that jazz is an urban phenomenon, an accurate

statement of its commercially established period, but one that facilitates
his conclusions more than it reveals the historical conditions of the development of the music. In turn, the urban industrial-commercial setting is
reduced to the characterization of the black man function[ing] as much
as a coloristic effect as does the silver of the saxophone (Adorno 2002b:
Although he did not completely rule-out the origins of jazz in African
American traditions, in reviewing Hobsons and Sargeants books Adorno
considered there was only negative proof of such a link (1941: 169). There
was a clear recognition by Hobson of the inequality reflected in employment opportunities for African Americans as house musicians for radio
and movie studios (1941: 170). But analysis must go beyond the notion of
criticizing jazz in order to expose it as the means by which people of
African descent were drawn in and exploited by capitalism, and by which
they learned the skills of conformism and consumption. That is an important part of the story, but only a part. Adornos position is one from which
he would not be moved even if folkloric research should confirm the
African origin of this form of music (2002b: 477). Adornos comments and
suggestions for characters and the use of types of jazz for the film
Syncopation, which Jenemann (2007: 113114) believes vindicates Adorno
with respect to blacks in jazz, hardly lifts him from the notion that blacks
are no more than a coloristic effect. The problem is the manner in which
he binds African Americans and the origins of jazz to a commodity alone
and to the problem of authoritarianism. The historical notion of jazzs
origin in march music and its adaptation by fascists in Italy (2002b: 485),
again, attempts to saddle the masses with the vehicle of their own
A beginning of a more significant effort at an historical materialist analysis can be found in Marxs work. There is a crucial passage in the 1844
manuscripts (Marx 1975b: 300302) in which he discusses the development of the human senses. He writes, beautiful music has no sense for the
unmusical ear, the care-burdened, poverty-stricken man has no sense for
the finest play. Read in a way that emphasizes beautiful and finest that
there is a hierarchy of music and, therefore, of sense development could
appear to buttress Adornos perspective. In the bourgeois world of arts
(as well as any other sector), money is the truly creative power as it is for
the education by which ones appreciation and talent can be developed.
If I have the vocation for study but no money for it, Marx writes,
I have no vocation for study that is, no effective, no true vocation. On the

jazz, radio and the masses103

other hand, if I have no vocation for study but have the will and the money
for it, I have an effective vocation for it (1975b: 325). If in referencing
beautiful music Marx had in mind the classical composers that may
reflect a personal taste, but it cannot be transposed to the 20th century to
privilege a particular kind of music and degrade the experience and choice
in the appreciation and performance of other forms of music. His remarks
do not bind historical materialist analysis to the symphony or the
One cannot refer to this view as Eurocentric either for that would
diminish or ignore the significance, then and now, of other folk traditions
in music (Finkelstein 1989). Experience and choice have much to do with
socio-historical context, the conception in time and place and among
groups of people as to what music is its use-value in particular contexts
such as in magic, ritual, organized religion, military ceremonies, social
movements and popular celebration. This is not to reduce musical choice
to cultural relativism but to emphasize its socio-historical context in
which a judgement of its quality is developed in comparison with standards internal to the type. In turn, the centering of the socio-historic type
of music in this way does not rule out innovation and deviation from
established standards.
When Marx alludes to the production of the rich man profoundly
endowed with all the senses (1975b: 302) he is referring to the fully-
developed individual, fully aware of his or her essential powers, senses
fully humanised. Only through the objectively unfolded richness of mans
essential being is the richness of subjective human sensibility either cultivated or brought into being (1975b: 301). Thus, the beautiful music
can only exist for me insofar as my essential power exists for itself as a
subjective capacity (1975b: 301). The musical sense through the sense of
hearing, in itself, is a capacity relatively free of social coercion or constraint
to hear or not to hear music, to want or not to want certain music, to take
from ones socio-historical context music that is a free object for ones
developing capacity.
Marxs allusion to the rich man, the fully developed human being, is a
future orientation the end of the alienation within capitalism in which
music, listening, all the senses are attributed an exchange relation in the
marketplace; that sets music in an economic domain but does not negate
the possibility of the capacity of relative freedom, noted above. The goal
of this future orientation is that of free humankind who are a long ways
historically and developmentally from persons with no musical sense at
all. But this dichotomy cannot persist; there is much in between these


chapter four

periods of time without collapsing the analysis into relativism. However,

that future orientation cannot delineate a particular kind of music that is
the vehicle by which such powers are exercised and developed, nor does
it preclude consideration of the role or function of music up to that point
in the historical future. Lukcs argued that all problems of aesthetics
material, psychological, etc. are specific to the aesthetic Setzung, its
positing or material setting and can only be understood in comparison to
other types of reaction in the historical context economic, political,
and so on (Lukcs 1979: 405). Further, he noted that all reflection that
is, not confined to the aesthetic are reflections of the same objective
reality (1979: 412). Distinct spatial components of that reality are populated by distinguishable social groups and their corresponding reflections are the basis of the direction analysis can take in order to establish
their development and relations with other components. It is the historical element in the analysis that illuminates the change in content of the
social environment, the relations of production and the relations among
social groups that, in turn, explains the change in aesthetic form. The
critique of the process of change in aesthetic forms not the closing off of
critique by a mere posture against capitalism constitutes aesthetic
Adorno is concerned with the relationship of music to the pervasive
condition of alienation as structured by the relations of capitalism and
modern culture. He uses the problem of alienation as a buttress against
the full consideration of the origins and place of jazz in his period of analysis. But the problem of alienation, and that of commodification, appears
to be less of a problem with respect to classical music and Adornos unconventional others, such as Schoenberg, than jazz and popular music. Here
what may have been a preference for Marx becomes the non-alienated
musical and aesthetic standard for Adorno.
From Marxs analysis there are two central elements of critique. First,
given the possible socio-historical contexts, the development of essential
powers of the senses will be evident in the entire variety of musical forms:
no hierarchy, no relativism except where class consciousness of superior
positions prevails. The goal of these powers for themselves must also have
a range of actuality and levels of development. This will be more or less
possible given such contextual elements as the binding of music to ritual
or to the possession of particular commodities or to the celebration of
progressive struggle. If we follow Marxs argument we see a range of less to
more development of the senses in themselves and we can examine the
moments of development in relation to the context in order to have some

jazz, radio and the masses105

appreciation for the level of consciousness with which the individual

approaches the object through and for these essential powers.
Without diminishing the problem of unfreedom, what Marx represents
in this passage, my essential power [that] exists for itself, is intended to
locate the object of music in the historical trajectory of both objective
musical development and the subjective development of musical sense
without creating a cultural hierarchy of music. That these developments
become more free at some future time remains important but so, too, are
the moments that lead to it. The understanding of this freedom must be
premised not only on the dialectical movement of history in the context of
capitalism but in the individuals potential development within that
oppressive context, as we have shown above, and in chapter two.
Black Influence and Historical Materialist Analysis
It is worth stating again that if there is no historical element in the dialectical analysis then the internal relations and the base they form for the
development of contradictions cannot be fully developed and understood.
Although it does not follow that every consideration of jazz must include
an ethnography of African music, it must nevertheless be a backdrop to
any serious historical materialist analysis. Unless one assumes, as does
Adorno, that jazz and related music begin and end in the marketplace of
modernity, forms and functions of art must be considered in their precommodity context and in their non-market relations. That the knowledge of this in the first half of the twentieth century pales in comparison to
the present would not justify Adornos lack of consideration of the development of jazz through African roots in pre-slavery, Christian spirituals in
the period of slavery and beyond in North America, and the relative autonomy of black artists in the period after the end of Reconstruction all
three periods encompassing enormous contradictions, especially the last.
He was at least aware of some of this musical history in North America as
evidenced in Hobsons and Sargeants books that he reviewed (1941: 174).
Most important to an appropriate analysis is Marxs discussion of Greek
art. His emphasis was on its emergence in a particular quality of social
development and its continued enjoyment throughout other forms of social
development and indicates arts relative independence from economic
conditions (Marx 1986a: 4648). Further, under pre-capitalist conditions,
the production of music, dance and sculpture in Africa are examples of
communal production (1986a: 108). The form of the music varied as well,


chapter four

but a general characterization by Eileen Southern suggests a link to later

blues and jazz forms: In essence, the musical performance consisted of
repeating a relatively short musical unit again and again with variations in
its repetition (1983: 16). The variety of functions of music in African cultures (Southern 1983: 68) were, of course, compromised by colonialism
and the slave trade, but extended to or revived in North America under
the extreme contradiction between African indigenous conditions and
those of slavery. But that contradiction was, in part, crucial to the development of new musical forms such as the spiritual, ragtime, blues and jazz,
mediated by a number of factors not least of which was the general adoption of Christianity by slaves and their descendants and the consequence
of that religious forum for their music (Southern 1983: 127131; DuBois
1965: 337340; Genovese 1976: 248250). The importance of this adaptation, Melville Herskovits argued, cannot lead to a conclusion as to the precise origins of the varieties of black music. He cites an anthropological
observation that concerns the large-scale migration of any people: Had
the Negro slaves been taken to China instead of to America, they would
have developed folksongs in the Chinese style; but under the conditions
of slavery they devised songs made in European style (von Hornbostel,
qu. in Herskovits 1958). This obvious statement nevertheless provides a
basis for Adornos rethinking the characterization of Negro spirituals:
One generally regards the Negro spirituals as a pre-form. However, there
is at least the possibility that their melodies are of white origin and were
merely transformed by the Negroes of the South (Adorno 1941: 169).
The retention of African elements in the North American context, in
situations where conditions did not restrict their expression, is not only
unsurprising but is both expected and essential to the further development of various forms of music. For example, the opening chapter of Ted
Gioias history of jazz briefly discusses the music and dance that took
place in New Orleans Congo Square from the early 19th century (2011:
35). Southern notes that such dances must have begun much earlier
given the 1786 ordinance forbidding them until the end of church services
on Sundays (1983: 136). In any case, sources confirm the use of instruments
and dance formations characteristic of African rituals (especially Southern
1983: 1014 and Herskovits 1958: 75). The Congo Square (or Place Congo)
activities continued until late in the century, ending sometime before the
first jazz bands began to play in the city (Gioia 2011: 35; see Kodat 2003).
Pre-dating the technological capability and a market for reproducible
music, these were community, not commodified events and performances. The musicians and dancers were a mixture of free-born and slave

jazz, radio and the masses107

living under the constraints of racial and economic subordination. The

object of their musical sense, therefore, could not entirely be for itself as
an expression of their full and free development.
If Marx contends that the formation of the senses is a labour of the
entire history of the world down to the present, Congo Square and much
that preceded it is a part of that history. The music must be assessed as a
moment in that historical labor of the senses, in the labor perpetrated by
oppression and the laboring toward freedom. The power of music and
community there did not prevent a later commodification of jazz or
directly free the enslaved; rather, it influenced what Marx called the social
organs, those that develop in the form of society; thus, for instance, activity in direct association with others, etc., has become an organ for expressing my own life, and a mode of appropriating human life (Marx 1975b:
Consequently, what of the feeling of solidarity, the momentary, relative
freedom of expression, and the interpersonal contact that the music
brought about? The essential power of music in this example, or in the
Pinkster Day celebrations (Southern 1983: 5457), has behind it a history
of uncertain duration but a history nonetheless. These examples and others concerning free time of the slaves, their use by their owners as instrumentalists and singers for white gatherings and celebrations, are among
the contradictions of slavery in the United States. It is in such contradictions that music makes more of Sunday free time than simply hours without work, and mediates relations of solidarity and conflict. In the period
after emancipation when neither racism nor economic coercion had
ceased to degrade the lives of former slaves the need to continue building
a culture that both reflected their history and assisted in preparing them
for different, somewhat better times was at the forefront of their lives
when circumstances permitted and in the background when the situation
called for it.
Another element in Marxs work for addressing the problem at hand
concerns the object of consumption that is not an object in general,
but a definite object that must be consumed in a definite way, a way mediated by production itself (Marx 1986a: 29). A page earlier Marx had concluded his discussion of the mediation of production and consumption
by each other: The product only obtains its final finish in consumption
(1986a: 28). (We return to this passage later in the chapter on mediation.)
Lukcs discussed this relationship extensively pointing out the social
character of consumption as a response to the mediation of need. Music,
in any form, is not a need like hunger, but its cultural value such as the


chapter four

Congo Square activities and contextually related social gatherings, as well

as the achievements of jazz performance, were needs satisfying, if possible, efforts to retain and develop aspects of a culture, whether as conscious
solidarity, efforts to thwart the dominance of the history of oppression
or the socialization of younger generations as an alternative. Need, in
such instances, remains constant, Marx argued, retaining its natural
characteristics in relation to its object. It is only when, as the result of
production, that [the] object is subjected to change that the new relationship emerges: the shaping of the need by the object as a process
(Lukcs 1978b: 62). This applies to any form of production, including art.
Lukcs quotes Marx in the same paragraph: The object of art, like every
other product creates a public which is sensitive to art and enjoys
beauty. The differences in the determination of beauty, or of art for that
matter, are not to be concluded at this juncture of Marxs argument; we
have alluded to the problem above as it relates to the socio-historical context of aesthetic production. But Marx continues: Production therefore
produces not only an object for the subject, but also a subject for the
object (Marx 1986a: 30).
In light of Adornos position, what arises here, quite obviously, is the
necessity of a debate about the character of particular needs, consumption and production. But in the case of jazz and popular music the point at
which his criticism begins and ends is capitalisms constructed subject for
jazz and that subjects acquiescence to the demands of the capitalismpopular music complex. There are insufficient considerations of the internal relations of the production and consumption of music that discloses
their possible mediations. Much of a dialectical approach is missing from
Adornos efforts, for what he names as subject has no way of developing in
an alternative direction from acquiescence, in this case, partially through
the music.
Nothing here or in any further elaboration of the historical details up
to the period of Adornos writing leads us directly to jazz. But an historical materialist analysis, while acknowledging and building on points
reflecting relative autonomy, nevertheless makes evident that oppression bears various features that align it with particular times, places and
conditions, and creates at least an outline of the movement of conditions
based on their formation, contradiction and development. That outline
of movement traces the internal relations progressing toward the concretization of consciousness, knowledge and creativity. Without that
kind of materialist element, there is only the imagination of comprehensive knowledge that begins with a conclusion, as Adorno often does in his

jazz, radio and the masses109

discussions of jazz, for there is no grip on its process. The movement out
of slavery, the adaptation to free labor, the relative liberty to imagine,
write, sing, to literally blow ones own horn, cannot be reduced solely to
the commodity-drive of capitalism and total oppression alone without
losing literally the desire for freedom of every African American and
every liberal, communist or ethically decent person who ever wore out a
pair of shoes marching or hired the first black musician in a band.
Reduction to commodity alone is not a critique and reduces Marxism to
mechanical dogma of slogans and posturing; it is an expression of despair.
As commodities, jazz and popular music do satisfy human wants,
even those that are derived from fancy (Marx 1967: 43). Commodities
can take any form; they can be durable or momentary, they can have more
or less monetary value on the market, and they can generate surplus value;
however, the latter, as a basic characteristic of a commodity, is not necessary to satisfy a human want, despite the fact, Marx argued, that the wealth
of capitalist societies rests on an immense accumulation of commodities
(1970: 27; 1967: 43).
Marx is also clear at the beginning of Capital that it is a work of history
(1967: 43) to understand the various uses of things. Thus, any discussion of
material production must specify its definite historical form which leads
to understanding the non-material form of production, or spiritual production that corresponds to the material (Marx 1963: 285). As manifestations of the culture industry, jazz and popular music cannot be seen to be
merely a capitalistic intervention into the realm of African American and
other popular cultures. Because of the technology that facilitated its development, jazz and popular music combine material and spiritual forms of
production. Marx does not specify the full meaning of spiritual production. Regardless of how much the term spiritual in specific contexts connotes something external to and above the human group, this is not the
meaning Marx had in mind. Rather, the sense of spiritual by way of its
correspondence with material references a totality of relations that
make up, as Max Raphael (1968: 193) put it, the inner wholeness of the
individual. This is comprised of three essential sets of relations: being and
non-being, consciousness, and the positing of value in relation to the
actuality of potential. Concentrating on painting Raphael provides a sense
of an aesthetic orientation to various forms of art as aspects of creative
development and attitudes toward nature and the historical world.4 It is
the creative development of the human being creative abilities and
4See, for example, Raphael 1945.


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understanding by means of spiritual production (Lifshitz 1973: 83) that

is a productive act for individual development and for shaping a more
just society (Raphael 1968: 189).
Notwithstanding a possible development into a commodity with more
than an immediate use-value that satisfies a particular need, a form of art
has a social function beyond both the satisfaction of individual needs and
its development into a saleable commodity (Finkelstein 1988, 18). This is
clearly evident in the Congo Square activities, but the significance of a
broadly conceived social function should also be an aspect of the development of jazz and popular music in the period of Adornos essays. Building
on Marxs dialectical approach to revolutionary subjectivity in relation to
developing technology and factory legislation, the definite historical form
of spiritual production, corresponding with its material base, is a central
component of identifying the social function of these forms of music. That
the cultural industries become organs of the production, distribution and
control of music does not preclude within the context of developing
capitalism the development of forms of music that initially and for some
duration are valuable primarily for a social purpose gatherings, ceremonies, celebrations. Nor does it preclude the production and performance
of music for remuneration of the musicians, the organization of which is a
residual expression of the petty mode of production as Marx discusses
toward the end of Capital I (1967: 713714). The real question is what it
means to the musicians and those who appropriate their music as a public
when the technological means are developed and the resources of capital
make possible the recording, distribution and the relation of these to the
performance and popularity of jazz.
As we noted above, Here as everywhere else, Marx wrote, we must
distinguish between the increased productiveness due to the development of the social process of production, and that due to the capitalist
exploitation of that process (1967: 398). While working, performing,
within this developed process of production is carried out by the alienated
subject, Marx nevertheless insists that therein lies at least some of the
means by which such alienated subjects become fully developed human
beings (1967: 454, 458), to be further developed through mediation by
other forces. He argues that the scientific consciousness upon which technology grows in capitalist production is a product of human labour that is
a resource again, to be mediated by other forces by which free human
development will come to be realized.
We can extrapolate from the particulars of Marxs discussion some general principles of labor and creativity relevant to critique Adornos ahistorical criticism of jazz. We have noted already the development of

jazz, radio and the masses111

recording technology used by early jazz musicians and others before the
end of the 19th century, as well as the Tin Pan Alley phenomena of mass
production of music and printed scores for a broadening entertainment
sector. This occurred decades after the formal freedom of African
Americans was achieved, but still in a social environment characterized
by racism manifested across virtually every aspect of daily life.
Jazzs development within the context of a growing sector of entertainment, increasingly commanded by large corporations and the influence of
their capital, shifted small-scale spiritual production and its labor toward
material production increasing capital through that labors productivity.
Simultaneously, however, this sector of capital dominance produced
relatively autonomous individuals who exercised a degree of individual
choice as alienated subjects and who nevertheless could appropriate
resources in their conscious development toward becoming fully developed human beings.
One of the instruments of monopoly capitalisms culture industry is radio.
Although cultural monopolies are weak and dependent in comparison
to basic industries, radio parallels the insurmountability of the power of
the steel barons and chemical giants (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 122).
Radio does so because, like industrial monopolies, there is no machinery
of rejoinder to the power of a communications vehicle whose programs
are all exactly the same (1982: 122) belying the notion that there is consumer choice (1982: 123). In the intractable promotional bias of radio
(2002c: 443) the audience has no choice but to accept what the culture
manufacturers offer (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 124). Jenemann
(2007: 61) appears to accept Adornos conclusion that there was no productive use of radio by the masses in relation to its own stated purpose.
These ideas were developed around the same time as Adornos work in
the Princeton Radio Research Project, roughly the period of writing
Dialectic of Enlightenment.
Insofar as Adorno addresses the phenomena of radio, he notes its corporate base and implied additional economic and cultural phenomena,
adding a series of conditions that corporations, like jazz, weave into their
productions: obedience, absence of choice, acquiescence. Thus, he asserts
that the power of capitalism and the conditions it produces, in turn, facilitate the capitulation of the audience just as, in his terms, the worker capitulates to the boss at the steel mill, and the dancers to the commands of the


chapter four

band leader. Further elaborated and nuanced analysis has been closed off,
replaced by a description of capitalist industry and its cultural arm in categorical terms with the additional claim for certainty: the whole world is
made to pass through the filter of the culture industry (Horkheimer and
Adorno 1982: 126).
Film is added to the constellation and as such is essentially a replication
of radios place in the culture industry. Its power, especially the sound film,
lies in the objective nature of the products themselves, an objective
power capable of negating the imagination and spontaneity of the consumer. Like radio there is no possible avenue of response the audience
can do nothing but watch, listen and absorb. Such objective domination is
inherent in the huge economic machinery which has always sustained the
masses whether at work or at leisure (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 127).
The objective element of Adornos constellation is the structure of the
radio industry which, like the film industry, develops its communicative
and persuasive powers from the system of economic production.
Adornos claim that all radio programs are the same is an unreflective
position premised on cursory observation formalized against concrete
evidence of actual and possible alternatives, an approach that makes the
mere description of capitalism and the culture industry more appealing as
a fait accompli than the prospects developed from organizing and intervention. Granted, such interventions may well be of a liberal character,
consistent with the needs of the economic and political system, limited by
liberalisms claims to formal freedoms taken up by individuals and institutions alike. But such interventions, whether as liberal reforms or the projects of more oppositional sectors of society, are equally dismissed by
Adorno ostensibly because these cannot alter the essence of capitalism,
its essential structure and its culture industries. Beneath the surface of his
dismissal lies his refusal to reduce his theoretical perspective to the
uncertainty of concrete, politically motivated intervention.
Adornos views of radio and its use by and effects on the working class
were shaped by his sometime colleague in research, Paul Lazarsfeld.
Adornos view of the working class was much like Lazarsfelds which was
shaped by the latters first experience in Austria studying the social and
political impact of radio. Lazarsfelds 1931 listener research carried out in
Vienna surveyed 110,000 people, almost half of whom were described as
workers and employees. The results of the survey were a disappointment
for his colleagues in the Socialist Party; the results showed that workers
preferred light comedy and popular music programs over those preferred
by the Socialist Party itself: chamber music, literary reading, symphony

jazz, radio and the masses113

concerts and lectures about music. Middle-class respondents, on the

other hand, preferred precisely those kinds of radio programs (Douglas
2004: 126127). Douglas (2004: 142143) suggests that the failure to consider listeners contradictory relationship with radio regarding specific
kinds and contents of programming indicate a bias in Lazarsfelds research
toward a preconceived negative correlation between the working class
and cultural programming of this period; it was an outlook that he also
took with him into the projects of the Office of Radio Research (ORR) after
his emigration to the United States. As we will see in the following chapter, contradictions in the results of Lazarsfelds public opinion surveys
were not unlike those in Erich Fromms research of the period on political
attitudes in Germany.
Lazarsfelds research with the ORR included its own surveys and the
results of others on the relation between radio listening and reading, with
reading preferences more positively correlated with higher levels of education and urban residency than rural living compared to radio listening.
Lazarsfeld also cited research published in Fortune magazine showing a
similar correlation: those with higher levels of income preferring reading
to radio listening, and those with lower incomes showing a preference for
radio (Lazarsfeld 1940: 136138). Similar correlations emerged from a survey of preferential sources of national and international news based on
sex, income and locality. Lazarsfeld summed up the results:
In terms of group differences, the results are very clear-cut: (1) preference for
radio over print increases with decreasing economic status; (2) women
exhibit a stronger preference for radio than do men; (3) preference for radio
is greater among rural people than among people in metropolitan centers.
(1940: 219)

One problem with this research was that Lazarsfeld provided the quantitative data with very little contextualization such as the character and
quality of print sources or the content of radio programming.
A partial exception to this type of research was the work of his colleague Herta Herzog (1944). While she reported on research that supported the general ORR perspective, she was also more interested in the
particularities of women listeners and readers with respect to education,
income, locality and substance of program or reading material. While
there were differences in reading preferences for example, radio listeners preferring true story reading compared to the more sophisticated
reading of non-listeners. Herzog qualified problematic, and possibly
biased, ORR categorical separations of program types such as educational


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and service. The latter included topics such as proper behavior, selfimprovement, public and private morality and the possibility of upward
mobility; but these were appropriated by listeners as educational
(Douglas 2004: 144). Similarly, Varga (1996) has shown that the nationwide Canadian radio program, School for Parents, beginning in 1942,
offered advice by child-care experts that, notwithstanding a critique of its
ideological orientation, combined the broadcast with pamphlets, study
guides and focus groups to become an active, multi-faceted educational
program in contrast to one of passive listening. Neither Herzog nor
Lazarsfeld included alternative programming or reading in their research.
One implication is that the mainstream press and radio was considered
neutral and therefore the logical field of quantitative sociological study.
However, it may be assumed that the majority of listeners of labor-
generated radio tuned in precisely because of its alternative content: the
interest in workers issues, membership in trade unions and programming
that evaluated aspects of the structure of capitalist society. The same may
be said of the readership of left-wing newspapers and magazines of the
Depression period and after. It would not be a stretch to suggest, then, that
Lazarsfeld and his colleagues in America did not consider surveying leftwing or labor print and radio because of their assumption of its bias while
not considering the possibility of their own. Bias in the mainstream press
was not explored. Hence, there is much to support Douglass claim about
ORRs elitist bias: it was taken for granted that those from the lower levels
needed to be put under the microscope but not those from the same educational and economic level as the interviewers themselves (2004: 143).
But there was, indeed, much more going on in radio broadcasting than
programming that was all exactly the same as Horkheimer and Adorno
claimed. In an historical materialist analysis, one would be obliged to consider the objective character of radio in terms of its technological base and
its various social and cultural functions without diminishing its basic
structuring by the interests of capital and the legitimating function of the
state. Those interests have been evident almost since the invention of this
instrument of communication. Independent radio in its infancy was virtually shut down in the United States during the first world war because it
was viewed as an unregulated security risk. But the Radio Act of 1927
required stations to operate in the public interest, convenience, or necessity (Fones-Wolf 2006: 15), a piece of legislation coincident with the recognition of advertisement as the normative means of financial support for
radio (MacDonald 1979: 1620). Thus, radio emerged in a liberal political
and economic environment, not entirely exclusive of the influence of

jazz, radio and the masses115

state interests. Just before World War II the darker side of the liberal environment had an impact on radio when the National Association of
Broadcasters created its voluntary code of ethics that forbade its members
from selling air time for controversial issues (Fones-Wolf 2006: 63ff.). This
immediately constrained the ability of the labor movement to continue to
promote its cause. This was significant, although not altogether victorious
for the new code, for trade unions had already claimed radio as an instrument of their own.
Contradictory listening practices of radio audiences were arguably an
inherent feature of the interaction between popular culture and radio as
an instrument that brought forward a variety of resources and entertainment, legitimizing dominant ideological perspectives, but also providing
space for alternatives such as labor and perspectives on racial equality.
For example, Douglas notes that much of radio programming of the 1930s
depicting African Americans, either blacks performing as blacks or whites
acting the part, was built around stereotyped characterizations such as
coon acts, mammies, and other characters in dialect. So strong was such
stereotyping around speech that some black performers were required to
take dialect lessons to meet the standard imposed by program producers.
Wonderful Smith, an African American actor, was fired from the Red
Skelton Show in 1948 because, as he put it, I had difficulty sounding as
Negroid as they expected. But importantly, two African American newspapers petitioned to have degrading programming removed from the air
(MacDonald 1979: 331, 334). Equally important was the presence of African
Americans on radio during the Depression years that was significant for
transcending stereotyped roles. Music and comedy were the major content of such programs; much of the music was jazz that, in contrast to
Adornos limited view, exhibited the broad range of the genre. But listeners could also hear other programs featuring African Americans, such as
John Henry, Black River Giant, a CBS series in the early 1930s, and Paul
Robeson in dramatic and musical performances such as Freedoms
People on African American culture. A fifteen minute daily news program that began in 1935 on WJTL Atlanta, devoted to interests of the
African American community, increased to five and a half hours a week by
the end of the decade (MacDonald 1979: 332, 339347).
Fones-Wolf demonstrates labors use of radio during the depression
years as a vehicle for public education about unions, a tool for recruiting
workers into unions and organizing effective rebuttals to the claims
of management in strike situations. Unions, such as the International
Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), developed their own programs


chapter four

to convey their basic message, to help overcome individuals fears of signing union cards, and to portray unionism as a normal aspect of life. The
ILGWU had its own Drama Department broadcasting, among other
things, a series of plays about its history and Upton Sinclairs The Flivver
King, about Ford Motor Company (Fones-Wolf 2006: 5558). Soap operas,
childrens programs, music, as well as instructive talks about unions were
important elements of labors use of this medium. Labor on the Air, a
production of the San Francisco Union Council covering the west coast,
into Canada and out at sea, was receiving 1000 letters a day from listeners
in 1940, and estimated its audience to be 300,000 to 400,000 (Fones-Wolf
2006: 48).
It is indeed curious that Adorno could compile the information on profascist radio broadcasts, discussed in the following chapter, during this
same period without at least acknowledging the existence of organized
labors alternative use of the instrument. It could not have been for the
absence of information which the medium itself provided (some of which
is discussed by Jenemann, 2007), and Fones-Wolf provides several references to articles about labor and radio in readily available mainstream
publications of the time such as Variety and Billboard.
Other than the comments from Dialectic of Enlightenment and elsewhere on radio in general, Adornos concerns centered on radio music,
particularly the performance and broadcasting of classical music. It is not
the intention to address issues of classical music here, but aspects of
Adornos writings about classical music on the radio are related to his
writings on jazz.
In The Radio Symphony (2002e) Adornos major concern was with the
fate of the integral form of the symphony, in that case Beethovens
work; the general orientation of the essay was to criticize NBCs Music
Appreciation Hour (MAH) for its poor pedagogical structure and the
effects of that teaching on listening children. Where this essay made contact with the jazz essays was precisely in the problem of the integral whole.
We have seen that he was critical of the consumer of jazz, the live audience or through radio, for his or her tendency to recall or otherwise concentrate on a fragment of music, the tendency to repeat it as well as to
alter it. That radio offered the listener of classical music an opportunity to
hear a piece more than once, and the fact that the opportunity came with
interruptions was a normative relation to listening through this (and
later) technology (Adorno 2009: 252). Through radio the symphony,
according to Adorno, had become trivialized because it has degenerated
to empirical time which disrupts the suspension of time-consciousness,

jazz, radio and the masses117

(2009: 256, 258, 261) one of the qualities of great symphonic music. Unlike
the concert hall, the radio facilitates the degradation of music by allowing
for the fetishization of its character through a sense of individual ownership of it by way of quotation listening in part or in whole (2009: 263,
330. 352). The radio phenomenon produces an attitude in the listener
which leads him to seek color and stimulating sounds (2009: 267).
Adornos concern was with a particular form of music connected historically to specific domains of listening, specific customs of appreciation,
and deference to the perceived cultural superiority of that form of music
and the social situation of its usual audience. There is little doubt that the
forms of music current in the 20th century affirmed and facilitated a different kind of listening that required less detailed and technical musical
knowledge, less attention and concentration. The current technological
capacity to rerun films in ones living room again and again is surely also a
sign of the fragmentation of attention that, from music to film to relationships, carries over into the classroom.
Similarly, Adornos criticism of the MAH reducing music education to a
personality cult in music certainly has its basis in reality. He acknowledges musics progressive period, in the sixteenth and early seventeenth
centuries, and its regressive character in his own period (2009: 360361).
It is not pertinent to the argument here to dispute this reduction to personalities, but it is worthwhile noting Adornos own tendency to shift his
argument from a concrete problem to the issue of greatness equivalent to
the relevance of personality. For example, in his radio discussion on education in 1969 with Hellmut Becker he initiated the conversation with a
reference to Kants concept of tutelage in the latters What is
Enlightenment. In that context, a resource for addressing the question of
individual capacity and courage with respect to education in Adornos
period as well as Kants own, is deferred at least momentarily to draw the
issue back to Kants greatness (Adorno and Becker 1999: 21). Such a
deferment appears to give priority to Kants intellectual qualities as much
if not more than the resource he provided for Adorno and Beckers
It is not surprising that when considering the technical issues as well as
the general cultural issues brought about by the advent of radio, Adorno
would ignore important comments on the medium by Benjamin. In the
first instance the difference in the perspectives of the two must be recognized: Adorno consigned the technology to the absolute control of corporate interests while Benjamins interests were in the use and likely
development of the medium, addressing briefly various problems to be


chapter four

considered. For example, whereas Adorno treated the problem of the

accuracy of sound and innuendo of symphonic music on the radio as
problems of the medium (2002e), Benjamin was concerned that the audience be treated as having some expertise with respect to voice, diction
and language that radio should and could address technologically in order
to attract and retain a discerning audience (1999a: 543544; 1999b: 585).
Benjamin was not addressing music in those essays but something much
more basic, the human voice; as an instrument for communicating to an
audience it should sound human, like a neighbors voice. He understood
that radio needed to relate to the interests of its audience including the
publics growing understanding of the technology. Indeed, those interests
may have reflected something of the social conditions of alienation, but in
his view the precise application of radio was not embedded in the instrument but constructed around the form and substance of debate (1999b:
583), how the instrument might come to be used.
Jenemann (2007, 6466) makes much of Adornos criticism of the radio
voice, especially its perceived authority in religious and other broadcasts
the disembodied voice, the voice of God. To the extent that listeners
perceived the radio voice in this way would be irrational, but so too is this
strain of criticism, well-worn and without a concrete grounding and, fundamentally, an implicit characterization of the working class that suggests
that the more knowledgeable can actually see the godless physical mechanisms behind the radios faade whereas the working class cannot.
Much of Adornos perspective on jazz and popular music was motivated
by a problem already noted that society must undergo a capitalismdefeating change before effects of the culture industries can be remedied.
If one establishes a distance from this perspective it can be seen more
readily that his criticism of the culture industry and capitalism itself
hardly achieves a crude political economy with respect to the structure of
capitalism and its institutions. There is no systematic critique of the manner in which capitalism interacts with culture. What one does find
objectively is a smack at record companies, the producers of color film,
the creators of the jitterbug and much else smeared with the slime of capitalisms oozing pockets. This is not enough for an historical materialist
critique that asks Adorno (and others), What is the possible alternative?
But I do not want to suggest that Adorno was completely wrong about
his relation of jazz to the culture industries. The issue is more associated

jazz, radio and the masses119

to accuracy within the complexity of such relations. Ralph Ellison

provides a sense of this complexity. Writing on Charlie Parker, he indirectly addresses the production of the subject. He reflects on the efforts of
Parker and others of his time to move away from the traditional entertainers role a heritage from the minstrel tradition (1995: 259). A confusion of artistic quality with questions of personal conduct diminished
jazz as an art form to the point at which it became identical with the black
race. Ellison argues that the attempt to reject the role of entertainer failed
because the audience demanded the music be combined with a certain
attitude and behaviour associated with the race. This is not necessarily a
negative relation, but depends on the context: genre of music, audience,
socio-historical time, and a crude sociology that attempts to understand
these relations. However, one can see an implicit argument here about the
commodification of jazz and the production of a standardized behaviour
for the subject and for its consumption by an audience. But he does
acknowledge that what is, in effect, a process of commodification does not
escape classical music performance, something Adorno does not adequately address, just as it does not escape the jazz performer. Perhaps
they realized that whatever his style, the performing artist remains an
entertainer, even as Heifetz, Rubinstein or young Glenn Gould (Ellison
1995: 260).



Mark Worrells (2009) examination of the Institute for Social Researchs
antisemitism project has brought attention to a long dormant piece of
social science research. Despite some unsustainable assumptions in the
design and procedures of the project, it was an attempt at a fairly new
approach to attitudinal research in the United States. Worrell is aware of
some of the projects shortcomings and these problems cannot be overlooked. It is argued here that these problems actually provide substantive
material for a critique of Adornos approach to social issues, for his involvement in this research in particular and the extent to which he can be identified with the antisemitism project as a whole. This chapter will compare
Adornos efforts at addressing profacist agitation in the U.S. and studies by
others with whom he was associated. The general approach will be to
demonstrate that his disparaging attitude toward the masses framed his
outlook as it did with his studies of radio, jazz and popular music, closing
off possible alternative orientations that would offer a more complex
account of these phenomena.
The problem of hate propaganda, such as its manifestation in crime
and racist expressions are addressed in the contemporary liberal democratic society in different ways than during the period of Adornos research.
Legislation presently exists in many nations to limit speech and action,
and to punish those who engage in some forms of prejudicial activities
aimed at identifiable groups. In North America, programs for schools,
communities and workplaces exist to address the occurrence of hate
speech, for example, that are generally intended to be preventative as well
as corrective measures. In terms of an approach directed toward cognitive
processes, these programs work at enhancing the level of awareness of
what is normative for their particular environments. A direct approach for
young children may be taken because a one-to-one correspondence of
action and result is most effective, or for adults for whom it is made clear
that racist expressions at their place of work will result in disciplinary
action. A less direct approach may be taken for the cognitively mature
who may benefit from discussions of human rights principles and
legislation,the historical basis of prejudicial attitudes and workplace or

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda121

community incidents, on the assumption such processes are able to

engage and critique participants subjective attitudes and cognitive abilities. Such a program might suitably include Adornos interest in corrective
measures as indicated in The Authoritarian Personality. Social groups targeted by particular forms of propaganda, especially in the contemporary
period, are seldom convinced that the impact of their experience are actually restricted to their social group. Prejudice and hatred have a tendency
to be diffused to affect other populations as well as institutional arrangements. The classic statement of antisemitism, the Protocols of the Learned
Elders of Zion, for example, made claims about Jews that were strengthened by additional objectives such as the hatred of democracy, liberalism
and modernity (Bronner, 2000).
During the inter-war years when fascists were moving toward state
power in Europe, antisemites and pro-fascists were widely evident on
the radio airwaves in North America, in pulpits, on speaking tours and
through their publications. Their efforts were largely rooted in the claims
of American freedom and individualism that could be sustained by
the development of a different political system. This necessitated taking
the wider net cast by the Protocols to rage against the encroachments
of the liberal state, the intrusion of others in an historically privileged
national culture, and the loss of respect and security for the individual.
The historical evidence of antisemitism among American workers and
the middle-class during the period before, after and during the Institutes
project is undeniable. But in the end it is difficult to support Worrells position that the antisemitism project was the most important piece of empirical research in the history of Marxist sociology (2009: 11). Even while flawed,
we can concur with its importance, but to accept the claim that the project
was Marxist sociology would be to validate the notion that members of the
Institute involved in this research were, in fact, Marxist in their method of
analysis and in their political orientation. While I have given tacit support
to the Marxism of Marcuse and, to some extent, Lowenthal, the former was
not a participant in the anti-Semitism project. Kracauer was a participant in
the film aspect of the project but he was not a member of the Institute.
The antisemitism project involved some of the Institutes core members and other associates, and a large number of volunteers who acted as
interviewers. The latter were not trained in research techniques, but were
given a set of instructions and a set of ten basic and four supplementary
questions. These were memorized and reduced to seven questions
(Worrell 2009: 8485, 301302, 304305). From 1000 initially recruited to
the project, 270 workers were selected as interviewers.


chapter five

The Institutes instructions provided the rationale for what became a

less-than-systematic technique with little oversight as to the quality of
questioning, the extent of probing, and some reasonable certainty of
objectivity and accuracy in the recording of interviews. The instructions
cited the defects of poll methods, of formal interviews, of official questions: the worker gets defensive, the questions are poorly worded. The
new method promoted by the Institute was guided conversations conducted by workers with workers, the success of which was based on a kind
of free association technique facilitated by probing questions, including challenging statements made by participants (Worrell 2009: 300).
The validity of any single interview, the reliability of interviews conducted
with differently formed questions, the prospects of objectivity and accuracy, were based on the Institutes confidence in the working man as
both field worker and research participant (Worrell 2009: 301).1
The interviewees did not represent a structured sample of any kind but
were intended to be randomly selected from such groups of workers as
could be easily contacted (Worrell 2009: 70). However, screening out certain workers and later eliminating completed interviews took place on the
shop floors under the authority of union officials, some of whom were
motivated by concern for the image of their union, or in some cases possibly motivated by officials own antisemitic opinions in refusing to allow
interviews to take place. Screening for the appropriate candidates
included eliminating those who appeared to have Jewish physical features, whether they were Jewish or not. In addition, there was a conscious
effort to avoid interviewing union activists (Worrell 2009: 299300), shop
floor organizers who, besides their knowledge of collective agreements,
working conditions, employer policies, regulations and the like, would
also have in many cases shared and propagated trade union principles
such as fairness, equality and anti-racism.
This was not an easy project to undertake. The fact that several
American cities were selected for the project increased the labor involved
as well as the logistical challenges.2 The major expectation seemed to be
to accumulate as much evidence as possible of attitudes for later categorization and discussion of its implications for combatting antisemitism. The
responses to the seven basic questions were assigned to a multiplicity of
1The quotation is from the Projects instruction to interviewers.
2Seven cities were selected plus Smaller N.J. [New Jersey] communities, as well as a
three-state group (Massachusetts, Maryland and Wisconsin) which, together, yielded only
eight interviewees.

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda123

categories of analysis that suggests the responses were comprehensive,

and it must be accepted that the guided conversation approach may
have revealed what a standard interview schedule might have, even with
an acceptable level of probing. However, other aspects of the method
remain problematic.
Due to the absence of any systematic sampling in the Institutes project
there were other factors that may have skewed the results, such as an
over-representation of well-educated workers in non-manual occupations
(Worrell 2009: 8384), the decision to not interview in the textile sector
because of its greater proportion of Jewish workers and bosses, and the
questionable attempt to include participants from a large number of
unions that resulted in far too many of such workplaces contributing less
than a handful of interviewees (2009: 289290). In short, there were serious problems with the process of selection, interviewing, adequate training, the quality of questioning and the demeanor of the interviewer that
lead to questions about the standard of objectivity in the project as a
whole. Although, as noted, such projects were fairly new to American
social science it would be difficult to imagine any of the long-established
requirements and cautions common to research design texts of the contemporary period being immaterial to the reliability of earlier research.3
Notwithstanding the importance of antisemitism then and now, the
shortcomings in the design of the project and its procedures suggest that
certain aspects of the Institutes empirical work were planned to affirm
existing views of its members or funders and to accumulate data into viable, unproblematic social science categories.
There were precedents of more systematic approaches to research such
as this that included interviews with large numbers of people in multiple
locations and occupations. The Institute could have drawn on models
such as Fromms study of political attitudes conducted in Germany beginning in 1929. Although it was questionnaire-driven, and did not include
interviews, it was a systematic survey of the kind Paul Lazarsfeld developed and used in both European and later American research. (I return to
Fromms project below.) In terms of personnel close to the Institute,
another model would have been the ground-breaking Middletown studies
by Robert Lynd and Helen Lynd, the results of the earliest having been
published over a decade before the Institutes antisemitism project. Their
study was known to Institute members and was acknowledged as influential in the Institutes publication of its Studien ber Autoritt und Familie in
3See, for example, Babbie 2001: 258262.


chapter five

1936 (Jay 1973: 125).4 The Lynds did structure their sample of working and
business class families, randomly selected to begin with but refined later,
such as excluding responses from African Americans in the final tabulation because of their small proportion in Middletowns general population. They used casual conversations as part of their data but relied on the
whole on interview schedules drawn up beforehand and adhered to with
minor deviations regarding, for example, religious views (Lynd and Lynd
1929: 507509). Their small group of trained interviewers was intended to
assure consistency in the style of questioning and the quality of
Pro-Fascism and the Masses
Especially in the short content analysis of Martin Luther Thomas fascist
radio program and in his later analysis of astrology columns in the early
1950s, Adornos characterization of the masses is built on the foundation
of his perspective already seen in the critique of his jazz and popular
music essays. The Thomas material was intended to draw attention to the
means by which people were attracted to the messages of fascism in the
United States. It was among several pieces of research on American fascism carried out in the same period, such as Leo Lowenthal and Norbert
Gutermans Prophets of Deceit (1948/1987), Alfred McClung Lee and
Elizabeth Briant Lees The Fine Art of Propaganda (1939/1972), George
Seldes Facts and Fascism (1943), John Roy Carlssons Under Cover (1943),
and Ben Hechts A Guide for the Bedevilled (1944). More recent studies relevant to that period include Neil Baldwins Henry Ford and the Jews (2001).
Together these indicate the extent and seriousness of the problem of fascist sympathies and antisemitism in America at the time.
Given the predominantly Jewish make-up of the Institute, antisemitism
may have been a backdrop for Critical Theory as a whole, but it did not
widely or frequently appear as a topic in the work of Institute members. It
was argued by Adorno that Elements of Antisemitism, the final chapter
of Dialectic of Enlightenment added after initial publication, contained the
4As a member of the sociology department, Robert Lynd was influential in obtaining
space for the Institute at Columbia University. He later became an object of Horkheimers
criticism for advocating the interjection into the objectivity and detachment of philosophy
and social science, that science help search out the content and modes of expression of
shared loyalties. See Lynd (1964: 239); for Horkheimers criticism, see 1974a: 185. For
an assessment of the Lyndss work and methods over all the Middletown Studies, see
Caccamo 2000.

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda125

theme of the entire book (Jay 1980: 143144) but The Authoritarian
Personality, clearly devoted to issues of antisemitism and racism, was the
only widely accessible work he produced on these topics. In that text
Adorno and his co-researchers attempted to lay the foundations that
would rebut antisemitic thinking, and provide an argument against irrationalism and against the recurrence of fascism. This alludes, at least, to a
practical outcome Adorno hoped for with such empirical studies but
which retained his desired dissonance between theory and practice.
Adornos studies were, of course, quite distant from a politically-driven
polemic designed to outline an explicit strategy for the exposure and
defeat of irrational thinking. Nevertheless, making connections between
his studies of irrationalism and antisemitism on the one hand, and some
of his other philosophical and cultural works provides both crucial links
between the two and an imperative that dialectical thinking is a precondition for neutralizing irrationalist propaganda.
Such a practical program of how consciousness or certain modes of
thinking might be changed was more implied or hoped for than intentionally organized (Adorno 1994c). But Adorno nevertheless declared unequivocally that this was a goal toward the end of Negative Dialectics: the fact of
Auschwitz is seen as the buttress against its recurrence. A new categorical imperative has been imposed by Hitler on unfree mankind: to arrange
their thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself, so that
nothing similar will happen (1973: 365).5 While the imperative may carry
the explicit and emphatic meaning, Never Again, it is not a comprehensive demand for the quality of structural change that would ensure the
prevention of a repetition.
A major focus of Adorno and Lowenthal during the inter-war and postwar periods, was the irrationalist basis of antisemitic and fascist propaganda. They insisted that this form of irrationalism was compounded with
rationality. Antisemitic and pro-fascist forms of propaganda, while irrational in substance and effect, were nevertheless calculated, planned and
organized. According to Adorno, fascist propaganda builds up an imagery
of the Jew, or the Communist and tears it to pieces without caring how
much this imagery is related to reality; such propaganda used an oratorical style that might be called an organized flight of ideas (1994b: 222223).
He referred to irrationalist propaganda as a kind of emotional planning
5It must be said that this statement is leaps ahead of Adornos rhetorical question of
despair and passivity, Can one write poetry after Auschwitz? He subsequently revised the


chapter five

that Lowenthal argued was facilitated through the rationalization of values (Adorno 2000b: 29; Lowenthal and Guterman 1987: 28).
Propagandists and agitators6 attempted to make their ideas popular as
a new normative frame of meaning and social interaction, and as the sustaining values of institutional arrangements. To achieve this, agitators
exploited the feelings of dissatisfaction, dislocation, instability and insecurity. While Adorno and others focused on the public efforts of specific
ideologues, the background to their analyses was capitalism, its ideology of
individualism, the competitiveness central to economic development and
interpersonal relations, exploitation as a source of wealth-production, and
the reduction of language and thought to the communication strategies of
advertising. Because many irrationalist philosophers and pro-fascist agitators held occupations of status in academia, politics and religion, Adorno
and Lowenthal viewed irrationalism as the underpinning of capitalisms
culture industry.
In one of his most incisive literary critiques, Lowenthal identified irrationalism as, among other things, the pagan awe of unlimited and unintelligible forces of nature, the mystique of blood and race, the abrogation
of individual responsibility [and] anti-intellectualism (1986a: 185).
Reliance on what the individual experiences and what she can learn from
it reinforces the belief that sufficient knowledge is obtained through ones
defense of existing society and that a fundamental condition of truth is the
absence of an imperative to discover it (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982:
144). This means that people need not extend their interests beyond what
they think they know of existing circumstances or advocate alternative
social conditions. Adorno referred to this as the adoration of the existent,
the unreflective reverence for what is deemed factually existing at any
moment in the minds of the consumers of propaganda. He considered this
a psychological process that may set the stage for the more obvious
effects (2000b: 4445) such as the need to advocate for re-establishing
social conditions that affirm a state of affairs perceived to have been the
natural foundation of society but which have been lost or usurped by others. In the period of Adorno and Lowenthals research, these others were
Jews, New Deal advocates and European exiles.

6Lowenthal used this term to distinguish reactionaries and fascists (or pro-fascists)
from reformers and revolutionaries; see Leo Lowenthal and Guterman 1987: 1521.

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda127

Irrationalism as the Basis of Analysis

Regardless of their distinctions, irrationalism must be understood to have

an integral relation to rationalism, as Loewenthal and Adorno insisted, for
it is in arguing against irrationalism that the rational attitude, as Karl
Popper later called it, is necessarily illuminated. It is a common relation
among those discussed here.
Writing in the post-war period, Popper was motivated to address the
attack on reason by all forms of totalitarianism. A liberal in orientation to
the issue, he considered the rational attitude (1966, 225) to be a readiness to listen to critical arguments and to learn from experience, an attitude related to the scientific attitude, both of which required a degree
of intellectual modesty.7 To say that irrationalism is the opposite kind
of attitude is the beginning of a definition provided that it is noted that
irrationalists such as pro-fascist agitators do not reject the rational attitude entirely, but argue that it is only possible for a small proportion of
people the elite of the propagandists in this instance, or in the case of
Plato, a belief in the limited distribution of intellectual intuition (Popper
1966: 227228; Plato 360 bce). In Poppers view, irrationalism was founded
on the belief that the majority of people are weak in intellectual skills,
a division that extends the foundation of irrationalism to a belief in the
natural inequality of human beings. Such intellectual weakness allows
irrationalism to take root in the emotions and passions of persons against
the capacity to reason (Popper 1966: 228, 234235).
Despite the obvious political and philosophical differences between
Popper and Lukcs there are some similarities to their approaches to irrationalism, as well as similarities with those of the Frankfurt School. Lukcs
regarded irrationalism as an international phenomenon, a campaign
against Enlightenment philosophy and the French Revolution, a response
to class conflict, an opposition to modernity, against the bourgeois notion
of progress and against movements toward socialism. The crisis in the
bourgeois idea of progress in Germany, for example, in the mid-19th century, concerned the populations normative dependence on authority.
Irrationalism was expressed, in part, as a disappointment in the masses
capacity to understand the gradualism of democracy; namely, their
7I will not suggest here that one side or the other was correct in the rather infamous
debate on positivism concerning Popper, supposedly on the one hand, and Adorno and
others, on the other, but Poppers defence, not of his position, but of the circumstances
around the debate should be noted. See Popper 1984.


chapter five

response to insufficiently realized expectations of the equalization of

opportunity and participation in the democratic process (Lukcs 1980: 16,
1819, 68ff.)
There are a number of components to Lukcs meaning of irrationalism: its rejection of the notion that the external world can be known, its
claim that the scientific method has inherent limitations, and its denial of
social progress; in short, its rejection of Enlightenment values.8 The communicative style of hate propaganda, then and now, centers on what
Lukcs (1980: 104) considered the decisive hallmark of irrationalism: the
avoidance of answering questions raised by science and progress, but
viewing such questions and the problems raised as problems unable to be
resolved. The most fundamental element of irrationalism for Lukcs, was
its equation of understanding with reason, as if cognition need not go
beyond the immediacy of understanding that is deemed to be self-limiting,
but nonetheless of sufficient substance with which to conclude the process of thinking. Opposing this perspective, reason treats contradictions
and limits to thinking as problem[s] to be solved (Lukcs) and as the
beginning and sign of rationality (Hegel).9 Lukcs position was that
Irrationalism, stops at precisely this point, absolutizes the problem, hardens the limitations of perception governed by understanding into perceptual limitations as a whole, and indeed mysticizes into a supra-rational
answer the problem thus rendered artificially insoluble. (1980: 9798)

The crucial point is the decision to cease inquiry and settle for an emotionally satisfying explanation of reality. He asked the question, what happens if thought stops short of the difficulties and shies away from them
[or] hypostasizes the inability of specific concepts to comprehend a specific reality into the inability of thought to master the essence of reality
intellectually? (1980: 100). What happens, he continues, if a virtue is then
made of this necessity and the inability to comprehend the world intellectually is presented as higher perception, as faith, intuition ? (The
relation between irrationalism and hate propaganda is further developed
in Lanning 2012.)
For Hegel this limitation on thinking made it a merely subjective and
formal activity, and the objective world that confronts thinking counts as
something fixed and present in its own right (qu. in Anderson 1995: 68).
8See also Wolin 2004: 3.
9The phrase from Hegel, quoted by Lukcs (1980: 97), is from the Hegels Logic (i.e. the
Shorter Logic) where it is translated as a beginning and a trace of rationality (Hegel 1975:

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda129

The constraint on knowledge is also self-imposed by an unreflective belief

in a perception and experience of reality, and by dependency on the
authority of the leader or the legitimacy of existing social relations, such
as the division of labor and the hierarchy of social classes and status positions (Adorno 2000b: 45; 1994b: 110, 159ff.; Horkheimer and Adorno 1982:
153; Lowenthal and Guterman 1987: 117). Dependence on authority requires
no further investigation of reality beyond the awareness that it is sustained by existing, normative relations: economic, political and cultural.
In racist or pro-fascist agitation such dependence is manifested psychologically and socially in ways that leaders, listeners, group members or
loose adherents to a cause, will give priority to eliminating the identified
enemy rather than advocating changes in the social structure (Lowenthal
and Guterman 1987: 16). For Adorno, this problem of dependence was at
the heart of the Enlightenments hope for the liberation of the individual
(Adorno and Becker 1999).
Adorno and Lowenthal analyzed the irrationalist basis of antisemitic
and pro-fascist propaganda in the inter-war period. Like Popper and
Lukcs, they insisted that irrationalism was compounded with rationality,
the central organizational principle of modernity (Adorno et al. 1982: 309
310; Adorno 2000b: 29; Lowenthal 1986a: 185; Seymour 2000: 301); that is,
irrational in substance and effect, but nevertheless calculated, planned
and organized. For these theorists, neither Nazism in Europe nor pro-
fascist activities in America were spontaneous expressions of social outcasts, but manifestations of ideas that had long been present. Irrationalism
in mainstream philosophy and social science served to create a social
atmosphere conducive to promoting racism and the support of fascist
politics. American propagandists such as Martin Luther Thomas,
Gerald B. Winrod and Gerald L.K. Smith, among others, grounded their
hopes for a reactionary movement on social and economic insecurities
widely experienced during the Depression. Lowenthal called this atmosphere a social malaise, a condition which, as Adorno saw it, was of
unquestioning dependence on a type of authority central to the legitimation of intolerance.
The experience of personal or social problems is not denied but appropriated for its truth-functional (Steiner 1997: 82, 86) value that affirms the
dilution of or threat to traditional, established relations of culture. In this
way experience is sufficient to identify and affirm the language and actions
of knowledgeable insiders whose expertise, cultural and ethnic backgrounds are consistent with the agitators historical myth. Adorno
regarded the limiting of knowledge to the immediate and existent as a


chapter five

defamation of the intellect, a resentment against the intellect that

throws the consumer of propaganda back to the perceived security of
common sense (Adorno 2000: 96).
Lowenthals Anti-Fascist Writings
Before examining further details of Adornos projects on antisemitism and
pro-fascism, Lowenthals work in this area offers an important comparison. Later, we will examine aspects of the work of Kracauer and Bloch.
Each of these exhibits a greater application of both Marxist and dialectical
analyses than does Adorno.
In his Prophets of Deceit written with Norbert Guterman, Lowenthal
analyses themes of agitation rather than the more instrumental devices
Adorno cited in his study of Martin Luther Thomas. Lowenthals themes
are far more comprehensively discussed and contextualized. He places his
recognition of the alienation problem within modernity in a dialectical
frame of analysis. In Prophets, the characterization of the problem as a
social malaise pointed to the context of modernity as its origin, not the
agitator himself or the psyche of the masses; the social malaise is a psychological symptom of an oppressive situation (Lowenthal and Guterman
1987: 25). The contradictions that have arisen in the social life of the individual from one historical period to another through radically differing
relations of production have resulted in psychic and social manifestations
of a condition: Distrust, dependence, exclusion, anxiety. The problem
can be explained only by the social process in its totality (1987: 24, 26).
The appeal to totality is not an escape from detailed analysis, found clearly
in Lowenthals earlier essay Toward a Psychology of Authoritarianism
(1987a) but a reference to the general condition of particular societies in
historically specific times, such as the ancestor cult in China and the caste
system of India that are examined as cultural forms of authority, along
with a systematic examination of authority in European modernity.
Central to his analysis are the mediating factors of economic conditions
and the attendant contradictions that underlie individual responses; in
particular, the modern division of life into public and private spheres and
the impossibility of isolating the condition of one sphere from its mediated development by the other. He finds the central contradiction of
modernity in the fact that existing institutions, traditions, and persons
become recognized as legitimate in one manner, through voluntary subjection of oneself to the symbols, notions, or commandments of the

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda131

institutions, traditions, or persons (1987a: 260). There is no form of social

existence that developed without this voluntary element. The complicating factor for the individual is the plethora of authoritarian relationships
(1987a: 263), the command or need to conform to which can be seen in a
range from objective social interests to individualistic interests alone.
Although he rejects doing so as fruitless positivism, Lowenthal argues
that every society will have its standard of rational voluntarism or conformity that will be linked to forms and relations of production, the state,
education, gender and science, for the authority relation is the decisive
and fundamental relationship (1987a: 264).
The follower in Prophets is a person who responds to what he or she
perceives as the disintegration of individualism, by a willingness to join
the pseudocommunity of believers the agitator can provide through his
or her organization. It is the agitator who characterizes the disintegration
as a result of forces that need not or cannot be explained (Lowenthal
and Guterman 1987: 117). What is more important is the need for self-
preservation in actual or imagined communities of Simple Americans, a
metaphor for self-appraised purity and exclusion of others. Acquiescence
to the appeal of this false solution to social and personal problems does
not relieve the individual of responsibility; acquiescence is one only
one response to objective contradictions in the social environment:
relations of modernity, the crisis of the individual, the commodification
of everything. The agitator is aware of these problems on the surface;
the goals of the agitator require that such problems not be demystified.
The themes the agitator uses for obtaining the audiences commit
mentaredistorted versions of genuine social problems (Lowenthal and
Guterman 1987: 150). To the extent that these are manifested as psychological factors they cannot be dismissed or put down to the masses inability to make objective inquiry into the source of the problems.
Thus, using interview material from the Institutes antisemitism project, Lowenthal both recognizes the prejudicial attitudes of workers toward
the educated Jew and alludes to those who may be unconsciously expressing a strong desire for knowledge and learning (1987b: 210211). He suggests that antisemitism itself is a condensed, perverted, manipulated
concept of all social conditions that [workers] resent or reject (1987b:241).
He repeatedly alludes to the contradictions that produce the problems,
and to the agitators function as the medium through which the alienated
can feel some sense of satisfaction. The agitator has an objective function
in the crisis periods of modernity: To recognize and play upon those
disturbing sicknesses of modern life that run-of-the-mill politicians ignore,


chapter five

and then to divert his followers from any rational attempt to regain health
(1987b: 151).
In contrast to Adornos study of Martin Luther Thomas, Lowenthal provides a more consistent sociological analysis that establishes the relations
of the problem complex. There is no sense of a residual formalism or categorical thinking in his approach that reifies the masses, nor is the antisemite simply a construction of modernity or a clever and persistent
speaker with a pocketful of devices. Lowenthals interest in the possibility
that there is a desire for learning, for knowledge is an allusion to the necessary alternative to antisemitism that the masses can appropriate and
develop a form of education that leads to self-consciousness in Hegels
sense of recognizing the other.
Adornos Study of Martin Luther Thomas
In his content analysis of Martin Luther Thomas radio broadcasts, Adorno
purports to analyse the tactics of the pro-fascist agitator, to illuminate the
means by which Thomas creates a bond that portrays himself as a trustworthy messenger. His audience, from whom he seeks support for the
message and which seeks from Thomas, in exchange, a salve for their frustrations, are to see him as only one of many communicators of the same
The study of Thomas broadcasts was written between 1938 and 1943
(Jenemann 2007: 52) and was likely intended as a part of the Institutes
larger project on antisemitism. While Lowenthal, in his Prophets of Deceit,
covered the speeches and texts of fourteen agitators, Adorno concentrated on Thomas alone. Like the jazz essays discussed in the previous
chapter, but unlike Lowenthals research, Adorno provides no historical
context to Thomas speeches, his radio program, his connections with specific Protestant denominations or the fascist movement in the United
States. Adornos contextualization consists only of footnotes as citations
for the dates of Thomas addresses quoted or referred to. Waggoner, who
is sympathetic to Adornos project nevertheless notes the neglect of historical contextualization, such as the absence of distinction between
Christian fundamentalism and Pentacostalism. However, he does not
consider the charge of bad history to be valid; the more important issue
is that Adorno, Waggoner rationalizes, had philosophical and critical
concerns that outweighed expectations of fidelity to someones opinions
about what actually happened, about the timing or the conceptuality of

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda133

historical breaks, and so on (Waggoner 2004: 2526). In the Thomas

study, as in the astrology study later, the focus is primarily on the technique of the agitator and the astrologist. In fact, Adornos primary interests, unlike the writings on similar issues by Neumann, Lowenthal and
Fromm, are revealed in his assumptions of the psychology and character
of the working class.
Adorno does two things: 1) he structures his argument much like that
of the agitator in that what the latter projects as the substance of
what sells the message, the devices, corresponds to Adornos view of the
character traits of the masses; and 2) because the primary target is the
psychology and behaviour of the masses it diverts attention from the
essential problem the forms of irrationalism to be countered by an analysis that provides a full comprehension of the message and an alternative
to it.
Thus, in the first case, Adorno responds to the agitators attempt to
develop a personal relationship with his audience; the very message and
devices of the agitator confirms the character of its intended audience. In
Adornos view,
any objective discussion presupposes an intellectual freedom and strength
that hardly exists within the masses today. Moreover, the coldness inherent
in objective argumentation intensifies the feeling of despair, isolation and
loneliness under which virtually every individual today suffers . (Adorno
2000b: 1)

Here, the term masses is not qualified but appears to refer to, as we noted
in chapter four, everyone below the level of the bourgeois class. The whole
of the masses need not be in attendance to be characterized in the same
way as Thomas audience; the masses are identical with it. The audience
cannot think is too weak to maintain a continuous process of making
deductions (Adorno 2000b: 34). His later distinction of large sectors of
the population affirms the points of identification: lower education,
manual labor, and unsophisticated personality and mode of behaviour
(2000b: 53). He would use the same generalizations of cognitive ability
and lack of education to characterize those who sought guidance and
gratification from astrology (1994a: 61). That much of Adornos commentary mimics Thomas approach to the masses, and this is not stated fri
volously, he contributes to the credibility of the pro-fascist form of
communication in America by imputing attributes to the audience that
he sees as facilitating their reception of Thomas message. This is distinctly
different than Lowenthals approach.


chapter five

What the audience hears from Thomas are scripted forms of revelation
and action. The revelations can be divided into two components. The first
concerns who the agitator is and why he does what he does, while the
second contains information about the problems he projects to the audience that reveal factors that undermine their sense of individualism and
freedom. The perceived viability of the second component enhances the
audiences feelings about the character of the messenger. This sense of
solidarity allows Thomas to request minimal action that mostly concerns
support for his mission; the most important category of action, then, is
faith. The questions he proposes are introductions to the revelatory
knowledge he provides and are followed by prepared answers he provides
for his audience; together these purport to reveal the insight into trends in
politics and the economy, the truth about who controls policy, manufacturing and other aspects of social life. The solutions to these problems are
not explicit; Thomas proposed solutions are not plans of action to be
taken up by the audience. Rather, he and other agitators were content
with the acts of faith that provided them with unquestioning spectators
equipped with a stock of scripted responses for service at the kitchen
table, the office party and the factory lunch room. In order to achieve their
goals, agitators relied on what Adorno referred to as devices or tricks that
were designed to draw the audience to the propaganda. It is only necessary to cite a few examples here from Adornos study. The lone wolf
device with which Adorno opens the study (2000b: 46), projects the agitators lonely but passionate drive to inform; Thomas is a man detached
from everything big and powerful, his message is from one little man to
another. The fait accompli technique (2000b: 4247) most clearly represents the scripting of the message and response in that it refers to
the assumed agreement between the agitator and the audience that
the issue is one that previously had been decided (2000b: 42); consequently, there is no need to think about choices. This device turns the
feeling of impotence into a feeling of power by giving up ones relatively
independent will to assume a spot on the winning side. Not surprisingly,
Adorno sees this technique embedded more broadly throughout modern
mass culture, particularly in the cinema (2000b: 44). The communists
and bankers device (2000b: 108113) collapses two presumably antagonistic groups as schemers undermining the property and security of ordinary people; it succeeds because Thomas avoids an explanation of
bourgeois property relations or the proposed socialization of property by

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda135

Drawing on Blochs Heritage of our Times, which we discuss below,

Geoghegan argues that in that work the duped, seduced and intoxicated (Blochs terms) have a great deal of space devoted to them, but the
duper, the seducer and the intoxicator do not (Geoghegan 1996: 116). This
is an important point of criticism that might suggest that Adornos devices
were an appropriate focus on the agitator. The object of those devices was
primarily the uneducated, unthinking audience, the devices becoming
only convenient means of exposure. Despite such criticism Blochs analysis, like Lowenthals and Kracauers is more comprehensive with respect
to the conditions social and psychological that can be returned to as
both explanation and analysis as fascism assumed increasingly consolidated power.
The devices are important, but they do not work separate from existing
conditions in and beyond the audience, but devices cannot be deemed
useful on the assumption of ready-made roots in the audience, a restricted
range of thinking and that a message that appeals to the immediate sense
of frustration and alienation makes an audience more receptive and
the message more relevant. This is precisely Adornos approach to the
masses here and in the jazz and popular music essays. Thomas approached
radio broadcasts as forms of communication that included the exchange
or sharing of information, just as we have noted radio programs that
despite Horkheimer and Adornos assertion that they provided no rejoinder did provide for some indirect interactions, including market outcomes. Thomas broadcasts were interactions through the returns of
money at his request for supporting his movement and the further possibility of individual audience members taking up the fascist cause in
some other context besides listening and nominal action through donations. Where such action took place the degree of direct or indirect relation to Thomas message might be more or less clear depending on the
In order to retain listeners Thomas possessed a certain attitude toward
their sense of alienation and their need for some level of immediate satisfaction. He relied on the conspiratorial script, citing truths deemed to be
so obvious that the immediate concerns of those caught up in the everyday life of working and making ends meet would negate the need for alternative explanations. This is a problem quite obviously not confined to the
context of Adornos Thomas study or to The Authoritarian Personality.
The language of conspiracy relies on an unwavering assertion of its particular claims that nevertheless can change in subsequent moments a


chapter five

contradictory consistency among propagandists but their momentary

inflexibility is an important communicative method. Neumann (1966:
436439) identified the tendency of fascist propaganda to shift its topics,
targets and promises as it rose to power. Straight-forward assertion is the
strength of propaganda in relation to what are perceived to be the immediate needs of an audience; the assertion fits the scripted messages,
repeatable with minor additions or revisions but remaining a restricted
frame of information for the presumed limited interests and abilities of
the audience; that such a message can be changed later is merely bound
up in its assertion.
We have already noted Adornos view of the absence of intellec
tual freedom and strength in the masses. The following are additional
reflections on the problem of the masses as an audience of pro-fascists.
Whilethese may also be aspects of Thomas message, these are not interpretations or explanations of the message; rather they are Adornos
a)The masses are incapable of taking up objective discussions of social
issues because they lack the ability to distance themselves from a personal relationship to the problem before them and the relative autonomy to make that break (2000b: 1).
b)Agitators develop a following, in part, because of the masses need to
be insiders (2000b: 3, 54), and therefore feel they are privy to certain
knowledge; having been given that privilege they then have a personal
stake in the message and a personal relation with the messenger.
c)When the masses feel personally involved in the message, the otherwise secret knowledge, they feel a sense of being integral with the
speaker to the extent that both speaker and audience lose their selfcontrol and let emotions flow freely (2000b: 79). The masses reaction
to the fascist message is like their response to jazz they want to give
themselves over to it because they must. The pressure to give in is
relieved when the individual makes the agitators cause his or her own
(2000b: 9).
d)The choice to adopt such a cause is not one resulting from the
strength of the individual, but merely a representation of the neurotic
curiosity prevailing within modern mass culture [and] to know the
dark and sinister side of those lives in which we cannot take part
(2000b: 54).
Similarly, in his study of the astrology columns, Adorno argued that a
major purpose of the columns was to satisfy the longings of people who

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda137

are thoroughly convinced that others (or some unknown agency) ought to
know more about themselves and what they should do than they can
decide for themselves (1994a: 52). The astrologists and the agitators message, rarely if ever adequately express social or psychological reality, but
manipulate the readers [or listeners] ideas of such matters in a definite
direction (1994a: 52). The astrology advice suggested to readers that they
experienced situations they could not manage on their own nor could
these situations be explained beyond the understanding imputed by the
astrologist (1994a: 74). Despite his assertion that the astrologist and the
agitator manipulate the newspaper reader or audience, Adorno had
already established the fertile field of his criticism the absence of intellectual ability among the audience members or newspaper readers.
Hence, the ground of receptivity was primarily a problem of the masses
themselves, not the manipulative talents of others.
This is consistent with the irrationalist denial of the knowability of the
external world. The status of the individual is not determined or conditioned by identifiable social conditions but by fate. Giving priority to fate
over relative autonomy facilitates the irrational dependence on authority
and on the existing social relations, neither of which, it is claimed, have a
knowable origin other than an unarticulated tradition or the immediacy
of experience. To the agitator and his or her audience, social scientific
investigation and explanation are of no help (Hodges 1970: 89; Adorno
2000b: 43). But, again, both the agitator and Adorno impute this aspect of
irrationalism to the masses.
The irrationalism of pro-fascist ideas often involves an accommodation
of normative, reasonable behaviour consistent with social expectations,
but also accepting at least at the level of communication intolerant,
even ruthless messages. Adornos analysis of astrology as an irrationalist
backdrop to popular culture shows how superficial reasonableness of
argument and the neutrality of an underdeveloped sociology at once
argue for social conformism and acknowledge at least two aspects of irrationalism discussed here, its claim that there are limits to knowledge and
its appeal to authority:
The continuous encouragement to talk things over with others appeals to
the conviction of many people mentioned previously, that others know
more about them and their own difficulties than they know themselves an
all-pervasive sense of self-alienation. It is in this connection that the concept
of understanding crops up in the [astrology] column. Sociologically the
stress on understanding, being understood as well as understanding others,
probably reflects social atomization, the reverse and concomitant of collectivization. (Adorno 1994a, 130131)


chapter five

This simplistic sociology settles on the understanding of experience. Thus,

propaganda gives priority to individually-generated meaning consistent
with Max Webers original sociological definition of understanding: the
direct understanding of the subjective meaning a person gives to an act,
or the explanatory understanding of the subjective motive in relation to
conditions under which it is pursued (Weber 1978: 89). So long as the
causes of these conditions are not sought or the individuals own meaning
not subjected to critical scrutiny, propaganda remains on the safe ground
of common sense.
Adorno makes a similar analysis in Negative Dialectics in which the
committee as a microcosm of the group of its members and eventually of
their totality is a representation of the individuals inferiority in the face
of the established group (1973: 307308). In that context, his claim on the
same page against formalization of decisions only pits individual against
committee, as if the committee was a stand-in for a neo-Kantian conception of society already established against which thorough knowledge is
limited and in which no protest can prevail.
As in the music essays, Adorno introduces aspects of Freudianism as a
means of analysing the problem. Without reference to any data, Adorno
argues that the astrology columns are addressed to the average lowermiddle-class reader, a population well-known to the psychoanalytic literature as having certain infantile fixations. He cites Freud to attest that,
Even the popular psychologist today has heard that the petty bourgeois is
likely to be an anal character (Adorno 1994a: 8687). While aspects of
Adornos characterization of the masses can be found in some people
within a population, his attribution of characteristics is categorical
without contextualization or nuance.
The relationship of Thomas audiences to the problem of leadership
clearly has historico-empirical veracity. The allusions to Hitler or the
Fuhrer throughout the study, some more useful for discussion than others,
denotes the problem of the leader as an exemplary power and an entity
upon which adherents are dependent for direction and justification. The
leaders ability to answer all questions through, for example, the fait
accompli device no doubt leads some to join the side perceived to be winning, since it takes less independence and moral courage to make that
decision than to choose the side that appears to be losing. This reflects the
individuals irrepressible urge in modern culture to be let in (2000b: 54)
to the space dominated by a well-led herd already in place, not only to the
audience listening to the pro-fascist speaker but the customer in the music
store, for this same image appears in the essay on popular music where

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda139

the decision to join in, dance or purchase is automatically a decision to

conform (2002c: 466).
The categorical treatment comes about because Adorno is unwilling
to consider the working class political movements going on around him
and earlier in the 1930s that were a viable and genuine expression of anticapitalism and self-consciousness. This was not the case with many
national governments in Europe and North America prior to the outbreak
of war. The threat to which most governments were attuned was the internal development of these same mass movements promoting socialist
ideas and attempting to manifest their strength in the control of trade
unions and other organizations. This orientation of the state resulted in
far greater numbers of bloodied heads and jail time among participants of
such movements than for those who advocated the social and economic
policies of Hitler and Mussolini. Inside these mass movements, determination together with vacillation at times and in-fighting over strategy and
leadership had its own negative impact on the effectiveness of anti-fascist
and other political actions. Governments of various nations were blind to
the actualities and potential of fascist politics not only in Germany and
Italy but in England, France and elsewhere in Europe and certainly North
America. While the threat was much less in the United States, the interest
of the state in eradicating these organizations was largely non-existent,
until the threat materialized on its doorstep.
Regardless of anyones commitment to or condemnation of particular
political affiliations, the fact remains that working people, en masse, along
with intellectuals, artists and others were a visible force in the anti-fascist,
anti-racist and anti-capitalist struggles in the period in which Adorno
thought and wrote the works we are concerned with here. This history has
been well-written and is too extensive to be explored here.10
When reading Adornos examples of limitations to the masses thinking, we do not get a sense of urgency as we would with direct communication of antisemitic, pro-fascist propaganda that included clear and
10I have cited some sources at the end of chapter one in the section, Socio-historical
context. Suffice it to cite here only a few other sources specifically concerned with the
anti-fascist struggle. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 of Ceplair (1987) provide fairly objective accounts
of the anti-fascist movements in France, England and the U.S. Rosenberg (2011) has provided a welcome local (for the most part) history of the Jewish response to homegrown
fascism in pre-war England. Localized histories of the American Communist Party provide
important discussions of anti-fascism that was integral to working class organization and
struggles, and especially the fight against racism; see Naison (1983) and Healey and
Isserman (1993) for two such histories. There are also many histories of the popular front
support for the Spanish Republic.


chapter five

endangering threats to targeted groups. But this absence is precisely the

point. What grips Adorno, as well as Lowenthal, in their respective prewar antifascist works is the evidence of support (directly or indirectly) for
such propaganda in Europe and America. The exposure of this support
and its potential threat is what ostensibly motivated these writings. But
underlying that, for Adorno, is the need to address the insubstantial, inadequate mode of thinking which, itself, is the vehicle that carries the support of propaganda. In the Thomas study (as well as the later in his The
Stars Down to Earth) the exposure of content is substantive, the analysis is
minimal. The analysis of thinking and non-thinking is taken up by Adorno
later in Negative Dialectics, but still without the necessary connection with
practice which, in this case, was required to defeat antisemitism and
Belief or faith is not only a response to propaganda, in that the subject
accepts it as facts already established (Adorno 2000b: 4243), but it is support for the common sense of what is said or written in relation to the
subjects immediate circumstances, desires or perception of problems.
Immediate is not confined to a single moment but to the subjects perception of a fact or problem that has retained its effect, perhaps over a
long term (a central component of antisemitism) because of its enduring
psychological impact and its call to the subject as a problem to be solved,
the immediacy is the emotional and unanalysed effect. An example of this
is part of an interview from The Authoritarian Personality:
You never see a Negro driving (an ordinary car of which the subject mentions a number of examples) but only a Cadillac or a Packard. They always
dress gaudy. They have that tendency to show off. Even though he cant
afford it, he will buy an expensive car just to make a show. (Adorno et al.
1982: 308)

About this interviewees comment, Adorno remarks that it is an example

of the distortions that occur when experience is viewed through the lens
of congealed stereotypy (1982: 307) by which he meant the tendency [to]
mechanically subsume things under rigid categories as his colleague
Nevitt Sanford defined the term (1982: 44). The issues in The Authoritarian
Personality may be different to a large degree from the Thomas study
(including the method), but the language and the projection are abundantly similar to Adornos stereotyping of the masses in that study and in
his jazz articles. This excerpt is an example of superficial triggers that produce a rigid, formulaic response, such as the perception of difference in
smell or the all-powerful Jewish influence (Adorno et al. 1982: 302, 306). To
the audience, these are indisputable, these are reality itself; they are facts

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda141

against which the idea of fact was originally coined (Adorno 2000b: 45).
As with the concept, Adorno is being consistent here in registering fact as
more than it is in itself, something that has a history of being made, and
which cannot be explained by the fact alone. However, as noted above,
the immediacy of such facts of experience exhibits a rational character in
the mind of the agitator and the listener that is, as a rational element of
irrationalismwhere it is perceived as a problem to be solved. Problem
and solved are in quotation marks because they occur in the presentation
of agitators and in the minds or actions of their audience, but the meaning
of these terms in such contexts is consistent with Lukcs analysis of the
terms in the hands of the irrationalist who absolutizes the problem and
renders it artificially insoluble (Lukcs 1980: 9798). Jews, Negroes and
foreigners are problems for some of the interviewees in The Authoritarian
Personality because the interviewees are interested in limiting (if not eliminating) their presence and influence. Recognition of a problem provides
a veil of rationality that shows the agitator or listener to have come to a
conclusion that there is a problem through hard thinking and mature
experience. The term problem is taken over from the sphere of science,
writes Adorno (1982: 312), and is used to give the impression of searching,
responsible deliberation and, therefore, an object of thought that has an
element of relativism, the selective consideration and affirmation of two
(at least) sides of any problem. The equivocal character of the term, problem, implies a rational working through the elements of an issue but actually suggests to Adorno a pattern of conformist sensibleness [that] lends
itself very easily to the defense of various kinds of irrationality (1982: 313)
such as the apologetic comments that there are good and bad Jews e.g.
the white and the kike (1982: 316, 360). It is a sensibleness, a reasonableness that allows for a conformist, unproblematic functioning of the
individual in society (Adorno1994a: 80).
The compulsive reaction to adopt the propagandists message is not
entirely devoid of self-interest to forego a level of relative autonomy.
Discussing the loss of self-control Adorno allows his already established
conclusions about the working class to denigrate whatever degree of
actual choice they may have without an adequate analysis of the range
of alternatives. The choice is divided in two parts in the Thomas study,
the psychological manifestation of social and cultural pressure and
economically by becoming an employee (rather than remaining a selfsustaining social unit) (2000b: 9). The last of these is inexplicable; remaining a self-sustaining social unit by not becoming an employee was, then
and now, a rarity under modern industrial and commercial conditions. It


chapter five

is inexplicable because Adorno is implying either an imagined state of

autonomy, or that the loss of independence under the conditions of
modernity is insurmountable, which is also an imaginary state. In the first
case such a claim to a self-sustaining condition is something neither
themiddle nor the working classes ever had. Given the historical context
and the absence of appropriate analysis, his claims become a convenient
form of blaming the victim. Adornos reference to independence and selfsustained individuality does not refer to anything concrete and historical,
other than a bourgeois figure. As we will see, Bloch and Kracauer take a
more dialectical view of this issue.11
Adorno is quick to take this period of modernity problems and all as
a standard for elevation and autonomy of the subject. Discussing the humbleness and folksy ways acclaimed by Thomas under the democratic
cloak, Adorno reminds the reader of the fact Thomas is actually praising.
Thomas acclamation of these humble ways
reflects the fact that large sectors of the population in fact all those who
are excluded from the privilege of education, and through manual labor,
bear the burden of civilization preserve certain traits of rudeness and even
savagery which may be called upon in any critical situation. (2000b: 53)

For Adorno, the problem is that the agitator indirectly praises this fact.
More seriously, however, he echoes Thomas, taking the fact as a given
reflection of reality. That there were and still are segments of the
population willing to give themselves over to violence and cruelty may
be evident, but in his usual style Adorno not only chooses not to distinguish, but by ignoring the anti-fascist movements assumes that the consciousness manipulated by fascist propagandists is a consciousness that
cannot develop in an alternative direction and would choose not to go
there if it could.
The Thomas study might well have been published with more developed material but was not during Adornos lifetime. The short essay,
Antisemitism and Fascist Propaganda, published originally in 1946 is
largely a summary of his discussion of the devices and tactics of Thomas,
described there as one of the West Coast agitators. The essay is devoid of
vilification of the masses that are found throughout the Thomas
study, and is devoid of the ungrounded statements that make the Thomas
study problematic, except for one passage in which consumer behavior
11I will not discuss it here, but Fromms 1941 Escape from Freedom was also a more thorough and nuanced analysis.

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda143

and the adoption of fascist ideology appear as interdependent actions

(Adorno 1994b: 224). That essay stands alongside his Research project on
Antisemitism: Idea of the Project, written in 1941 as the outline for the
Institutes film project for which Kracauer wrote the initial and some
(at least) subsequent versions of the films screenplay (Gilloch and
Kang 2007).
The Approach of Others to Antifascism
If we have found Adornos writings on antisemitism and pro-fascist movements to be problematic, part of a critique of them should be an examination of the perspectives, style and, especially, philosophical/dialectical
approach of others doing such work in the same period, particularly those
known to Adorno. Merely to note differences is not the intention here;
rather, it is to illustrate the value of more systematic approaches and,
especially, the difference his work presents with respect to the confusion
of premises and conclusions.
In the first instance, nowhere in the work of Bloch, Kracauer, Fromm or
Lowenthal do we encounter the kind of approach we find in Adornos
study of Thomas and related writings. We have noted his disparaging view
of the masses capacity for objective discussion, the relinquishing of selfcontrol and acquiescence to the leader. His emphasis on the devices for
manipulation becomes an obstructive form of analysis directed primarily
at the masses rather than the agitator.
Certainly one source that Adorno was well aware of was the research
project Fromm led on political attitudes and character traits among
Germans that began in 1929. The results of the study were not published in
Adornos lifetime. However, the editor of the published volume, Wolfgang
Bonss, notes some of the controversy over Fromms work in which Adorno
figured. Fromms research team was made up of many members of the
Institute, a considerable contrast to the latter study on antisemitism discussed at the beginning of this chapter. However, Horkheimer and others
doubted the validity of the project, a problem that apparently influenced
subsequent controversies that sprang up around personal relations that
included Adornos efforts to achieve membership in the Institute (Bonss
1984: 2). Despite Fromms conclusion that it was deficient character structure among German workers that prevented them from defeating the rise
of Nazism, the surviving data do not point unequivocally in that direction.
While the study was not without its problems it does illustrate important


chapter five

differences in views on politics, authority and social attitudes depending

on adherence to specific political platforms (National Socialist, Social
Democratic, Communist and others) and indicates the strength of a
potential opposition.12
More important is the work of Bloch and Kracauer. It is unnecessary for
a social analyst to have a completely uncritical view of the working class,
or the masses as it might be conceived from various vantage points.
Integration into modernity, the conflicted consciousness often found in
the mix of social problems and personal reactions, the potential for false
consciousness and errant directions have all been widely evident in the
20th century. With respect to Adornos attitude toward the working or
middle classes, one might argue that he was likely drawing on the category
of employee in Kracauers work of 1929, and perhaps also drawing on
Blochs use of the same term in his Heritage of Our Times. A discussion of
these works as distinct from the method of Adornos Thomas study reveals
some of the latters shortcomings.
A critical ethnology informed by Kracauers reading of Marxism, Die
Angestellten provided a portrait of the office worker as the personnel
occupying what Bloch called the new centre (1991: 26, 36). The new of
that centre consisted of the society-wide proportion of employees13 that
had grown rapidly in the interwar period compared to industrial workers,
although the latter retained its numerical superiority. The new also
referred to the kind of work the employees performed, its standardization
12The cumulative data and correlations are discussed in Chapter IV of the study. Four
classifications of responses were used: Radical, Authoritarian, Compromise and Neutral,
and it is in the correlations that some problems of classification and interpretation are
evident. One is worth citing here as it is relevant to the present discussion. Question 426
concerning respondents choice of the greatest historical personalities resulted in answers
that included Lenin or other revolutionary socialists being classified as Authoritarian
rather than Radical. The basic rationale for this classification was that it was clearly all
the same to them whether a strong leader fought for Socialism or for something else: it was
the figure of a strong leader which was decisive (Fromm 1984, 212; see also Tables 4.2 and
4.5, pages 212 and 214, respectively). This reflects Fromm politics as well as most of the
Institutes personnel, and it increased the Authoritarian group by a few percentage points,
simultaneously reducing the proportion of Radicals. Importantly, if all the types of
response syndromes and political orientations are aggregated on Table 4.14 (page 224),
types 1,2 and 9 with clear Radical or neutral orientation to the three question complexes,
accumulate to nearly half the respondents (46.7%).
13It is unfortunate, as Quintin Hoare reports, that his translation of Die Angestellten had
to be rendered significantly different in English in relation to the subject of the book. The
problem arises because specific German social legislation has given far sharper definition
to categories that in English remain approximate and essentially descriptive (121). Thus, a
title that means employee in reference to a specific type becomes the salaried masses in
English which only distinguishes a group in the otherwise ill-defined aggregation.

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda145

in terms of routine, types of people, and leisure activities, the diversions

from drudgery different from that in the factory, that were a boon to the
culture industries.
Kracauers work is not directly related to the problem of fascism but
provides a perspective on class that is more complex than a simple assertion of the loss of independence to which Adorno refers. However, as Inka
Mlder-Bach has pointed out, the aura of horror in which he sees [the
employees] shrouded already anticipates the political catastrophe that he
foresaw earlier than others (2000: 6). As such, Kracauers work, and others
such as Fromms study of the Weimar working class, concerns the consumers of the culture industries of capitalism and the future audience of
National Socialist propaganda. But in neither case are they to be taken as
a monolithic, acquiescing mass. Kracauer excels in this regard compared
to Adornos treatment of Thomas audience. Indeed, Kracauers employees are said to have little control over the trajectory of their lives, but this
becomes evident to the reader in a less categorical form, and therefore
fosters a more clear understanding of the success of fascist propaganda on
some proportion of these workers by classification according to educational certification, selection of employees via body type and appearance
(Kracauer 2000: 38), personality (4344), the problem of ageing (5359),
and the attempts to redress grievances (6067). In the histories of Germany
and America people have taken these experiences and conditions in different directions, but it is these different trajectories that make the reasoning through of the successes of fascism more accessible and complete.
The employees are essentially already proletarianized. Their positions
in the office, on the sales route, and other jobs, hardly protect them from
the caprices of their masters and provide only as much security as the
market will allow, and therein lies the crux of their individual and collective problem. Most are members of trade or employers unions in which
they seek protection from downturns in the economy, rationalization and
redundancy, and also find redress for the wrongdoings of employers, managers and fellow employees.
There is a dialectic to Kracauers investigation, a clear contextualization
of the employees, the daily conflicts they face, especially in relation to social
and occupational hierarchies, and the manifestations of the structural contradictions of capitalism. The absence of independence among the employees is evident in his observation of the transfer of the commodity
labour-power through the labor exchange in which the work history and
skills of an employee mediate the speed with which they exit the exchange
to another job (2000: 6566). The employees exhibit a loss of some degree


chapter five

of relative autonomy with respect to obtaining employment, but within the

specific context also gain some degree of autonomy by attaining educational and trade certificates relevant to particular kinds of work.
Kracauer moves from descriptive and sympathetic introductory chapters that discuss the topics already noted to later parts of the text that
capture the motivations of employers to develop the degree of loyalty and
compliance in their employees that confirms the complex labor-power
requirements of capitalism. An important element of his analysis is the
employers use of sport and other company associations patriarchal
events staged as company communities (2000: 77) designed as distractions from union activity. In the employers view, the moral pressure of
such an environment serves as an example of healthy class collaboration.
These are forms of entrapment in a ghostly battle for the souls of the
masses (2000: 80). Occupational status reinforces the subjectively
affirmed divisions of labor in the structure of capitalism affecting the psychological outlook of the employees at different levels.
In contrast to Adornos position on the masses, it is instructive to note
Blochs opening aphorism in his Heritage of our Times: We still are. But it
only half works. The little man holds too much back. He still thinks, for
himself alone (1991: 11). The employee allows himself to be moulded into
the image his employer produces for him thus assuming and reproducing
false consciousness (Bloch 1991: 22, 25). Entertainment, fun and other
diversions offered by capitalism soothe the contradictions of society, such
as the status differences evident in the characters and situations in popular film and the newspaper border separating news from entertainment
that marks a gradual descent into fun (Bloch 1991: 2730). Blochs dialectics, Hegelian and partisan, disallows a dismissal of the working and middle classes perceived compliance with the demands of capitalism and its
culture by a proportion of their members, or their acquiescence to the
attractions of fascism because none of these conditions are an end, but are
processes that can be disrupted and redirected. That being in society half
works, as Bloch writes, that there is still thinking, though misdirected, is
the ground upon which he analyses aspects of support for National
Socialism. He continues this idea discussing the distinct responses associated with the color of employees collars, noting that those who are dependent or victims of the master, believe themselves to be other than they are
(1991: 21). Bloch also believes this, but in a contrary manner, for it is the
crux of his argument: attention to the aufhebung of history, demographic
changes one foot in the village the other in the cinema.
Blochs philosophical emphasis is on process (Hudson 1982: 69;
Geoghegan 1996: 2829) pushing him beyond mere reportage of a cultural

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda147

malaise; he articulates the history of the problem if only in skeletal form

and in less than easily accessible language. His most significant contribution occurs with his assertion of the dialectic by which time and conditions of the past retain an influence on the present and its distinct
conditions. This is inescapable, for the cognitive image and impact of the
past is necessarily parallel to the empirical reality of the mobility available
to people, although not without constraints. Hence, he coins the concept
of non-contemporaneity, the meaning of which is shaped by his use of
heritage and inheritance. Non-contemporaneity refers to what is inherited from the past and is to some degree preserved in the present; these
will influence the moment and may even seek to dominate the subjects
consciousness again as the experience did in earlier times (Bloch 1991:
105106). He does this in a manner, for example, as Hudson has remarked,
in the same way that he stressed in his essay on Thomas Manns political
manifesto, [that] it was necessary to be first revolutionary, and only then
think of inheriting the past in a way which activated its good contents
(Hudson 1982: 12).
Nothing in the past can be fully retrieved to be as it once was, although
what we inherit has some value for present purposes. This built on a basic
principle of Hegels dialectics in that just as there is always something left
over from the concept as it is immediately defined, history and experience
leave something remaining after their moment has been transcended,
sublated. Heritage is neither advancement from remembrance of the past
nor regression on the hope of revival. The non-contemporaneous, however, in the context of his discussion of fascism, tends to bring forward
that which is incompatible with the present, although it may nevertheless
find a place.
Bloch also exposes myths drawn on by fascism to compromise the
relations of modernity. Thus, capital resorts to a new deception, a
mythological one, and gives rewards to all non-contemporaneous stocks
which frankly nurture this deception or are encapsulated within themselves, alien to the times, unconscious. Two of the non-contemporaneous
groups are peasants and the middle class (a third is youth). The impoverishment of peasants and the middle classes joins that of the proletariat;
fascism thus becomes necessary to oppress the proletarians completely
and to separate the newly proletarianized elements from them ideologically (Bloch 1991: 53). The peasantry retains its non-modern cultural
traits such as ownership as an expression of a sense of freedom, a nonindustrial orientation to production, attachment to the land and a sober
outlook (Bloch 1991: 99100). The memories of the middle-class make it
completely alien to the times (1991: 101) that serve to suppress what


chapter five

should be a revolutionary tendency given their current impoverishment;

drawing on those memories of the past fill their talk in the pub and the
The non-contemporaneous is intended to provide a reasoned view of
the alienated, and the propensity of a proportion of the population to
view Nazism sympathetically, tacit support from a position of relative
comfort and superficial satisfaction. It is the irrational upon which he sets
his critique, but not all that is irrational is simply dissolvable stupidity
(1991: 5). That which continues to influence from the past, such as conceptions of nation and soil, and older means of production constitute the
objective non-contemporaneous. The subjective element lies in the accumulated rage of impoverishment and complaint once merely treated
contemplatively. As contradictions these meet as the subject activates
the objective element (Bloch 1991: 108109); each mediates the other, the
objective elements having a longer duration, passed over temporally and
materially but remaining influential when new material conditions and
frustrations converge. These contradictions need relief which is found initially in complaint or withdrawal from conflict but ultimately find their
deliverance in one or another social movement: social democratic, communist or fascist. Thus, the contradictions must be forced in one direction
or another, which is possible when the potential within each of these elements is sublated. The illumination of contradictions, however, brings to
light the absence of leadership. But the leadership of a kind will emerge
as mediator. Such a dialectical complex is shaped by the weight of partisanship and for Bloch contradiction cannot be left without naming the
direction of its possible resolution: the Triple Alliance, the proletariat,
the impoverished peasants and middle class. The genuinely contemporaneous contradiction has the duty of being concrete and total enough to
detach the genuinely non-contemporaneous contradictions from reaction too and bring them up to the tendency (Bloch 1991: 113114).
Bloch treats the non-contemporaneous dialectically, and does so as the
forces of fascism are building around him. Rabinbach (1977) argues that
Bloch was taking up an analysis he felt the left had failed to pursue in
Germany leaving the field of the working and middle classes open for
National Socialism. His efforts at an intellectual level along with many
others gained legitimacy in light of the catastrophe that followed that failure in which members of these classes played a significant role.14
14The literature is too numerous and generally well-known to list. Two works that
reflect some of the problems about which Bloch was concerned are Browning (1992) and
Hilberg (1992).

the masses and pro-fascist propaganda149


It is an important part of the argument that the rationalization and control of the economy in industrial society causes people to believe they are
objects of processes which they often fail to understand and which are
utterly beyond their control (Adorno 2000b: 43). But it is the continuous
reduction to psychological attributes of all decisions regarding leadership
and responses to objective economic conditions that allows Adorno to
address this as a problem of the indiscriminate masses rather than a more
complex social and political problem. He does this in the Thomas study
through a report of the content, without other data and argument to support his contentions. However, when he did have a collection of data his
solution was essentially the same. The Authoritarian Personality provided
Adorno and his colleagues with interview responses from people from a
range of socio-economic backgrounds. But here, too, the project was centered on personality traits, such as stereotypy, emotional coldness, identification with power, and general destructiveness to be addressed as
such rather than explicit connection with [h]istorical factors or economic
forces that were beyond the scope of our study. The absence of elaboration on what is meant by rational arguments and efforts to address discrimination toward a particular group sows doubt about any solution
based in educational efforts and/or consciousness-raising that Adorno
and his colleagues implicitly proposed. Such doubt is evident among the
concluding statements of the study:
[C]loser association with members of minority groups can hardly be
expected to influence people who are largely characterized by the inability
to have experience, and liking for particular groups or individuals is very
difficult to establish in people whose structure is such that they cannot
really like anybody; and if we should succeed in diverting hostility from one
minority group we should be prevented from taking satisfaction by the
knowledge that the hostility will now very probably be directed against
some other group. (Adorno, et al. 1982: 477)

Indeed, efforts to eliminate discrimination are necessarily long-term.

To what extent is it possible that Adorno could have mitigated his generalizations with other data and argument illustrating the absence of adherence or resistance to the messages of fascist supporters? He was probably
the least likely of all the Frankfurt School members to identify himself with
socialist or communist movements either in Germany or in the U.S.,
although this might have been easier in the latter context given the United
Front policy of the American Communist Party and the p
ositive response


chapter five

to it by artists and intellectuals from less radical political orientations. The

point is that Adorno, as in so much of his work, was not interested in basing
his views on an analysis of historical data; he limited his engagement with
empirical evidence, for the most part, to that which could be rendered psychological rather than socio-historical. That Adorno completely neglected
the evidence of organized opposition on the streets, on farm land and in
the factories of America permitted him to perpetuate his arguments on the
basis of imagery and esotericism, and to denigrate the legitimacy of working class politics by ignoring it, thus affirming the non-existence of an historical agent for socialism.
But there is something more problematic in Adornos approach to
which we have alluded earlier. Each of the concepts, jazz, the masses, the
culture industry is, in Adornos view, identical with itself, and as such
these concepts are contrary to his principle of non-identity as the central
principle of his dialectics and more specifically to his view of concepts.
Such concepts are identical with themselves where contradictions within
them and the relations they share with others have been ignored, excluded
or reified. His limitation lies in his unwillingness to consider the importance of a systematic philosophy, or systems in general, denying to these
concepts a location in which their relations can be fully identified and
from which historical analysis can be developed.
Further, as we have noted, practical measures to address propaganda
are not to be found or even alluded to by Adorno, notwithstanding the
minor implications in The Authoritarian Personality. The theory-practice
relation remains undeveloped. Hegels remarks on the difference between
ordinary thinking and intelligent reflection provide a theoretical outline
for the necessity of intervention into the former. We have already noted in
chapter two that intelligent reflection is the grasping and asserting [of]
contradictions. Such reflection, or thinking reason as Hegel also refers
to it, sharpens pictorial thinking into opposition; that is, an inferior
form of thinking develops the contradiction receiving in [it] the negativity which is the indwelling pulsation of self-movement and spontaneous
activity (Hegel 1969: 441442). The occurrence of self-movement by way
of contradictions is the mediation of the opposite terms of the contradiction, but what emerges through the self-movement of sublation requires a
concretization that is the object of consciousness, for what emerges is
essentially a possibility of alternative actions. It is the consciousness of the
subject that is shaped by its own mediation or by an intervening other that
sharpens a new direction.


Aspects of Marxist and Hegelian conceptions of mediation have been discussed in chapter two. Of concern here is, one the one hand, Adornos
assertion of the necessity of mediation, and on the other, the fact that far
less employment of this aspect of dialectics is evident in much of the work
under discussion here. Perhaps nowhere does the concern regarding his
use of mediation more importantly arise than in his remarks on one of
Benjamins Baudelaire essays submitted to and rejected by the editors of
the Institutes journal. The disagreements Adorno had with Benjamin
regarding The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire are well known.
However, despite the assertion of Rainer Rochlitz (1996: 194195) that the
dispute between them and their respective cultural and political positions
are not current anymore that dispute should be at the center of any discussion about the dialectical component of their respective writings and,
specifically, the place of mediation in their use of the dialectical method.
What interests us in the first part of this chapter are those aspects of the
essays on which Adorno commented and which can be compared to his
own work.
Without rising to an unqualified defense of Benjamins work on
Baudelaire, the Second Empire essay and On Some Motifs in Baudelaire
reflect a difference between Benjamins self-direction in the former, its
structure and content that defines its place in his larger project, and the
second essay as a response to editorial directives framed, in part, by
Horkheimers and Adornos concerns about political exposure. The differences between Benjamin and the other two do remain important as does
the impact on Benjamin in his dire circumstances at the time.
The two essays are significantly different. It is a difference that is more
pronounced considering Adornos reasons for rejecting the earlier essay
and why the later one was finally published in the Institutes journal.
Rochlitz (1996: 194) simply states that the Motifs was the more explicitly
theoretical essay. Brodersen (1997, 240) suggests more accurately that it
showed the influence of those who had commissioned it. Lowenthal
(1989b: 74) supported the publication of the Second Empire essay and
maintained that the shift of emphasis in Motifs gave the first essay a


chapter six

weight of its own. Brecht, frustrated by the criticisms and the hesitance of
the Institute to publish the work, offered to have it published in Das Wort,
the German exile journal. Once Motifs was completed and submitted,
Benjamin remarked in a letter to Margarete Steffin: Now Im awaiting the
storm clouds that will break over my head over this text (Wizisla 2009:
172; emphasis in original).
Benjamin wrote and submitted his essay in a period of time in which
Horkheimer and Adorno were eschewing their tenuous connection with
Marxism and keeping their options open with respect to their security in
America. Aspects of Adornos politics that may have contributed to this
dispute are evident in his attitude toward Benjamins relationship with
Brecht, as well as Benjamins interest in working class politics, and his
sometime interest in the USSR and communist party membership. BuckMorss (1977: various, but esp. 139150) has noted the differences in
Benjamins relationships with Scholem, Brecht and Adorno each possessing a certain importance for Benjamin and each influencing him differently and reacting differently to him. It is of little wonder that Benjamin
kept these relationships insulated from each other for it was in each that
he found a distinct kind of intellectual support, dialogue and criticism for
his interests. Hannah Arendt cites Adornos suggestion that Benjamin
tried to outdo Brecht in radicalism with his Work of Art essay; but, she
notes, it was likely that Benjamin feared Adorno (Arendt 1969: 52, note 5;
Wizisla 2009: 1517), a fear that may have been linked to Adornos gatekeeping powers in the Institute. Perhaps it was because of the distance of
each of these friendships that Benjamin found himself thoroughly isolated
in 1939 unsuccessfully seeking the relative security that each of the others
had found in Palestine, Denmark and America. Whatever the problematic
character of his relations with Scholem and Brecht, perhaps Benjamin had
put too much stock in his relationship with Adorno and others in the
Institute hoping that the first Baudelaire essay would solidify their support and provide a way out of the European quagmire. That was not to be,
and it was Adornos self-serving reaction to the essay that became another
brick in the wall for Benjamin.
The basis of Adornos rejection of Second Empire was, in his view, the
absence of sufficient mediation. He put his criticisms in terms of concern
for Benjamins reputation, suggesting that the use of Marxist categories
were neither suited to Marxism nor to Benjamin.
[I]t would also be most beneficial to the cause of dialectical materialism and
the theoretical interests represented by the institute if you surrendered to
your specific insights and conclusions without combining them with other

ingredients, which you obviously find so distasteful to swallow that I really
cannot expect anything good to come of it. (Adorno 2003: 103)

This comment implies that Adorno himself employed materialist dialectics; it also suggests a paternalistic projection of what he believed Benjamin
actually wanted. In the end, there is more of that one truth in Nietzsches
Genealogy of Morals than in Bukarins ABC [of Communism] (Adorno
2003: 103).
What were Adornos objections to the Second Empire essay? First, his
concerns built on his initial intellectual reaction to Benjamins style and
his own commitment to the theoretical approach Benjamin had employed
in the Trauerspiel, aspects of which have been discussed in chapter three,
and much of which had been surpassed by the time of his work on
Baudelaire. In his letter to Benjamin of 10 November 1938, Adorno references criticisms and concerns he had registered with Benjamin about his
work over the years. He seemed to be offended as much by his elder associates lack of adherence to his advice as he was about the content of the
essay, which he criticized as having unelaborated theoretical support for
the motifs in the study (Adorno 2003: 100, 102). It is interesting that Adorno
focused on sections he considered lacking in explanation and elaboration,
for as myself and others have argued, it is just such a style that Adorno
intentionally adopted to maintain the esoteric character of his own work
and serve as a buttress against political engagement. Further, the essay
contains its own theoretical component and actually appears more like
Horkheimer had imagined his and Adornos Dialectic of Enlightenment:
filled to the bursting point with historical and economic material
(Claussen 2008: 142).
Among other passages in the Second Empire essay, Adorno objected
to Benjamins inclusion of Marxs comments on Napoleons wine tax from
his Class Struggles in France. Marx was reflecting the reality of the time,
including the establishment of customs offices (toll houses) at town
boundaries that reflected Napoleons legislation and which changed
every town into a foreign country (Marx, qu. in Benjamin 2003a: 7).
Benjamin used the themes of poverty and waste in Baudelaires The
Ragpickers Wine to reflect on the broader contextualization of the burden of taxation on wine and other commodities over a longer period of
time. Marx had noted the political use of taxation from Bonaparte forward, its effect on the peasantry and on the economy more generally in
France of the period (Marx 1978: 4950, 6061). But Adorno objected to
Benjamin exhibiting a tendency to relate the pragmatic content of
Baudelaires work directly to adjacent features in the social history of his


chapter six

time, especially economic ones. For Adorno, this passage showed evidence of artificiality, a particular and apparently peculiar concreteness, that suggested the direct connection drawn between the wine tax
and L Ame du Vin [The Soul of Wine] ascribes to phenomena the very
spontaneity, tangibility and density that capitalism has stripped from
them (Adorno 2003: 101). Benjamins treatment of Baudelaires correspondances were seen by Adorno, and later Arendt, as having an immediate,
direct link, but each of them accepted the value of these in a different
manner, Adorno as a limitation, Arendt as legitimation of Benjamins
interest in small, even minute things (Arendt 1968: 11; Adorno 2003: 101).
Adornos criticism that Benjamins essay was not mediated through the
process as a whole (2003: 101)1 may strike one as a contradiction given
Adornos rejection of totality as a philosophical concept of identity. Despite
the admonition to Benjamin that he had obscured the mediation by
materialist-historiographic invocation (Adorno 2003: 102), much of the
Second Empire essay is actually mediated by the core of social development, the growth of the commodity economy, in the social process as a
whole. The materialistic-historiographic is Adornos reference to
Benjamins Marxist approach. For Adorno, this necessitated the rejection
of Benjamins preference for citing economic features to which Adorno
gives no more weight than adjacent [to] the social history of
[Baudelaires] time while Benjamin treated them as integral. Because
mediation by economic factors is diffused throughout society, as Marx
argued, specifically in relation to the system of production (1986a: 107109),
it does not follow that mediation of particular phenomena either must
have an immediate and perceptible effect on the social totality, nor does it
follow that such mediating factors cannot have such an effect. This is what
we have referred to in chapter two as the general domain of mediation
economic activity governing the relations of capitalism that will effect
particular phenomena, but the immediate visibility of those specific effects
are, at the same time, somewhat obscured by that very generalization.
What strikes the attentive reader is the interest Benjamin has in contextualizing the Second Empire essay within a broad array of events and
political concepts rather than images. Images can be drawn from what he
writes, but the events and concepts he employs are weightier in their use
in materialist analysis. In this he has clearly moved away from the theoretical outline of the first chapter of the Trauerspiel. While we may not
1In another translation of the 10 Nov letter, (Adorno, et al., 2007c: 129) the phrase is
total social process.

conclude that Benjamins connections in this essay are modeled strictly
on Marxs method, his work does not rely on the interpretive model he
initiated nor from Adornos adoption of it. Rather his sociocritical method
is grounded in an examination of concrete material conditions about
which Baudelaire wrote; it is comparative, providing a more complete picture of the atmosphere of the time through Saint Beuve, Hugo and others.
The comparative approach, nominal though it was, was intended to illuminate the atmosphere much like his concentration on objects in The
Arcades Project and an approach that avoided simply pitting one poet, or
one commentator against another, such as Marx, Engels or Poe.
Benjamin was implementing what he had argued in his 1934 talk, The
Author as Producer as an attitude toward literary criticism. There he
expressed a kind of tendentiousness, applicable to poetry as much as to
literary criticism, being able to make clear connections between
Baudelaires sympathies and his own illumination of them. The illumination is not the flash of a completed constellation as Adorno would have it
but is established by weaving concrete connections through historical
reality. The method exhibits a political tendency that need not be or result
in an expressed revolutionary commitment or resolution (Benjamin did
not, after all, consider Baudelaire to be a revolutionary poet) while it nevertheless may show evidence of an important moral relation to the working class. The political tendency is achieved, Benjamin argues, through the
process of specialization that links that tendency to the quality of the
work. The specialist of this kind develops out of the employment of his or
her artistic interest, writing for a purpose adapt[ing] this [productive]
apparatus [of artistic quality] to the purposes of the proletarian revolution (Benjamin 1999c: 780). This is a mediating activity between the artists talent, technical skill and interest, and its development or
transformation into revolutionary practice. Such mediating activity is significant because of the potential for positive results (sublation) that may
emerge from the partial settling, at least, of a contradiction between class
origin and political tendency.
Throughout the Second Empire essay Benjamin cites economic
changes that mediated transformation in public activity, literature (popular and belles lettres), political interventions, and the structure of urban
space the development of modernity and the task of shaping it that
Baudelaire gave to himself (Benjamin 2003a: 49). New forms of advertising
and abbreviated writing such as the physiologies and short news items
were mediated in their development, in part, by changes in the pattern of
daily life the boulevard press, the stretching of daytime activities into


chapter six

evening with the introduction of gas lamps, the coincidence of leisure

time and the cocktail hour, the sheltered arcades that facilitated the leisure stroll, exemplified at the extreme by those who walked their pet turtles. So, too, was the crowd qualitatively transformed into which the
flneurs leisure walk was absorbed into the commodity soul (Marx), and
became the newest asylum of outlaws the latest narcotic for people
who have been abandoned (Benjamin 2003a: 31). Baudelaires was a
poetry of experience his night walks, the crowd, the experience of gamblers and others. As such, the poet imitates the storyteller in which tale,
teller and the material environment cannot be separated (Benjamin
2003c: 316; 2002: 146).
In this Benjamin shows an almost complete engagement with the commodification of society that allows for a focus on the flaneur whose individuality is mediated by such economic and cultural changes he is free
to roam and observe; his space in the city, open yet sheltered, can only
come about in an environment in which place blends with commodity in
the arcades and solitude is realized in the crowd of the masses momentarily freed of their labors. The masses had been preceded by the bohme
who, after a taste of revolution, found the knowledge and literature of the
urban atmosphere increasingly shaped and constrained by the marketplace of news and entertainment. Benjamin rounds-out Baudelaires Paris
noting the poet, himself an unsettled figure, nevertheless understood that
it takes an heroic constitution to live modernity (Benjamin 2003a: 44),
part of which was the acquiescence to the disintegration of the aura in
order to experience modernity (Benjamin 2003b). Benjamin illuminates
the contradictions of modernity that come about through the complexities of production and the simplicity by which both people and material
goods become the refuse of capitalism.
The task of the poet is to know the reality of which he or she writes and,
notwithstanding Baudelaires problematic despair, that knowledge of
reality is furthered by Benjamins contextualization of The Ragpickers
Wine with quotations from commentators of the time, Frgier and
Foucaud. The former comments on the behavior of workers and their families, including children, who go out to the town gate, purchase wine and
return home having become half-drunk in the process. In an allusion to
their state of alienation, Benjamin references a policemans view that
workers who imbibed that wine displayed their enjoyment full of pride
and defiance as the only enjoyment granted them, a pride and defiance
turned inward with cheap wine that, according to Foucaud, has saved the
government structure from quite a few blows (Benjamin 2003a: 78).

Although Adorno claims that he will demonstrate the error of
Benjamins analysis, there is little of this; his criticisms are intended to be
sufficient and self-explanatory, especially his criticism of Benjamin
directly relating historical occurrences to Baudelaires poem that demonstrates the absence of mediation. Adornos complaint against the
materialistic-historiographic and his projection of its distastefulness
upon Benjamin characterizes the relationship as purely causal; that is,
unmediated. In short, Adorno erroneously imputes to Benjamin a cause
and effect relationship typical of vulgar Marxism: capitalism causes wine
tax causes poverty causes despair causes waste.
The perceived absence of mediation that is at issue for Adorno is but a
cover for his attitude toward Benjamins choice of Marx as a resource and
the clarity of the complex of the poets imagination and emotions, and the
critics (Benjamins) analysis. These concretizations are indicative of
Adornos later conclusion that an integral relation between theory and
practice is impossible without theory suffering a loss of status. While
Benjamins analysis could be further developed by extending the mediations, what is there makes Adornos comment all the more suspect, that
Materialist determination of cultural characteristics is possible only
when mediated through the process as a whole (Adorno 2003: 101). Adorno
himself refrains from such clarity relying instead on the story he constructs to support his constellations.
There are other examples of the use of such mediation both in terms of
its general domain and its specific effects. As noted earlier, Lowenthal
argued for the publication of the Second Empire essay based on its own
significance alongside Motifs (Lowenthal 1989b: 74). His own work on
Knut Hamsun (1986a) (published in 1934) exhibited literary criticism in
the ideological connections between Hamsuns novels and fascist ideas.
Lowenthal set up his critique, in part, as a constellation made up of solitude, the middle class, the relation of the sexes, anti-intellectualism, and
so on. Unlike Adorno, he made connections through the internal relations
of these components that were evident or implied in passages from
Hamsuns work and the underlying ideology that informed the basis of
National Socialism. Lowenthals analysis is deeper than Benjamins
Second Empire but in an excursus to a later essay on Shakespeares The
Tempest (1986b, 1986c) he takes a form closer to Benjamins. There
Lowenthal correlated characters, speech and social functions in the drama
with changing and developing class forces. In his Excursus on Act I,
Scene 1 (1986c), he used the characters and their interactions to argue that
Shakespeare was demonstrating the historical movement from feudalism


chapter six

to a more clearly distinguishable class-structured society. Feudal royalty

recedes to the background and works its authority indirectly, while the
structure of power relations between a declining form of authority on the
one hand, and the emerging class relations among the master, the boatswain and the crew on the other hand, become more clearly defined,
mediated through the larger process of social structural change. Unlike
Adornos approach, in both of these critiques, Lowenthal did not begin
with an image of society, already fully dominated and impenetrable, but
with relations of a clear social context.
Lowenthals approach is similar to what Arendt cites as Benjamins
doctrine of the superstructure as his central theoretical orientation, and
as the chief problem Adorno referenced in his 10 November letter.
Adornos views are brought out most strongly in his comment on the artificiality that allegedly came out of Benjamins replacement of bindingly
literal statements with metaphorical ones (Adorno 2003: 101). Arendts
comments indicate a different reading.
Benjamin used this doctrine [of the superstructure] only as a heuristicmethodological stimulus and was hardly interested in its historical or philosophical background. What fascinated him about the matter was that the
spirit and its material manifestation were so intimately connected that it
seemed permissible to discover everywhere Baudelaires correspondances,
which clarified and illuminated one another if they were properly correlated, so that finally they would no longer require any interpretative or
explanatory commentary. He was concerned with the correlation between a
street scene, a speculation on the stock exchange, a poem, a thought, with
the hidden line that holds them together and enables the historian and the
philologist to recognize that they must all be placed in the same period.
(Arendt 1968: 11)

The doctrine of the superstructure reflects Benjamins ability to tackle the

conundrum of the vulgarized base-superstructure relation showing that
economic forces are not required to do more than condition the attributes
and further development of superstructural components. That such components develop only relatively independently, they also do not and need
not continuously and explicitly make visible the economic forces that
shape them, thus seeking legitimation for every relation and consequence
that occurs between or among the relations of institutions, art, the economy and other features of society. Benjamins method possesses the capacity of literary critique and illumination to find a pathway from the relations
of the superstructure to the roots of the social structure as a whole.
An example of what Arendt and Adorno were concerned about is
Benjamins comparison of a poem by Saint-Beuve on the response of a

man of leisure to a drunken cab driver and Baudelaires Cain and Abel
(Benjamin 2003a: 910). Benjamin makes the connection between Cain as
the ancestor of the disinherited in Baudelaires poem and de Cassagnacs
writing on the origin of the proletariat. He did not know whether
Baudelaire was aware of the latters work but he believed Marx was
and had parried de Cassagnacs racial theory in Capital, citing the
proletariat as the peculiar race of commodity-owners (2003a: 910; Marx
1967: 682). Further, Benjamin suggests that from between the lines of
Satanic Litanies Blanquis head emerges in Baudelaires own radical
rejection of those in power (2003a: 56), but this is only partly an independent correlation of Benjamins since he was aware that Baudelaire had
drawn Blanquis head on a manuscript page.
Benjamins approach is complicated by what can be seen as residual
influences of his theological and allegorical methods in earlier works, as
well as his surrealist pursuits and his own excursus into the attraction of
corresponding elements in nature and history.3 These approaches share
the problem of excessive directness of art and its meaning, and connections, inherent or imputed, to aspects of reality. For this and other reasons
his efforts tend to tease and run from a systematic analysis that he desires.
Despite a degree of eclecticism, Benjamin is here and elsewhere committed to a critique of capitalism and its dominance in and over culture. That
he is hesitant then committed then hesitant again may have been an
aspect of his personality, but the Second Empire essay offers an amalgam, not a compromise of these forces or motivations to produce a critique of Baudelaire that does not avoid the broader historical context.
The doctrine of the superstructure is attractive for Benjamin, in part,
because of his commitment to observation. The perceived unmediated
observances aside for the moment, the superstructural component that
drove this commitment was consciousness. Such texts as One-way Street,
A Berlin Childhood, Moscow, Marseilles and others concern the
intention behind the use of sight and hearing, the intention to be aware
and to be conscious of hidden relations. At first blush and beyond, these
are potential or actual everyday occurrences that could benefit in their
comprehensive development in consciousness from a clear analysis thatis
secondary to observation itself through Marxs method. Notwithstanding
its ultimate value, a ready-made orthodox approach need not accompany
the everyday occurrence of observation and correspondence. On the
2Marx did not cite de Cassagnac specifically.
3See On the Mimetic Faculty.


chapter six

ground, in other words, Benjamin was responding and naming, as in his

early essay on language (1996: 6274), the ever-growing complexity of
what arises from the forces and relations of production. He recognized
this in Baudelaire as well where consciousness underlay the attitude of his
poetry, a plan at work in its composition (2003c: 318). It is consciousness of modernity and is preparation for its shocks, to prepare a shock
defence but which, in fact, is an offensive to parry the shocks with
[Baudelaires] spiritual and physical self (2003c: 318319).
Benjamin, like Marx, did not see the economic base in a deterministic
relation to the superstructure, and in the period in which he wrote saw
accurately that the superstructure was becoming ever more complex. The
standard pyramidal representation of base and superstructure could well
be inverted to graphically and conceptually illustrate this expansion and
complexity against a developing economy that was more or less stable in
terms of its capitalist mode of production and the accompanying relations. A clear, conscious annunciation of the dialectical relations between
base and superstructure is, as Williams argued (1980), one of setting limits and exerting pressures, fully within the rational control of human
beings, rather than a mechanical sense of determination.
Within the highly developed superstructure of modernity, one should
be able to start at any point in the complex and reach any other point by
way of the internal relations of all components, their unseparateness, as
Hegel argued, but also discern any such relationship in the system of production, indirect as it may be, provided that consciousness, from which
such movement only becomes genuinely possible, is led by a perspective
that recognizes the dialectical relation between base and superstructure,
the relations in a total complex, and the contradictions that are the motive
power of the unity and sublation of both.
Benjamin expected his connections to speak for themselves once he
had recognized them; once established his observational consciousness
could give way to the analytical component. This does not nullify the
claim of absence of mediation, but it does provide a basis for a more
nuanced contextualization of Benjamins approach, an approach that is
not reductionist, nor does it construct barriers to the imputation of consciousness or to the connections he makes in the Baudelaire essay and
In chapter two, two expressions of mediation were discussed, not as two
types of mediation but two expressions in relation to distinct vantage
points. We have suggested that the context of mediation is social totality,
but specifically as a complex of complexes in which determinants can be

delineated and drawn together in consciousness to affect specific relations
but which also retain the full sense of totality. Totality gives us the complex of relations and determinants, dialectics provides the means by which
these can be understood to interact in contradiction and sublation. Here
mediation needs to be discussed in terms of its quality. In our expression
of mediation as reciprocation, mediation occurs by way of the interaction
of the qualities inherent in two phenomena, the sublation arising directly
out of this relation. But we also noted that mediation has a cognitive component in that the analyst or activist can move or shape determinants, as
contingent relations or by bringing them together into a contradictory or
antagonistic relation as an intervention. Like the intervention of Hegels
plough something may be introduced into a previously oppositional relation but which has initially arisen as a result of that opposition, particularly the consciousness and imagination of the subjects involved.
However, in Adornos view, Benjamins work lacks mediation altogether. Benjamin relates Baudelaires work to contextual features of his
time as correlations, as Arendt remarked, but not with a sense of determinism. Adornos orientation to mediation as something that can be illuminated only through the total social process disallows correlation of
such particulars. He effectively says that Baudelaires ragpicker poem
could not be mediated by Napoleons wine laws, or by the enjoyment of
drunkenness, or the virtual insulation, as Marx suggested, of every town
bound by a series of customs booths. Benjamin appears to be saying that
out of a particular instance of history and experience we can see that the
ragpickers wine is made from the fruit of Napoleons law; that the law, the
custom booth, the ragpicker himself emerge from and are mediated by
particular historical and economic circumstances, oppositions created by
the wine laws and the market relations of capitalism, and from which no
intervention but the salve of cheap wine emerges. Benjamin, as we have
noted, includes many aspects of the economy and the superstructure, but
he does not name them all, to do so would reduce the poets and the critics imagination to a shopping list, and would be over-concretized, an
issue about which Adorno was also concerned.
Benjamin writes to develop the correspondances and correlations into
more than an image.
When the new industrial processes gave refuse a certain value, ragpickers
appeared in the cities in larger numbers. They worked for middlemen and
constituted a sort of cottage industry located in the streets. The eyes of the
first investigators of pauperism were fixed on him with the moot question:
Where does the limit of human misery lie? (Benjamin 2003a, 8)


chapter six

Many more instances of Benjamins style could be cited, but the historical
element and intention behind the mediations he chose were almost
entirely beyond Adornos interest.
Baudelaire, poet of despair though he is, unwittingly ends up with
Benjamin as the champion of his subjects. The poet, uncertain of what he
can do against the pressures of reality, must nevertheless provide some
explanation in poetic form for the thoughts and actions of the people
about whom he writes. His consciousness will allow him to go only so far,
to a correspondence with another aspect of reality, but not beyond. The
critic, Benjamin, takes us there, rescues Baudelaire from himself and saves
us from the poets limitations. He does not tell us that the half-drunk family is one devoid of the intellectual capacities that the pro-fascists audience lacked, according to Adorno. Nor does he tell us that such a family
will inevitably appear on the barricades when such a need is driven to the
surface. But Benjamin does tell us where the possible connections to consciousness are: How did the tax laws come about?, What is the nature of a
covered walkway in modern life?, What led the Bohme to see only a
flawed memory of themselves in the ragpicker?
Hegelian Mediation
In Hegels discussion of Lord and Bondsman in the Phenomenology his
expression of mediation differs from that of the later Science of Logic
in which the example of the plough is located. In the Phenomenology,
one expression of mediation is in terms of reciprocation, interaction
out of which sublation occurs. This expression merely operates without
the intervention of a distinguishable, quasi-independent third element;
mediation in this case is the interaction between two entities. Hegels
comment was noted in chapter two, Each is the mediating term to the
other (1977: 112). Notwithstanding the mediating interventions that
come about historically Hegels plough or the intervention of political
parties through their slogans or actions in-itself the relation between
master and bondsman is one of opposition, yet their relationship is constructed and mediated through the changes brought about and actively
manifested by the relationship of each to the other. The lord is the consciousness that exists for itself [but] is mediated with itself through an
other consciousness. Developing consciousness as he does, the bondsman is nevertheless held in subordination. One has mastery over his
existence, the other does not (1977: 115). Each mediates the other existing

as an immediate being on its own account only through this mediation
(1977: 112). In Hegels terms, the mediation of one with the other is transformative in that each does to the other what it does to itself. In this
unequal relation the entity that was and remains master nevertheless discovers its dependence on the other who, through the transformative
mediation of the two, has become an independent consciousness in
relation to and in opposition to the master. The roles are by no means
reversed but are nevertheless changed in relation to each other.
What caused the change? At one moment it is the masters capacity to
relate to the other both immediately and mediately; at a subsequent
moment the master recognizes that dependence is no longer exclusive
to the bondsman yet the bondsmans oppression, while still secure, is not
the same oppressive state as before but a bondage seeded with a degree
of self-consciousness, the potential for independence. The central element of this transformation is the bondsmans self-activity, at one time
the fear of the master that was the beginning of wisdom, but later the
self-activity of the bondsmans own labor that forms and shapes the
thing in the environment of this pair and, ultimately, the consciousness
of each (Hegel 1977: 118). Inherent characteristics of each of the lord and
bondsman mediate the relation as consciousnesses, and, beyond Hegel,
as social qualities bound to economic relations. Hegels lord subordinates
the bondsmans human qualities, except for that of physical labor; the
bondsman is made an object of the masters needs which can only, in a
Marxist sense, be expressed by consciousness in social terms.
Simply put, the master brings to the relationship resources of land,
capital and the need for labor; the bondsman brings his capacity to labor
and his desire for survival. Even in the simple relation of master and servant the complex of determinants for each is greater than we have noted
here for illustrative purposes. In any case, the needs or desires of the master are readily apparent and determine the origin of the relation. On the
other hand, the servant, unable to liberate himself but being a selfconsciousnessin the broad sense works on the relation, shapes his
self-consciousness and his potential liberation through labor, the positive consequence, of this mediation (Hegel 1977: 115116, 118119), the sublation of the contradiction, by no means the absolute resolution of it.
There is an element in this relation of self-activity that Marx would later
develop, and while Hegel recognizes the limits to this, the negative consequence of the mediation, fear, and the contradictions in the relation,
cannot be resolved in a way that results in an end to the servants social


chapter six

Hegels discussion of lord and bondsman is perhaps the most important

illustration of the power of mediation in that the relation is the key to
comprehending the dynamic of human development as a counterpressure to alienation. In Hegel, the individual and its other are central. As we
have seen in the previous two chapters, the images Adorno creates
masses, culture industries, orgiastic frenzy, fanaticism, etc. have no
Hegelian other and as a consequence effectively close off further possibilities for development. It may be possible for Adorno to see the trek of families to the borders of their towns, to drink cheap wine and compromise
themselves in despair to be a phenomenon without mediation because he
allows them no conscious other. But do we know that such an other cannot be sought by them or imputed to them by external but related entities? Neither may resolve the problem, but either would make the problem
conscious and potentially soluble.
Self-consciousness is realized through action. Hegels discussion in the
first few pages of this section of the Phenomenology appears to be a
sequence of actions toward self-consciousness. Self-consciousness develops by way of knowledge of an other and the unity of self-consciousness
with itself. Self-consciousness is something to be achieved and to do so
requires a continuous effort, a desire for it and for life. Because self-
consciousness is only satisfied and genuinely achieved through an other,
the process of developing it is social. Consciousness has come outside
itself the significance of which is twofold. First it has lost itself, for it
finds itself as an other being; secondly, in doing so it has superseded the
other, for it does not regard the other as essential being, but in the other
sees its own self (Hegel 1977: 111). All this precedes the key illustration
that summarizes and, in effect, completes, but is moreover the starting
point of such a relation of and with self-consciousness. Recognizing
another self-consciousness in the process of developing ones own
appears, Hegel writes, as the action of one self-consciousness, but is
actually one and the other self-consciousness at once (1977: 111). The relation consists of movement, activity, some sort of striving, even struggle
(Pippin 2011, 16) that is the double movement of the two. Hegel then
puts the issue in the language of syllogism where self-consciousness is
the middle term between the act of the one and the act of the other
(1977: 112). Thus, self-consciousness arises in this relation, becomes
at least momentarily satisfied in this relation even though it is one of
unequal beings, or in other circumstances, unequal and opposing phenomena. But, on the other hand, if consciousness is imputed to the
individuals in these circumstances, then ones other can be an other

external to oneself or ones other in the not-yet, but developing self-consciousness, or each mediating the other.
Adornos Mediation
One of the problems that arises in trying to discern Adornos use of mediation is the virtual absence of a place for labor and consciousness as we find
in Hegels pair, unified in their opposition. One instance of this problem is
in his discussion of Hegels concept of spirit where it is understood by
Adorno to be society and social labor. These are not completely invalid
understandings of Hegels concept but to arrive at these leaps must be
taken at the expense of not only Hegels complex meaning but the material site of that meaning namely, the action and development of the individual. For Hegel, the in and for itself that is the essence of being, which
becomes conscious of itself, is spirit, ethical substance, the unmoved
solid ground and starting point for the action of all (1977: 263264).
Spirit, then, is consciousness in general which embraces sense-certainty,
perception, and the Understanding, in so far as in its self-analysis Spirit holds
fast to the moment of being an objectively existent actuality to itself, and
ignores the fact that this actuality is its own being for self. (Hegel 1977: 264)

Consciousness in general covers much ground so, clearly, social labor and
eventually through development, society, can be manifestations of spirit.
Adorno (1993: 17, 18) cites Hegels definition of spirit in the Encyclopedia
as essentially active, productive and affirming Marxs (1975b: 333) view of
Hegels consciousness of the objectivity of labor. In the context of the discussion immediately above, the bondsmans labor, the masters need of
it and the active relation of the two beings arising from their relation,
we have an example of spirit as active, productive.
But Adorno leaps from the introduction of spirit to spirit as social labor
to spirit as society neither of which are given a developmental context of
consciousness. In Marxs terms social labor is active within a social division
of labor, it is not labor for the immediate use-value for the laborer (Marx
1985: 121122). Adornos leap cannot accommodate Spinozas complex of
thinking and extension as one (1949: 8384, Prop 7). Adorno sees society
as spirit to be a change to an alien experience within Hegels philosophy,
a shift to something of a different kind incompatible with the sense of
Hegels philosophy (1993: 19). Spirits identification with society does
not fully develop the mediating factor of labor which, as Adorno says, is
what humans use to reproduce the life of the species, things that come


chapter six

into being in society objectively, independently of reflection, without

regard to the specific qualities of those who labor or the products of labor
(1993: 20), because this argument excludes the mediating factor of consciousness. The qualities of laborer and produce are most significant in
that the quality of labor or as we have remarked earlier, the quality of
mediation is the individual manifestation of labor which at some later
point is collectivized and is substantial for the development of the relation
of labor to consciousness, that is, consciousness as spirit.
What, then, is Adornos use of mediation ? A key passage from Negative
Dialectics is important.
What transmits [mediates]4 the facts is not so much the subjective mechanism of their pre-formation and comprehension as it is the objectivity heteronomous to the subject, the objectivity behind that which the subject can
experience. (1973: 172)

That objectivity is not available inherently or immediately; the subject

will acquiesce, says Adorno, to the general consensus, to automatically
parrot the consensus omnium, the average value of such objectivity,
unless the subject resists to free itself as a subject (1973: 17071). Thus, in
his terms such resistance is, itself, resisted for the subject will only automatically parrot the consensus. All of this can be accepted on superficial
evidence, that is, only at the level of immediacy. Adorno affirms Hegels
view of language, that some words do not express what is contained in
them. Whatever is more than such a word contains a becoming-other
that has to be taken back, or is a mediation (Hegel 1977: 11). This passage
and the surrounding discussion are also taken up in Adornos view of the
inadequacy of a concepts definition. If a concept is what it claims to be by
its definition, and its definition affirms what it is, then Adorno quite rightly
sees this as a problem: the concepts immanent claim is its order-creating
invariance against the change in what it covers (1973: 153). If that is the
case, then the general consensus must, too, be viewed as a concept that
does not, beyond the moment, accurately serve the reality it proclaims,
just as the bondsman at the threshold of self-consciousness is not the
bondsman of an earlier moment of his relation to the master. That immanent claim restricts the subject from thinking outside the concept, what it
defines and its relation to other things as it is presented in its immediacy.
4Rose (1978: 62) translates vermittelt more accurately as mediates. In Ashtons translation of Negative Dialectics vermittelt is rendered as transmits, but ubersenden, transmits,
does not appear in the German text. Variations such as vermittlung, mediation, for example, are used by Adorno in the pages that follow.

Adorno suggests that this intolerance was historically dictated by the
threat of nature (1973: 172) and the Dialectic of Enlightenment indicated
the totalitarian culprit in his own period was the culture industry. The
former solidifies his emphasis on identity and identity-thinking. In fear,
bondage to nature is perpetuated by a thinking that identifies, that equalizes everything unequal (Adorno 1973: 172).
But here Adorno steps further back, to the threat of nature, than is
required. The reference backward that is necessary is to the origin and
development of self-consciousness. That is, itself, an opposition to an earlier subordination to the master who believes he has built himself from
nature and from god, to all subordinations between and beyond them. If
from his objective idealist position, Hegel can discern the bondsmans
potentiality and the material conditions from which it will arise, it is
incumbent on Adorno to draw this forward to the wine-drinking workers,
the ragpicker and the trumpeter of Negro music. Each is mediated by the
total social process of the general domain of mediation but also by way of
particulars of it: Napoleons wine laws, the refuse of the marketplace, and
the immediacy of the cabaret. Hegel is cognizant of the servants potential; his analysis recognizes the subordinate subject through its development of the self-consciousness of its actions in relation to the master that
are the counterparts of the masters actions toward him. Adorno requires
us to take a step backward from the resistance within consciousness
where Hegel recognized the fruit of an objective idealist relation at the
threshold of materialism he was vaguely aware of, yet marginally enacted.
The point is that the concepts Adorno uses must also be subject to his and
Hegels inquiry: how much do concepts adhere to the reality they purport
to define and what moves them away from adherence to their definitions;
or, in other words, makes their definitions larger and more complex?
If we take, for example, dominance and subordination, personify them
as master and bondsman, respectively, and denote the two as a relation, it
becomes a task to understand how each of them, and their relation ceases
to be, in and of itself, what it appears to be, or by what is immediately
known about it. The bondsman is an alienated being and exists in conditions of alienation; the bondsman is the individual manifestation of a condition of the total social process. It is the bondsmans relations with the
master that are key to overcoming this condition, not by eliminating such
conditions but using them as a springboard for the development of selfconsciousness. Hegels narrative is of one master, one bondsman; it is both
the social condition of alienation and the relations developed by this or
that bondsman that will shape the development. (Of course, the caveat


chapter six

here is that the bondsman acts without the benefit and power of a broad
organization of bondsmen.) That development occurs, in part, as a consequence of the greatest problem for the human subject, the fear of death
(Hegel 1977: 117), a fear that emerged from the goal of master and servant
alike, that each seeks the death of the other (1977: 113), not merely as the
physical death of the body, but the death that is a life without recognition
as an independent self-consciousness (Hegel 1977: 114), an emphasis on
the need for the other.
On this point of mediation as a total process and/or the effect of particular phenomena, Lowenthal argued that the social process in its totality exploited by fascist agitators, explained the social malaise that was a
blend of [d]istrust, dependence, exclusion, anxiety and disillusionment (Lowenthal and Guterman 1987: 2426). He also several times cited
this as a problem for the individual psyche. Social malaise as a general
domain of mediation may engulf the society as a whole creating a backdrop for the environment of interaction that promotes the decision to
attend a fascist rally or read an antisemitic newsletter. But such a backdrop to all possible social activities does not result in all possible members
of society making the same decision. The individuals reaction to, acceptance or rejection of distrust, dependence and so on, whether singularly or
in association with others, confirms the effects of these conditions on the
distinct psychological and social conditions of members of the population. Thus, the critic must push him or herself to inquire as to the possible
mediations of the potential for reaction or for progress.
Hegel would like to give the relation between master and servant more
meaning for potential development of each than Adorno does for the
makers of jazz music. Hegel would consider the corporate executive and
the trumpeter as a pair that possesses that component of the masterbondsman relation that is the refusal of each to recognize the other
beyond the categorical and superficial meaning of what each is to the
other, but which, in the end, they are forced to recognize because of their
co-dependence. However, Adornos relation of the jazz musician and the
popular music audience, with the personnel of the culture industry, does
not consider how they may begin to act on their mutual struggle for recognition and to achieve self-consciousness, a struggle that is both within
each and between them. The central element in such a relation is the
interaction of a mediating element: work [that] forms and shapes the
thing. Hegel continues:
The negative relation to the object becomes its form and something permanent because it is precisely for the worker that the object has independence.

This negative middle term or the formative activity is at the same time the
individuality or the pure being-for-self of consciousness which now, in the
work outside of it, acquires an element of permanence. It is in this way,
therefore, that consciousness, qua worker comes to see in the independent
being [of the object] its own independence. (Hegel 1977: 118)

It is this process, and the resulting relative autonomy achieved, that moves
the concepts off their respective pedestals of reified meaning and shows
them to be alive and, themselves, integral to the struggle for recognition.
In the final chapter of The Dialectic of Enlightenment the authors discuss the historical development of the ego, projection.
The real ego is the most recent constant product of projection. In a process
that could only be completed historically with the powers of the human
physiological constitution, it developed as a unified and at the same time
eccentric function. (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 189)

The egos development is ongoing though it calcifies [if] it proceeds

positivistically, losing connections with its historical determinants. It can
be recovered only through
that mediation by which the meaningless sensation brings a thought to the
full productivity of which it is capable, while on the other hand the thought
abandons itself without reservation to the predominant impression, is that
pathological loneliness which characterizes the whole of nature overcome.
(Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 189)

Mediation for the purpose of reconciliation takes place as conscious projection and self-reflection (Horkheimer and Adorno 1982: 189). Here the
cognitive element in mediation is evident. In Negative Dialectics, selfreflection is cogitation (1973: 148), the meaning of which includes both
reflection and mediation; thus, to reflect is to think and to mediate,
through thinking, ones relation to an object or to the historical element of
the ego. Now, if we return to Adornos criticism of Benjamin for failing to
see that mediation takes place through the whole social process we must
wonder why the latters individual objects or historical developments are
insufficient, that is, are not capable of making the connections that lead to
the whole social process, when the ego of Horkheimer and Adornos presentation begins with a meaningless sensation and overcoming the
whole of nature to return to the full productivity of thought. I grant that
the full productivity of thought may envelope the social process as a
whole. But, the key point here, I believe, is the qualification, if thought
proceeds positivistically. If we are correct about the dialectical interrelations of phenomena and, indeed, our remarks about the superstructure
we can connect the whole social process if we follow the internal relations


chapter six

that link the phenomena; this appears to be what the authors have done
in this case, and to find the difference from Benjamins efforts in the
Baudelaire essay, one would have to locate the positivistic elements of his
connections mediated by the wine laws, economic conditions, and so on.
Further, building on his comment in Negative Dialectics on the impossibility of a meaningful relation between theory and practice, Adorno
seems to entrench that impossibility with his distinction between immediate occasions and mediating causes. He does so by constructing constellations touching on historical events from the French Revolution to the
Second World War, the rationale for slum clearing (bombing German cities), the development of stronger families, colonialism in Latin America,
and other factors. The motive appears to be to illustrate the fate of deeper
causes regardless of which side of the political spectrum they may arise.
Occasion and mediation in his discussion are not to be considered outside the whole social process. While it remains true that on one level such
moments [occasions] derive their potency from that historical entirety
alone (1973: 302), the potency that Adorno claims of those moments is
given no historical ground. It serves, largely, to justify the unfettered
(Kracauer) negativity of his dialectics, that it would free dialectics from
[the] affirmative traits that emerge from negation (Adorno 1973: xix).
Because Adorno refuses a necessary link between theory and practice
his concept of mediation remains only at the theoretical level and rarely,
such as in the case of the ego and self-reflection, explores what is mediated and the process of it. This approach disallows the specifying of a single mediating element that would identify and trace backward the
formation and development of phenomena until it can assemble the
internal relations that form the totality. Further, it disallows the critic
space to impute the motivation and outcome of cogitation as a choice of
mediating elements. It must be clear that this choice is neither individualistic nor relativistic, but permits the critic to begin analysis at, or continue it from any point with the examination of a concept.
Adorno holds that mediation lies in a materials history, the closest he
comes to acknowledging something like the philosophy of internal relations. For idealism, the inner history is immediacy; for materialism, it is
the measure of the immediacy in being (1973: 52). The becoming of an
object, like pure negativity, is never settled until its dissolution and therefore the language of the concept the concept itself is not capable of
completely or continuously representing the object; neither language nor
the concept is ever adequate to reality. This, writes Adorno, applies to
Benjamin, whose use of concepts tends to an authoritarian concealment

of their conceptuality (1973: 53). The implication is that Benjamin
thought what he was seeing in his concepts, what he was seeing in history,
was immediate truth, unmediated by the becoming of reality from
beneath the cover of inadequate language. A closer examination reveals
Adorno is theoretically correct about the limits of language with respect
to its incapacity to lock-in and continuously, accurately, identify a moving
object. But like the perpetual negativity of his dialectics, he thus renders
the use of language inert, for the constant reminder of its inadequacy
leads to muted voices and stalled practice, people hesitant to speak for
fear that reality has overtaken their word. Like his negative center of dialectics, practice can never catch up to the uninterrupted insufficiency of
the spoken or thought word that momentarily tells the tale the speaker
spoke or the thinker thought. Adornos perspective here as elsewhere is
dialectical up to the point of its reification as theory in fear of practice.



Negative Dialectics continues Adornos interests in developing the theoretical particularities of his philosophical perspective. We have examined
aspects of his dialectics, his imputed limitations of the masses and the
internal limits to practice in his approach with respect to jazz and popular
music, fascism and mediation. This chapter addresses Adornos use of
identity and exchange in relation to negative dialectics.
Negative Thought
A foundational component of Adornos dialectics is negativity. He
stretches negativity until it becomes an abstraction from which there is no
possible development of the concrete; it voids the openness of a systematic dialectic that was possible in Hegels objective idealism and Marxs
materialist dialectics. That Adorno later commented on the connecting
point of idealist and materialist philosophy, specifically around the dialectics of becoming (1973: 52), does not relieve him of this shortcoming. The
orientation to negativity in dialectics is not, in itself, the major issue.
Rather, as Kracauer (1969: 201) commented, the major issue lies with
unfettered negativity, its arbitrary character and its perpetuity in
thought. Social change may require a more or less continuous negativity
but action cannot be tied to such a stream of thought that ignores the
positive moment that does not neglect the negative, but is a moment that
sees annulment as a denial of possibilities.
Adornos negative dialectics gives to negativity the power of dialectics itself; in doing so he gives priority to negativity and negation as the
command of thought that defies Hegels triad: being, nothing, becoming,
as discussed in chapter two. The uninterrupted character of negativity
tends to exclude, as mere identity, its opposing but necessarily inclusive,
mediated moment through which sublation develops. The constant negativity neglects the potential to be developed within the moment a contradiction is sublated except, it seems, that development which will lead
directly to a new negativity. A new contradiction will occur; however,
before it, too, can be negated, its relations must first be developed to the

negative dialectics, identity and exchange173

point at which social conditions and human agency can move toward
and attempt that negation. The logical possibilities of a new set of relations must be fully developed through mediation. We are not approaching dialectics as an abstract thought process alone, but as a process that
includes human subjects, their conditions and interests. Human subjects, were they to consent to a continuous, uninterrupted series of
negations would find themselves in a process of adjustment that
required an immediate transformation of their achievements; that is,
from an actual achievement to an immediate sense of its inadequacy. To
some degree, this is what happens in the everyday life of political challenge, but it is how the subject experiences change and challenge to
commitment as both satisfaction and desire for further advancement
and resolution that guides the material intervention of dialectical
thought. Time and social conditions must be considered which are, in
themselves, affirmations of movement; consciousness must be addressed
and developed where it can be. All this and more is implicit recognition
that the need to negate another contradiction is, if not inevitable, then
objectively probable. It is with the complexity and quality of the concept of change in dialectics that contests the separateness and rigidity
of formal logical thinking.
Further, it is possible that continuous negativity may lead to the perspective that the path toward development and/or dissolution is a linear
one. But a dialectical approach to the movement and development of
social reality would necessarily provide an understanding that while the
partial resolution of contradictions may appear as moving ahead, moving
forward, may in fact require that the path allows for movement sideways
and backwards. Positions change and once an advance is made from them
no full return is actually possible. This is what we have seen in Blochs
analysis of the German lower and middle classes before and through the
establishment of a fascist regime. But an attempt to return to a position is
not always a regression or a retreat. The loop from the linear path may
well be the recovery of the adequate resources necessary for forwardthinking and the positive moment of a negation, however temporary that
moment should be.
Adornos argument in Negative Dialectics thus begins:
Negative Dialectics is a phrase that flouts tradition. As early as Plato, dialectics meant to achieve something positive by means of negations; the thought
figure of a negation of the negation later became the succinct term. This
book seeks to free dialectics from such affirmative traits without reducing
its determinacy. (1973: xix)


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In this law of dialectics, from Adornos perspective, the first negation is a

negative moment because it is the realization of change against a preceding condition, but the sublation that occurs is inadequate, was not negative enough (1973: 160) and, therefore, requires another negation; thus,
further negation, and further still, will be necessary until the sum total of
conditions are annihilated, making room for something else. What that
something is, is not apparent in the argument.
Absolute change of conditions by way of continuous negation implies
the possibility of a procession of determinants to be negated one after the
other. But how does this sequence of negations occur, what are the mediations that develop successive contradictions for the negative side of dialectics? Here the constellations of the 1931 inaugural lecture, The Actuality
of Philosophy, are modified: the sudden flash of a resolution has been
altered to a series of binary glimmers and darkness on/off, on/off, on/
off as each contradiction succumbs to its negation.
The second negation (negation of the negation) is also, in the tradition,
a positive moment, and in that sense movement and change from the previous condition; it is a positive moment that is not identity, except where
such a moment is deemed to be the satisfactory conclusion of the process,
a moment reified. Both moments of negation are said by Adorno to be
reduced to an identification with the existing relations and conditions of
their moments; this is the essential argument with which he advocates
continuous non-identity, the incessant negativity. To achieve something
positive becomes mere affirmation of identity-thinking. He does not
sway from this position, one he held since the beginning of his philosophical work.
Negation, in Adornos view, is never permitted a moments rest on the
outcome of a process a positive moment that is housed in sublation for
the outcome must immediately be seen as non-identical or it has merely
drawn the subject into the trance of identity-thinking. In his view, the contentment experienced immediately by the masses negates not only the need
for further pursuit, but also the discomfort felt in the initial contradiction.
Because of the absence of a sustained sense of mediation in his dialectics he
cannot argue differently; namely, that it is not the outcome that is seen to be
identical, but, rather, the outcome is made to be understood and accepted
as identical in a consciousness of reality gripped by immediacy. Even if this
may be inevitable under the conditions the consciousness of the moment
perceives it, it remains neither a necessary nor permanent condition.
One motivation for Adornos perspective is understood: capitalism is
extremely adaptable. A fundamental example of dialectical movement

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and development of history, Marx and Engels argued in The Communist

Manifesto, was the once revolutionary bourgeois class that became the
source of the destruction of human relations in all forms. An other
wise forward-looking moment became identified with the existent that
attained dominance through its accumulation of economic and other
forms of power it became the oppressor, it brought forward the commodity, it submerged everything into the commodifiable. But this initial
positive moment a projection of alternative, progressive relations
produced, over time and tension, the conditions that allowed the class it
created to struggle against the capitalist descent into repressive conditions in the interest of its own negation, despite arising to this struggle
through and beyond reified thinking. The process even produced a fragment of the dominant class that realized its broader human interests were
with the subjugated class. This example may seem to validate the motive
for Adornos perspective. But neither the bourgeois class nor the opposition it created developed and struggled in perpetual negation without,
to put it in very simple terms, the stock-taking necessary for the next
Herbert Marcuse, too, was a negative thinker, remarking on the power
of such thought in his A Note on the Dialectic that prefaced the later edition of Reason and Revolution. In his criticism of the established universe
of discourse, he nevertheless noted delays in the emergence of new
modes of existence with new forms of reason and freedom (1960: viii).
The negation of old forms of existence by new ones are not an appeal to
the affirmative traits of the existent, they do not preclude further contradiction, further negation, further advancement, or a future positive
moment; negation is a positive act. Thought corresponds to reality
only as it transforms reality by comprehending its contradictory structure (Marcuse 1960: xix).
Marcuse does not deny a problem with which Adorno was concerned.
Dialectics begins with unfreedom, the power of the given facts (Marcuse
1960: x) a quality we have discussed with respect to Hegels Logic in chapters two and five. But dialectics proceeds to the historical subjects mastery
of the conditions of unfreedom on the assumption that wounded by
knowledge humankind will be healed by it (Marcuse 1960: x, xiii). In
Marcuses dialectics, liberation develops out of the desire for freedom, a
desire that contradicts the conditions of oppression and alienation. This is
the only possible means by which the idea and practical realization of liberation can emerge; any other claim is neither materialist dialectics nor
even that of the objective idealism of Hegel. Thought must be grounded.


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For Marcuse, it must become political (1960, xiii), its relation to practice
must become necessary and integral; not to do so is to consign thought and
practice to the unfree world (1960: xii), to the power of the given facts.
The negative in thought is directed against the facts upon which immediacy stands and thrives as an ideology. Thus, Adorno writes, Thought as
such, before all particular contents, is an act of negation, of resistance to
that which is forced upon it. But the revolt against being importuned
to bow to every immediate thing (Adorno 1973: 19) is not alone a condition of negative thinking for it is the interest, the conscious need to revolt
against it that moves thought toward a moment of sublation before it
moves to comprehend and then challenge a newly found contradiction.
Adorno suggests something of this when he writes that thinking is not
only spiritualized control of nature but also heeds a potential that waits
in the object (1973: 19). What is missing is some sense of the weight of this
perspective on nature and potential in relation to each other, but more
importantly the practical, mediating measures to be taken in the presence
of slumbering potential. One is always reminded that Adorno is writing of
his conception of philosophy as interpretation, a view inconsistent with
Marxs eleventh thesis.
The Positive Moment in Dialectics
In chapter two Hegels concept of positivity and the object of critical theory, positivism, were examined. We concluded that the distinction
between the two was substantial. Hegels positivity, certainly after it transformation into alienation and externality, could not have been, as Adorno
implied, the positivism Hegel fought against in his youth. Even Hegels
negative as an outcome of dialectics that is simultaneously a positive is,
for Adorno, an overly positive speculation (Adorno 1973: 1516). But
Hegels was a negative philosophy, for negativity constitutes the genuine
dialectical element (1969: 55, 442), but it must be recalled that his negative dialectical element (noted in chapter two) is also intended to bring
out and develop immanent connection and necessity (Hegel 1973: 81).
Hegels negativity was a counterthrust to any form of positivism (Marcuse
1960: vii, 27), to any common sense reliance on the facts as immediately
The meaning of negation is not the simple negative with respect to one
thing cancelling out another; nor does it mean doing away with or eliminating an other. Every kind of thing therefore has a peculiar way of being

negative dialectics, identity and exchange177

negated in such a manner that it gives rise to a development, and it is just

the same with every kind of conception or idea (Engels 1987: 132).
If every determination is a negation (Spinoza, Hegel) so, too, is every
negation a sublation. Negation always carries with it the notion of moving
to, revealing or opening up another state or condition of existence; sublation, aufhebung, that is both preservation and transcendence. In other
words, the existing moment or condition is overcome, without that existing moment or condition being annihilated. The negated moment appears
to disappear; the appearance of its disappearance is negated by its residual presence. The negated moment, as sublation, carries the determinants
of a subsequent condition of reality.
Lukcs points out that the first moment of dialectics for Hegel is his
proposition giving priority to human activity in the course of historical
and social development, and self-production (Lukcs 1975: 75), and that
Hegels gradual abandonment of positivity for a more dialectically
informed concept, externalization, was due to his increasing awareness of
the role of human activity (Lukcs 1975: 314). Thus, a dialectical approach
to a question must trace the interrelations that bind together the ideas,
events, the cognitive and social development of the human beings
involved. The magnitude of the most important contradictions leading to
moments of development and change must be given their due weight and
With this in mind and having summarily explained the sense of negation in use in the sources noted, we return to the moment of sublation.
The negative carries the conditions for a resultant positive within it and
vice versa, a complex we become knowledgeable of in reflective thinking.
Notwithstanding the limits of reflection Hegel writes of it here in the context of contradictions:
Even a slight experience in reflective thinking will make it apparent that if
something has been defined as positive and one moves forward from this
basis, then straightway the positive has secretly turned into a negative, and
conversely, the negatively determined into a positive, and that reflec
tivethinking gets confused and contradicts itself in these determinations.
(Hegel 1969: 436)

He goes on to remark on each element positive and negative as having

meaning only in this relation. Despite the fact that the negative moment
seems to have the spotlight predominantly in that it indicates a different
state or condition or a newer and more developed form [with] its own
contradictions (Anderson 1995: 9091), it is clear that the positive
moment, that is, the moment of sublation, must be considered as


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importantas the relation that is negated as it vanishes (Hegel) into its

opposite. As Anderson notes, this new form or level of development has
its own contradictions but the new contradictions may or may not be
mediated or developed in significant tension to bring about another
change, even a quantitative change. If these conditions do occur and
develop it may take place in more or less time from the threshold of the
new stage or form, the factor of time itself being effected by the range of
objectively possible interventions. The determinations of any new
moment or stage must become a matter of consciousness (more or less
developed) and material factors must present themselves or be forced
into this new condition before its contradictory elements can be moved
again toward significant change. Given that our most important component in this process, from the point of view of revolutionary change, is
human beings, their responses to new conditions are crucial. The positive moments of sublation and its prior determinants are the context
in which human beings become aware of the immediacy of new conditions, acquiesce to them or mediate the development of their further
Once the contradiction in the relation between things has been both
surpassed and preserved, a positive moment exists; it is produced by that
sublation or, again, given the Latin root of the word, it is brought forward
or brought into existence by that sublation. The concept of aufhebung, so
crucial to Hegels and Marxs dialectics, unavoidably affirms the restructuring of a moment, as a relation both positive and negative, as positive
within the negative, as negative within the positive. The conception of
positive in a Hegelian and Marxist sense can be none other than one
aspect of the moment of aufhebung, the moment at which relations of a
contradiction are not sustained as a contradiction but its elements preserved in the residue of their internal relations as change and development occur. Such a moment, whether we speak of it as sublation,
aufhebung or positive, becomes problematic the more its achievement, so
to speak, is deemed sufficient, the more its relative autonomy as a moment
is permitted to stand against its relations. But this is not, or rather need not
be identity; it becomes identity if the moment is reified. As movement,
partial resolution, it is evidence of the self-active power of subjects as they
confront reality, and it provides the ground on which action proceeds. The
two components of the contradiction remain related through mediation
of their opposition. The result is only one of identity to the extent that this
contradiction within the unity remains unrecognized; on that account the
relation or condition will become purely positive where the relation

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establishes itself as an authority over the subject as, for example, the
authority of commodity fetishism (Marx) or the culture industry (Adorno).
Alternatively, consciousness of this continuing condition of contradiction
may force a further intervention.
In Marxist discussions of dialectics the phrase most commonly used to
denote different but related phenomena is unity of opposites, which does
not necessitate identity where identity is taken to mean non-contradiction. We noted earlier Hegels important caution to the use of the term
unity, that unfortunate word, and his preference for unseparatedness
or inseparability (1969: 91). Notwithstanding this caution, the real issue
is the process, the historical moments of interaction where unity, unification, can retain the dynamism that is assumed in dialectics as a whole
but lies in the essence of the relation between or among phenomena
which is one of inseparability. In this sense, a degree of non-identity
within unity is retained. Unity does not imply a neutralizing or dissolution
of differences, nor does it necessitate that once dialectical unification is
achieved, differences will be subsumed entirely under the resulting entity.
Unity is a dynamic relation between phenomena, a relation that is more
or less active and which is realized through the subsequent sublation of
objects in opposition. Contradictory elements unify only in the sense
that they come into or are brought into a relation; the unity in contradiction exists until the moment of sublation (and residually thereafter),
which completes the dialectical relationship of the moment resolving the
contradiction but not foreclosing the possibility of another arising. Since
Hegels caution suggests all logical relations are already in existence, to
say that contradictory elements come into or are brought into relation
references the cognitive and/or practical act that heightens or sharpens
the import of a specific contradiction at a particular juncture. The moment
of sublation should be the foundation of the full expression of mediation
which, from a vantage point that sees what initially emerges from the contradiction, a choice is made to press one or another force against the
opposing elements that then moves the opposition toward some degree of
resolution. Adornos emphasis on non-identity is to continuously anticipate and guard against relations he believes are taken to be equivalent.
But in the emphasis on non-identity he comes close to reifying this concept as the only acceptable and permanent relation between phenomena
because, as we will discuss below, the concept of identity that should be
at the center of concern is the term that represents acquiescence to conditions and relations as they are. As an aspect of his negative dialectics,
it is the continuous negative relation that identity disallows. However,


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non-identity can be as much reified as a permanent state of difference as

can identity as a state of equivalence.
Hegel recognized the inseparability of master and servant but not an
identity of them. But the point of Hegels pairing is that the relation
changes. Hegel chose the master and servant relation to avoid absolute
mastery and absolute servitude; these were already negated by the sociohistorical context and the possibility of their re-emergence is negated by
the relation between them that over time and tension loses some of its
initial qualities and gains others. This relation does not unify them as one,
it does not create an identification of them, but illuminates why they are
together on the basis of their internal relations, all of which structure the
relation of the pair. The sublation of that negation is not a friendship
between master and bondsman but, at least, the relative autonomy of the
self-consciousness of both. But Adorno objects with the introduction of
his negative dialectics, the hinge of which is the turn toward nonidentity (1973: 12). The nonidentical in thinking and in social reality is to be
sought continuously and finding it is never difficult with Adornos
approach it must be everywhere and everywhere retained regardless of
any attempt at sublation or the recognition of the inseparability of opposing phenomena. Any positive moment such as self-development through
the mediation of labor must be negated, any negation of particularities
remains negative (Adorno 1973: 158). On the other hand, he is quite right
that to negate a negation does not bring about its reversal (1973: 159).
Somerville puts the meaning of negation in simple terms denoting its positive moment. The term negation was used to designate the new state or
condition into which something grows. Since this growth represents a
passage from the old state or condition, the new state is considered a
negation of the old (Somerville 1981: 66). Adorno continues the above
sentence not with a sense of development or change from which different
opportunities, such as developed consciousness, can grow, but with the
call to out-negate negation. This was noted at the beginning of the chapter. The sentence in its entirety reads: To negate a negation does not bring
about its reversal; it proves, rather, that the negation was not negative
enough (1973: 159160).
Adornos view in this case is misleading and comes, apparently, from an
over-zealous certainty of his continuous negativity at the theoretical level.
No contradiction can be negated beyond the contents and relations
that brought it about and in which it exists. However, it may be concluded
that the social forces that have developed a contradiction were not sufficiently developed to completely negate the original condition. But this is

negative dialectics, identity and exchange181

a different matter than that which is of concern to Adorno, and it is crucial

to the practice side of the theory-practice relation. The conditions and
relations of a contradiction including what is ultimately an attempt to
negate it are matters of human agency and the social or natural conditions
that can be developed to address the contradiction. For example, the first
plough did not solve the contradiction of food production and subsistence, a contradiction revealed at one moment by the inadequacy of the
bare-handed use of sticks or rocks to furrow the ground. Under such conditions, the negation of the problem of production and subsistence was
momentarily successful, eventually incomplete but under different circumstances developed to the level of a new contradiction of production
and subsistence. These new circumstances can be recognized and assessed
only in terms of a variety of material and historical factors, including the
quality of consciousness and imagination of the agrarians on the land. We
come back, then, to a central point in the critical theory of Adorno and
Horkheimer, the latters view that no change takes place until it actually
comes about (1982: 220221), and Adornos later echo, What is negated is
negative until it has passed (Adorno 1973: 160), attitudes that are the
result of having no theory of action that can recognize and take up the
changes human agency develops.
Adorno makes the point that at least some of Hegels dialectical positives retained their negativity (1973: 38), and were recognized as such by
Hegel. Adorno (1973: 38, footnote) contextualizes this view by citing the
problem of immediacy in a passage from the preface to the Phenomenology.
Hegel is discussing the self-awareness of Spirit that must bear a lengthy
path of discovery which is ultimately the move from being-in-itself to a
condition of being recollected-in-itself, ready for transformation into the
form of being-for-self (Hegel 1977: 17). In its entirety, it is not a process
crucial to the argument here but aspects of it are relevant to this discussion of negativity. The movement from being-in-itself to recollection is a
movement of negation which also retains the character of uncomprehended immediacy, of passive indifference, as existence itself. But it is
also a movement that has left the subject with a familiarity with the path,
its moments and shapes the subject has undertaken, but such knowing
of the familiar never gets anywhere because they are uncritically taken
for granted. In explaining this, Hegel discusses the analysis of an idea by
breaking it up into its original elements [which means] to return to its
moments (1977: 18); distinguishing these moments, or elements, is the
act of the most astonishing and mightiest of all powers, the Understand
ing (1977: 18). His illustration is the circle that remains self-enclosed and,


chapter seven

like substance, holds its moments together. The circles moments,

aggregated to produce the circle, drew it out of its determinant elements.
By accident the circle as a containment of its elements is broken; this
accident is the portentous power of the negative the energy of thought
(1977: 19). The positive moment is the circle completed by its determinants; the negative is the independence of the accident and, thereby the
circles free elements that nevertheless retain their circle determinants;
thus, the completed circle is the sublation of its determinants as individual
determinants rearranged as a result of the resolution of their contradictions. Momentarily, ultimate elements are at rest and self-contained by
the thing they produce at a specific juncture and are sustained until the
instant of its fracturing when in a moment of utter dismemberment it
finds itself (Hegel 1977: 19). The negative is bound to the object in sublation such as when Spirit exhibits its power by looking the negative in the
face, and tarrying with it, it is a power that is held also by the subject
(Hegel 1977: 19). That negative moment gives us something else, the character of which does not matter at the instant only that the elements of one
idea or object are imbued with its nature and at another moment relatively freed to be pushed, pulled, pounded toward another. All this is not a
rejection of the positive which closes its eyes to the negative. The subject
develops its knowledge being-for-self with eyes open to the relation of
one to the other when is stares the negative in the face. Adornos rejection of the positive is categorical, an overreaction.
Marx is most clear about the role of sublation in his discussions of labor,
exchange value, scientific knowledge and fixed capital (machines) in the
Grundrisse and in the first volume of Capital including his discussion of
the Factory Acts in the latter volume. Starosta (2011) has generalized the
issues discussed there as human productive subjectivity. Marx was making clear that the critique of capitalism included both the development
and mechanisms of it, and the possibilities for liberation that capitalism
unwittingly offered its subjects. We note, again, Marxs principle that the
distinction be recognized between the productiveness of an economic
system that is due to its process of production, and that due to the capitalist exploitation of that process (1967: 398). Thus, labor under conditions of capitalist production results in conditions of alienation for the
population of workers in general; labor benefits capital by the latters
exploitation of it. But labor is an essential human activity (Marx 1975b:
228, 275, 277) and even the overcoming of obstacles is in itself a manifestation of freedom (Marx 1986a, 530). Under conditions that are distinct
from exploitative conditions, the laborer has a different relation to its

negative dialectics, identity and exchange183

object so that labor becomes a positive, creative activity (Marx 1986a:

532). The conditions for such creativity do not wholly prevail in capitalist
society, but neither are they completely absent. The laborer who can create a different, more liberating relation to her work nevertheless carries
into that activity the conditions of alienation as a generalized social condition. Hegels complex of Lord and Bondsman is integrally related to
Marxs comments.
But how does Marx address the problems presented by an exploitative
system of production that also has a potential to provide the basis of liberation? As he states in his initial discussion of commodities in Capital,
understanding their character and variety is a work of history (1967: 43);
it is working backwards from any condition to discern its historical determinations (1986a: 38). The unfinished revolution of modern industry is
propelled by technological developments, multiplying the variety of skills
required of labor and compelling itself (modern industrial capitalism) to
fulfil these requirements to ensure that labor possesses the skills required
to produce surplus value out of that technology and its processes. Thus,
factory legislation arises to address the sanitary conditions of work and to
initiate limited (in the late 19th century) education and training for workers, some reasonable measures to ensure the reproduction of labor-power,
a manifestation of the moral element in the value of labor-power all of
which, over time and under renewed potential moment to moment sets
the basis for the fully developed individual to fulfill the needs of capital,
indeed, but also to open further opportunities to make it possible for the
individuals of a class, etc. to overcome oppressive, exploitative conditions by negating the relations that have produced them (Marx 1967: 454
459, 164165, 168; 1986a: 101).
It is within capitalism that the oppositional fragment against alienation and exploitation develops. Even under oppressive conditions reification is not an absolute state. The realization of socialism alone does not
produce what Lukcs, for example, referred to as the active creature,
which is the true nature of [the] human species (1991: 125). In its moment,
an environment of socialism will make such a contribution, but so too
does capitalism construct, instrumentally in terms of its own interests,
conditions in which opposition to oppression may be developed. Marx
could never have advocated revolution if such conditions were not an
unintentional development within the structure of capitalism, however
much their potential might defy capitalisms purpose. That is, socialist
democracy will secure the conditions for Marxs fully developed human
being to advance its freedom, but the conscious imperative for such


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developmentarises amidst the contradictions, exploitation, and alienation of capitalism.

Hence, a condemnation of capitalism and its culture industries, the reification of consciousness and the acquiescence of the masses to external
forces all have their place. Without a consistent connection to the historical development of these conditions one is left with the notion that only
when capitalism is superseded completely will the conditions then be
available for the quality of human experience that Marx foresees. Adornos
unfettered dialectics was the advocacy of continuous negativity that
seems inseparable from a certain arbitrariness, an absence of content
and direction (Kracauer 1969: 201). Adorno does not anticipate or speak
to this comment but creates a false dichotomy when he writes: A dialectics no longer glued to identity will provoke either the charge that it is
bottomless or the objection that it is dizzying (1973: 31).
Identity and Identity Thinking
The preface of Negative Dialectics concerns Adornos immediate task as
well as brief reflections on his work and thought. Thought is his work; his
work is theory. In his lectures on Kant he reminded students of Aristotles
premise that philosophy is really a matter of thinking on thinking
(Adorno, 2001: 82). He begins Negative Dialectics with a caveat to this principle: the appearance of identity is inherent in thought itself, in its pure
form. To think is to identify (1973: 5). Notice that he moves immediately
from appearance to the categorical assertion, To think is to identify. S is
P. Adornos assertion is not the same as Hegels discussion of identity,
usually adduced as the first law of thought. Hegel cites the A = A of
formal logic, an empty tautology [that] leads no further for identity, on
its own terms, is different and, therefore, has relevance only in its relation
to difference (1969: 413415). Adorno imputes to the thinker the formal
logical meaning of to think is to identify and does not, again, lead us out
of that formalization. One cannot read such statements of Adornos without thinking also about appearance and immediacy, and understand that
the central terms identity and concept, integrally related as they are
must be transitory to a consciousness interested in whether immediacy
equals permanence. In other words, we could grant Adorno this identity
as an immediate condition, a first step in the process of thought. But why
is there no second step? For this to occur the subject would have to recognize the mediating influences that are necessary to draw together the

negative dialectics, identity and exchange185

internal relations of objects to allow for thinking that is able to identify

that which is not identical to immediate thought. That is a position contrary to his notion of thought in itself being resistance. Indeed, things may
appear identical and in some ways are; identity appears universal; but
appearance is to be treated by the conscious, self-reflecting mind as a
transformable immediacy unless the subject reifies it, or it is accepted as
reified ideologically. Just as ideology appeared in the camera obscura
(Marx and Engels 1976a: 36) upon analysis it was, like the object in the eye,
a first perception from a physical sensation, an appearance, and as important as appearances are, the initial sensation on the eye is only that.
Consciousness of the inversion is the key to clarifying the distortion of
reality. Horkheimer made this point in his discussion of critical theory
with respect to the perception of the subject. What the subject sees, at the
very least, is the intentional construction of society, its objects and systems, and the changes in them over time. What appears to be natural or
actually is understood in relation to the social world, its construction that
is recognized before it may be contradicted by the subject whose conscious human action unconsciously determines not only the subjective
side of perception but in larger degree the object as well (Horkheimer
1982: 201).
Since his text is concerned with dialectics the reader would expect
Adorno to move through the statement, To think is to identify, detailing
and explaining the character and the quality of thought he has in mind,
illustrating its movement, its transcendence of the immediate, its dialectical character, its Hegelian ground in reality, and in practice. The determined reader will find that he does something of this, but formally, in
thought alone and then incompletely it is thought operating against
practice. It is incomplete thought, for it fails to find ground as Marx indicated thought should: Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and the
power, the this-worldliness of his thinking in practice (Marx and Engels
1976a: 3).
Negative Dialectics addresses the problem of identitarian thinking,
what Adorno also calls the identity principle. The claim of identity is not
dissociated from the ideas of particular social interests. The need for identity and protection against contradictions serves to sustain the ideology of
a social group; identity, stasis, one-sidedness are, therefore, the primal
forms of ideology (Adorno 1973: 148). Adornos approach is intended to
demonstrate such stasis in human thought and relations that are sustained by the ideological position of identity between ideas and things in
which a stated concept or relation of equality between elements, such as


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concept and reality, carries a legitimacy that is an offense against contradictions in reality.
Adorno recognizes the capacity of dialectics to reveal what is incompatible with a relation deemed to be one of identity. He locates the origin
of identity in thinking commanded by formal logic that tolerates nothing
that is not like itself, (1973: 142143) and, simultaneously, in the fear of
nature. Such an historical orientation to identity in formal logic makes its
use normative; where it is continuous beyond the epoch of history in
which its decline was pressed by Hegel and Marx, at least, it becomes
the false consciousness of the thinking subject. When Adorno states,
Contradiction is non-identity under the aspect of identity (1973: 5), his
reference is to the total identity of formal logic, whose core is the principle of the excluded middle. In formal logic there is no way of legitimately accounting for the conceptualization of a thing as both itself and
something other in its development, limiting the content of thought by
requiring its adjustment to the existent as primary and singular.
In the Enlightenment period, the dominant mode of thinking was
that of formal logic so much so that Enlightenment thinkers moved the
formation of bourgeois society by way of quantification (Horkheimer
and Adorno 1982: 7). Production and the division of labor in the development of capitalism are expressions of the formal logic that governs it
(Horkheimer 1982: 216). The goal to which traditional thinking is directed
is to the exclusion of antagonism and contradiction in thought (Adorno
1973: 149; Horkheimer 1974a: 167), the exclusion of non-identity. In traditional thinking the element of changeability or transformation through
contradiction is suppressed (Adorno 1973: 142). Thus, Adorno writes,
Dialectics is the consistent sense of non-identity (1973: 5). That is, nonidentity is not an aspect of the immediacy presented by logic in thought or
reality. If that is the case, non-identity must be discovered and developed.
Thus, if dialectics includes the excluded middle (the thing that is both
A and not-A, as discussed in chapter two) then the essence of dialectics is
its capacity to know change as a condition of an object or event given its
relations and the mediations to which it is subjected, the activation of
contingencies. Hegel remarks that the contradiction is the negative as
determined in the sphere of essence, the principle of all self-movement.
Implicitly referencing the principle of Zenos paradox, he remarks on the
similarities for the condition of external and internal self-movement: that
something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the
negative of itself (Hegel 1969: 440). However, the very notion of something
being and not being itself, begs the question as to what, or where, a thing

negative dialectics, identity and exchange187

is in each moment of its contradictory states. Zenos arrow will continue

its trajectory as the archer planned it, all environmental conditions
remaining the same for the length of the flight. Thus, we can know with
relative certainty where it is and is not in any specific point in time, where
it is and where it will be at two distinguishable points in time. The situation is more complex where material contingencies intervene and create
Thought is social; the social initiates the process of thinking. For Marx,
the control of material production translates into the control of mental
production: what thought is of more or less value, what form of thinking
analysis is most efficaciously related to the process of production and
the benefits of it for those who control its means (Marx and Engels 1976a:
5960; 446447). Thinking what the subject observes is derived from the
social, it is experienced through the senses in interaction; one is aware of
something conceptually and/or experientially at a particular moment.
Identity exists in the immediate; in time and space it is either reified and
in that way sustained and frozen, or it is approached as momentary, as
merely the appearance of identity, and sublated. As Parkinson (1970: 129)
remarks about Lukcs formulation of individuality in his aesthetics, the
determinants of individuality and in any other object exist in undeveloped and unanalysed form. As such it is always in the state of a transformable immediate.
Hence, the conditions under which thinking is identification requires
further development and articulation, what should be done with the
thought that is frozen in the immediacy of a concept that presents itself as
identical with its object. Adornos assertion to think is to identify is
incomplete not merely because he has overlooked the necessity of emphasizing that the ground of thought is the real addressed through abstractions in the imagination (Marx and Engels 1976a: 31), but he also limits
his theoretical orientation forcing it to stop at that point where it is
thought itself that identifies in the absence of the influence of the social.
Adornos concession that theory reacts to the world is insufficient for he
immediately links it to the free movement of consciousness in a problematic duality: that thought has a properly dialectical mode of conduct,
the immanent process, and an unbound mode of conduct like stepping out of dialectics, a statement that is rationalized by his preference
for the free spirit of the man of letters, free of systems (Adorno 1973: 3031).
If thought, properly dialectical, is related to the unbound, outside-thesystem thought, one should assume that this is a dialectical relation, the
same force that rebels against the system and liberates the dialectical


chapter seven

movement in cognition (1973: 31). Hence, Adorno views thought as less

free though crucial to the immanent process that characterizes the
internal working or thinking within a system, and more autonomous outside it. Here Adorno exhibits his stand against totality which he considers
identitarian, but also exhibits a different variety of his antithetical concept pairs (Buck-Morss) in that he needs to preserve a space for a process
of thinking that requires freedom from the possibilities of the HegelianMarxist dialectic in which thinking is grounded in and mediated by the
complexity of reality out of which the process of change can be known
and developed. The immediate only exists in that kind of thinking as a
complex of determinants and possibilities, the thinking of a demanding
consciousness. Adorno does not view the interaction of these two modes
of thinking (within and outside the system) as dialectically mediated contradictions out of which emerges the sublation of both in a qualitatively
different relation. Rather, he interjects an undialectical element in this
relation: Both attitudes of consciousness are linked by criticizing one
another, not by compromising [Kompromi] (Adorno 1973: 31). It is not
clear, of course, what compromise means in this context, but it seems to
lend support to Adornos refusal to accept anything that could be construed as a positive moment, however temporary, upon which a systematic and incremental mobility of consciousness can establish itself
integrally with political action. In two or more interacting objects where
sublation occurs the result will be that each element of the contradiction
(as well as the contradiction as a complex) will lose some of its original
characteristics, and will take on characteristics of other elements. Hence,
each is itself and not; this is not a compromise of the qualities of each
object but their change due to the sublation that occurs as a result of their
mediated interaction. The aphorism that theory reacts to the world,
which is faulty to the core (Adorno 1973: 31) is the guarantor of a
Mannheimian free-floating thinker compelled to resolve a dilemma by
limiting the possibility of resolution to thought alone. Thus the duality
with which he begins is reduced to a dualism over a genuinely dialectical
approach: extending the immanent process beyond what were perceived
to be its boundaries while remaining within the boundaries where the
contradictions of reality can be fruitful.
To argue that to think is to identify or to suggest that the appearance
of identity is inherent in thought (Adorno 1973: 5, emphasis added) can
only mean that in the immediate sense identity is a cognitive result when
I think about a thing, an event, or an idea. If thought is identity (or identification of a concept with its definition) it is a moment that begs for

negative dialectics, identity and exchange189

transcendence; that is quite different than thought as identity arising as

an already reified complex from the observation of a specific aspect of
reality. Rather, reality is not so totally constraining or completely formative of thought that the props of such immediacy cannot be subject to
transformation, and this is, in part, due to the course of action of an
objects internal relations or determinants, and the subjects consciousness of them. Hence, Marcuses awareness of the potential of the transformation of reality through comprehension of it.
In Adornos criticism of identity-thinking there is less of a sense of the
movement of thought than there is of posing dichotomies. While traditional thinking excludes anything outside its rigidly defined categories,
Adorno demands what turns out to be quite similar, the exclusion of any
measure of unity in difference to avoid any appearance of identities,
regardless of the fact that dialectical analysis considers such relations to
be representations of reality, moments in larger and longer processes the
unity of opposites that, together, has a dialectical path of development.
He finds in the historical substance not a subject but acquiescence to
the formal categorical representation of reality. It is, to Adorno, the normative mode of thinking in bourgeois society and that is its proper historical grounding. But without relativizing thought to the subjects simple
conditioning in its social environment, Adorno cannot close off its
moments of potential development. This is a point at which his dialectics
falters, for his claim that the exclusion of non-identity is normative is
assessed as a manifestation, even the triumph, of what is immediately
observed or experienced; where there is no space for mediation granted,
it is stripped of its transitory potential and dealt a permanence unworthy
of critical thinking. His first point of argument is not that critical thought
awaits a determinate mediation but that the observation and experience
of, and acquiescence to phenomena are assumed by people to be, as
Goldmann has put it, an adequate knowledge of reality (1977: 35).
But Goldmann has a solution to this problem. In a discussion of the possible transformation of social groups, each tends to have an adequate
knowledge of reality; but its knowledge can extend only to a maximum
horizon compatible with its existence, its nature, acquired from the
conditions under which it arose and developed. The groups knowledge of
itself, its future prospects and the limits to its consciousness are shaped by
these characteristics, although neither the development of consciousness
within the group, nor the structure of the group itself is permanently fixed
by these conditions (Goldmann 1977: 3435). Given the strength of these
structuring characteristics of a social group, and arguably this applies as


chapter seven

well to its individual members, becoming aware of qualitatively new

knowledge, will be effective for that group if its members treat it in a
way that requires the deliberate disappearance of the group or its transformation to the point of losing its essential social characteristics (1977:
34). Marx took the same position with respect to the working class itself.
That is, its members must become conscious of the characteristics that
make them what they are: a subordinate social group, bondsmen not lords
consciously dissatisfied with those characteristics.
Adornos use of identity as he expresses it is most often in need of an
adjective such as absolute, for his use is too often without measure or
comparability but synonymous with the arbitrary distance of a false
dichotomy. His intention is to negate the influence of formal logic and
common sense, both of which exclude or obscure contradictions in an
attempt to convince the subject that either there are no contradictions or
that such exist but cannot be resolved; hence, conformity becomes an
unproblematic, natural, logical response. But unless we know what the
underlying and interconnecting determinants are we are engaging in anything but an historical materialist analysis. It is Adorno who imputes to
identity its inevitable and unredeemable character because he at once
claims the total domination in capitalism and the culture industry over its
subjects, and projects subjects acquiescence to subordination as an outcome without alternative. The subject in bourgeois society cannot experience anything else, according to Adorno. This is the message of his writings
on jazz and his perception of the fascist agitators audience. But if dialectics is at least a cognitive act it cannot function without reference to the
determinants of thinking about social phenomena in contradiction and in
change, and that may require the kind of imputation as an intervening
mediation of conscious actions to ensure that the substance in the experience of immediacy can become a subject.
Adorno works in such a way as to effectively neutralize contradictions
or determinants of objects and conditions upon which historical materialism empowers understanding to reason through the immediate conditions. Where these are not articulated, explicated and understood it is
implicitly a rejection of their transcendent potential. The perhaps unintentional neutralization of contradictions in this way leaves the person or
social group with no opportunity to resolve them and as a result take their
place as genuine subjects of history. Beginning with an image of domination and imputing its unavoidable weight upon consciousness disallows
any resolution of the contradictions of bourgeois society. The idea that
elements of culture can be anything other than what bourgeois society

negative dialectics, identity and exchange191

intended is denounced by Adorno. We have already noted the categorical

approach to social change taken by he and Horkheimer; this becomes an
attitude that closes off possible conscious development as well as the historical process and objective possibility of social change. Horkheimer and
Adorno assert that It is the triumph of invested capital, whose title as
absolute master is etched deep into the hearts of the dispossessed in the
employment line (1982: 124). How did the communists, the socialists
and anarchists respond? Not with an affirmation that the etching was a
permanent and debilitating condition.
In Negative Dialectics, Adorno confines dialectics to theory alone.
Experience is mental experience. Adorno considers it typical that people
will reject non-identity as a negativity that encroaches upon their peaceseeking minds, the mind that survives so long as contradictions are kept at
bay. His corrective is critical self-reflection which will keep the people
from narrowing the abundance of possible reactions to the experience
of negativity and sustain the open relationship between thought, the
subject, and its object (1973: 3031). Thus, the less identity can be
assumed between subject and object, the more contradictory are the
demands made upon the cognitive subject, upon its unfettered strength
and candid self-reflection (1973: 31). This statement asserts Marxs
objective halfway because Theory and mental experience need to interact (Adorno 1973: 31, emphasis added). Negative dialectics is taken up
with mental experience that seeks the non-identical as the assurance
of the mobility of thought, by which the subject can retain the open relation with the object. But both theory and mental experience in Adornos
presentation remain in the cognitive domain; social experience does
not figure in the formulation, and theory as we have seen that relates to
practice only as its superior.
The object of Adornos writing, which should be the historical subject
in its objective relations, stands alone, its grounding is only thought that
suffices as the substitute for the possible alternatives that may be imputed
to it. Yet the individual, as Adorno would have it, contrary to Hegels
bondsman, can never find a dialectical unity with its other, constrained as
the individual always is, in Adornos view, by its wish for simple positivity.
But such a unity only means that the potential lies within the relationship
for the subordinate to become conscious of and force to the surface the
contradictions between opposites; that means something qualitatively
different than simple identity in a positive moment.
While Horkheimer initially took an historical materialist approach to
appearance, Adorno chose to freeze the relations he observed as real and


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sustained in their effect on the subordinate of bourgeois society. His position is that these effects are inevitable given the structure and conditions
of bourgeois society, and that these are insurmountable conditions. In
terms of his approach, the immediate appearance of reality and its effect
is an identity, a one-to-one correspondence: bourgeois society equals
domination which, in turn, equals oppression. It is an interesting proposition that has its parallels in liberal sociology such as W.I. Thomas definition of the situation: if situations are defined as real they are real in their
Adornos use of identity in his dialectics contradicts Marxs in a way
that diminishes the dynamic character of the concept. The relation
between human beings and nature, for example, is a dialectical relation of
natural science and the science of man, two distinct categories nevertheless identical in the realization of the essential powers of human beings
in the objects of nature (Marx 1975b: 304). As Ollman points out, when
Marx uses the term identity, as in Theories of Surplus Value, for example, it
is a reference to a [different] expression of the same fact (Ollman 1993:
42; Marx 1968: 41011), and thus can only point to the dialectical integrity
of distinct objects or phenomena. This is possible, Ollman argues, because
of Marxs employment of a philosophy of internal relations to articulate
the unity of phenomena despite their distinctions or differences. Perhaps
Marxs most frequently cited instance of identity in this sense is that of
production and consumption, to which we have referred in the chapter on
mediation. However, this is not identity simply put; rather it is identity in
difference, or as Marx put it later (1968: 505) it is the unity of these two
phases, production and consumption. It is possible to see this if one
accepts two aspects of Marxs method: internal relations of phenomena
and totality. With respect to the former, Ollman argues that there must be
a commitment to view parts as identical even before they have been
abstracted from the whole. With respect to totality, differences discovered in the components of phenomena do not contradict the initial
assumption of identity, that each part through internal relations can
express the same whole (Ollman 1993: 43, emphasis added). The flexibility offered by the relations of Marxs categories indicates that any one
aspect of reality is integrally related to others. In order to retain the whole,
Marx requires the totality of relations, the abstraction of components
to discover their distinctions from others, even while they retain their
identity, their potential unity in difference, with all other components of
the whole. Marxs concept of identity is no absolute, rigid or reified concept, but one that retains its dialectical relations, its internal relations, its

negative dialectics, identity and exchange193

contradictions and the potential for sublation. It is a dynamic rather than

a passive concept. Benjamin was aware of this principle and applied it to
his analysis of Baudelaire and other work.
Concept and Identity
One of the important aspects of Negative Dialectics is Adornos discussion
of concepts; this aspect, to some degree, synthesizes the perspectives of
Hegel, Marx and others. The dialectical meaning of concepts their use in
analysis is a central aspect of negative dialectics; it reflects the dynamism that has distinguished dialectical thinking from formal logic. The
dialectical approach emphasizes this dynamism by attempting to force a
limit to our satisfaction with what we see, define or have defined for us.
Concepts only cover an object with a meaning that registers what it is at
the moment; but that coverage does not cause the thing to cease its movement and development. Therefore, the concept leaves a remainder
(Adorno 1973: 5). That concepts have a primacy in philosophy does not
guarantee the identity of the philosophers thought with what the concept
purports to cover (1973: 136). Adorno argues that concepts refer to nonconceptualities due to their momentary reflection of reality (1973: 11);
that is, what cannot yet be satisfactorily defined by the concept.
Bourgeois society is ruled by equivalence. We have noted this remark
earlier, originating in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Equivalence, in the terms
given it by Horkheimer and Adorno, claims to sufficiently cover the concept of exchange relations; hence, exchange value becomes the universal
domination of mankind because it embodies this notion of identity
(Adorno 1973: 178). Adorno will say, quite rightly as we have noted, that no
concept completely covers its object, so in what way, to what extent are
exchange relations covered by the concept of equivalence? He understands the limits of the concept: concepts are moments and even for
one engaged in it [it] must not be mistaken for what it is in itself (1973:
11). The non-identity of a concept with what it represents is the hinge of
negative dialectics (1973: 12). The difficulty lies in the absence of Adornos
own adherence to his view of concepts. He appears to want to follow
Hegel in this matter: But the living nature of man is always other than the
concept of the same, and hence what for the concept is a bare modification, a pure accident, a superfluity, becomes a necessity, something living,
perhaps the only thing that is natural and beautiful (Hegel 1971: 169).
Thus, in the formation of concepts for philosophical inquiry, the concepts


chapter seven

immanent claim is its order-creating invariance as against the change in

what it covers (Adorno 1973: 153), that is, the identity between itself
(concept) and what it is intended to reference, some aspect of reality. As a
triumph of order and stability over dynamism movement and change
the concept conceived in this way serves the identity principle (Adorno
1973: 1112, 153156; Horkheimer 1974a: 167168). Unrelieved by dialectical
thinking, the concept represents stasis, excluding that which is immediately marginal to the definition, yet in its changing may at some point
become the concepts center. In conforming to the identity principle the
concept limits thought to what is defined. On the surface this is an affirmation of Adornos maxim, To think is to identify, and as a matter of
cognitive and linguistic convenience it serves the purposes of communication and intellectual inquiry. It does so poorly, however and this is
Adornos point if the dynamic and dialectical character of phenomena
are subsumed and disappear under the convenience of the concept. This
would be an instance of false consciousness, a consciousness that requires
development. The difficulty is that the limitation is imposed on reality by
Adorno who concentrates only on some of its aspects to the exclusion of
others where people demonstrably see that the concepts obscure the
movement potentially developing in, between and among phenomena.
The identity principle at work in the subjects appropriation of exchange
as identity is a manifestation of false consciousness. Arguably, to name an
attitude or approach to reality calls for the necessary intervention into the
distortion to which a subject may adhere.
It is at least important to recognize the complexity given that concepts
are a necessary operational component of philosophy (Adorno 1973: 11),
but admittedly, it remains difficult to continually enunciate this complexity upon each use of a concept. However, the use of a concept does oblige
its user to fully develop this complexity, satisfying the momentary employment of the concept but leaving open its representation of the possible
development of what it defines, its full coverage of the objects movement
through the alteration of the relations it subsumes under the concept. It is
not clear that Adorno sufficiently enunciates the relations that are covered by the concept of equivalence in much the same way that we pointed
to the differences, above, between Marxs and Adornos uses of identity.
Once that is sufficiently carried out, however, the concept becomes more
satisfactorily usable, even if in a momentary context.
Ollman, citing Engels preface to volume three of Capital, discusses
Marxs use of concepts which were to be anything, but fixed, cut-to-measure, once and for all applicable definitions (Ollman 1971: 46). He offers

negative dialectics, identity and exchange195

several examples, such as mode of production as well as other concepts

Marx employs that perform the same functions as mode of production
indicating how much Marxs concepts are governed by relations. Bologh
(1979: 3437), too, accepts Marxs use of concepts as being about relations,
including subject-object relations. She notes the distinction Marx makes
between abstractions and concepts. The former refer to the apparent
independence from subjects or conditions of existence of objects.
Concepts include the subjectobject relation and are the way totality is
appropriated. But Marx argues that concepts also include abstractions of
that totality as a one-sided relation within an already given concrete
whole (Bologh 1979: 20, 37; Marx 1986a: 38). As we have pointed out in the
chapter on Adornos constellations, Marxs method is concerned primarily with establishing relations, but it is also about constructing concepts
that mediate reality, such as the concept of population discussed there,
disaggregated into other concepts class, family, etc. The changing character of reality cumulative, discontinuous, and so on always governed
Marxs concepts.
Jamesons affirmation of Adornos perspective is important to note:
Of identity we have seen that it is in fact Adornos word for the Marxian
concept of exchange relationship: his achievement was then to have powerfully generalized, in richer detail than any other thinker of the Marxist or
dialectical tradition, the resonance and implications of the doctrine of
exchange value for the higher reaches of philosophy. (Jameson 1990: 26)

The veracity of Jamesons statement is limited to the implication that

Adorno took the concept of identity in a different direction than others,
but it does not include a critique of Adornos use of identity as a sub
stitute or advance on Marxs discussion of exchange relations to which we
now turn.
In the first chapter of Capital Marx acknowledges the mysteriousness
of the commodity in all its facets, but his intention is to demonstrate that
the commodity is mysterious only when approached superficially, in its
immediacy, as an appearance; the mystery dissolves once the commoditys origin and relations are comprehended. In that chapter there is not a
word about false consciousness; clear references to alienation or reification cannot be found there. But fundamentally, if a mystery or an illusion
or an image from the camera obscura is alluded to in this case, the


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commodity, its value, its exchange relations it serves no purpose other

than as an object of critique in order to expose the apparent relation as
real, but to be a relation of a different kind that is, explaining the character of capitalism. As objects of critique, the commodity, value and
exchange are addressed in such a way as to reveal the source of false consciousness and explain the reified relations of labor, production and
exchange. This is where a critique, such as that of Marx, differs significantly from Adornos because it provides both analysis and an alternative
to the relations and conditions it analyses.
Thus, for example, Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a
quantitative relation it appears to be something accidental and purely
relative [something] inherent in commodities (Marx 1967: 44, emphasis added). Further, discussing value determined by labour time, Marx
writes, Some people might think that the product of the more idle and
unskilful would be more valuable due to more labour time being spent on
production (1967: 46, emphasis added). Marx is clearly articulating that
the commodity and its relations appear to be mysterious, not only to the
working class producer and consumer of them but to various welleducatedeconomists of his day and earlier in the century. Thus, identity
in Capital operates on two levels. At one level it has to do with the relations among components in the context of totality, [different] expressions of the same fact. On another level, Marx is addressing what is seen
or experienced subjectively as identity in exchange, an experience that
requires critical explanation to show that it is actually a socially constructed equivalence or exchangeableness in the contexts of particular
relations established by socially recognised standards of measure (Marx
1967: 43). Exchange values with respect to one or many commodities do
express something equal, but not identical, although they may at first
sight. Further, these are mere expressions [of] the phenomenal form,
the appearance of something that is a part of the commodity, yet distinguishable from it (1967: 4445).
Marx discusses the conception of the real world in relation to the category of exchange value, abstractions of which are the population which
produces under definite conditions, as well as a distinct type of family, or
community, or State, etc. (Marx 1986a: 38). The mystery of immediate
production and exchange relations is proved to be a soluble mystery by
the enormous consciousness that becomes aware of the alien conditions
as a result of its existence in capitalist production relations as whole
(1986a: 39091). In fact, what Marx is referring to in his allusion to the
mystery of the commodity is its reification through which the commodity

negative dialectics, identity and exchange197

presents itself initially; that is, the mystery is the expected form of the
observation and experience of the commodity. The resolution of the mystery is clearly detailed in the commodity chapter of Capital as is the observation and inadequate understanding of the commodity as demonstrated
by Barbon, Smith, Ricardo and others. Additionally, Marx notes that circulation appears to be simply a never-ending process: commodity exchanged
for money, money exchanged for commodity ad infinitum; the immediacy of appearance is central to his exposition. It is, however, quite incorrect to proceed as do the economists: as soon as the contradictions of the
money system emerge suddenly to focus only on the end results, forgetting the process which mediates them, seeing only the unity without difference, the affirmation without the negation (Marx 1968: 132).
Although he alludes to false consciousness in some places in his work
(e.g. 1973: 52, 171172, 186, 302) Adorno does not explore this problem; it is
evident from discussions in chapters five and six that this is considered an
insurmountable condition. In discussing identity in the context of capitalism and its mode of production, one must consider the importance to
capitalism that its subjects appropriate the exchange of commodities as a
legitimate identity of one for the other. Similarly, one must consider that
among the most efficient skills useful for production and one that is
among the most socially stabilizing elements of capitalism is a diminished
quality of consciousness, a consciousness that does not or chooses not to
fully comprehend the character of capitalist relations, a consciousness
that is content with the immediate satisfactions provided by work and its
remuneration, and which accepts that radical, long-term social change is
not feasible. Such a diminished quality of consciousness is the essential
meaning of false consciousness. False consciousness, where it exists and
it does not exist universally is a mental component of labor power and is
as vital to capitalism as any muscle or brain power, or any specialized
knowledge of machinery and technology.
That social classes are major expressions of social development requires
us to see erroneous, incomplete, and unsubstantiated views of social and
economic relations as class-conditioned (Lukcs 1971: 52). False consciousness is not a permanent state of the individual or the class as a
whole but a discoverable condition that can be altered. Alternatively, we
may see aspects of social reality reflecting accurate and complete understanding of the organization of society, at least with respect to objective
historical developments. Thus, to argue that a viewpoint regarding
exchange relations, for example, is an expression of false consciousness is
not simply a claim that another view is correct; to be a valid claim it must


chapter seven

include a demonstration of the error by an explicit and systematic method

of analysis that can be repeatedly applied in different contexts to establish
its veracity. In a letter to Franz Mehring, Engels argued against the judgments of certain ideologists who based their claims on thinking and reasoning alone, without an apparent willingness to comprehend, in concrete
reality, the material source of their knowledge, a disjuncture that constituted the inadequacy of their view of reality (Marx and Engels 1975: 434).
But Engels was not willing to simply exchange the theoretical for the concrete and experiential. Of necessity, the two remain dialectically related.
False consciousness is not just about having different perspectives. It is
false in relation to some other quality of consciousness that can be shown
to be necessary for comprehending a given socio-historical context. From
an historical materialist perspective false consciousness has to do specifically with a demonstration of the objective relations of capitalism. If ones
depth of understanding is limited due to systemic structural constraints,
and/or limited access to the knowledge base of particular institutions,
then the person may be said to possess false consciousness because of the
immediate objective conditions she encounters. Under such circumstances, the focus should be on the identifiable structural barriers and
obstacles within an individuals thinking that restrict or prevent discovery
of more comprehensive knowledge and development of a higher degree of
consciousness. At first this might consist merely of conjecture about how
these barriers might be broken down or made more permeable in order to
allow access to the requisite knowledge. This assumes, however, that a
person is interested in doing so. That is, the subjective factor that is relevant here must still be considered; specifically, the interest and willingness of the individual to develop knowledge in opposition to that which is
prescribed as normative and pragmatic by dominant social forces.
Reification is an objective problem of society that is manifested concretely
in the lives of individuals as their false, but malleable consciousness.
Thus, the mystery of exchange must be explored.
Marx argues (1967: 61) that equivalence is a specific form of value with
respect to two commodities in an exchange relation. But because of the
dual form of existence (as commodity and as exchange-value, money)
that parallels the temporally and spatially distinct acts of buying and selling, actual equality between the two commodities is not attained but is
expressed by Marx as the continual movement toward equalisation
(Marx 1986a: 8586). Exchange relations are characterised by a total
abstraction from use-value. Different objects are deemed equivalent
because both are reducible to [a] third object (Marx 1967: 45) in that a

negative dialectics, identity and exchange199

quantity of one can be exchanged for a different quantity of another, the

exchange of equivalence facilitated by that third. The equivalence
between two commodities in capitalist exchange relations is achieved by
a third element that is both symbolic and objective (Marx 1967: 44, 80;
1986a: 78, 82, 99). Marxs historical research served as the basis for this
statement, but his dialectical approach allowed for comprehending the
actual mode of operation in recognizing and addressing the problem of
two different objects for which another is sought to make them exchangeable. We have noted in chapter two that a common element is required
for comparison (there we cited Marxs example of space, in Capital, to
compare distance). Equally important with respect to exchange is Hegels
insistence that the third object be indifferent to the other two, so that, for
example, gold has no direct relation, in itself, to linen or to a coat. In this
way Hegels third element both establishes and dissolves the identity
between the two original objects. The exchange of an object represents
something quantitative, from the point of view of everyday perception of
exchange, a single object can have multiple exchange-values (Marx 1967:
44). Thus, it has many possible equivalents, or many ways in which its
value can be expressed, as it is expressed only through exchange. In modern capitalism or in a traditional barter system this third is money, gold,
silver, or the bars used by West African tribes (Marx 1986a: 80), anything
agreed upon by the guardians of commodities as they submit them to
exchange (Marx 1967: 88). This third element is the measure of the
exchangeability of two items in an economic system sufficiently developed to require such a third for the measure of exchange. As the exchangeable measure of each item, the third element acquires more power in
generalized social relations, than either of the two distinct commodities.
However, this third need not strictly be a material object (gold, silver, etc.)
Because that third mediates between extremes, Marx classifies it as the
movement or the relationship that comes to appear as mediation with it
[i.e. the movement or relationship] itself (Marx 1986a: 257). This is an element of dialectics central to Marxs formulation of the exchange schema.
The basis of Marxs argument is that each commodity produced has a
distinct use-value derived from its physical, natural properties that when
combined with human labor addresses a concrete human need. The varieties of usefulness of an object can be understood by examining the differences in their utility in different historical contexts; usefulness is an issue
for Marx primarily in the sense that every thing has a use. Particular uses
are not immanent in objects although the inherent or natural qualities of
a thing may determine or condition its use. A horse-drawn wagon is not


chapter seven

immanent in a tree, but a tree contains inherent qualities that make its
use in wagon-making valuable. Once it is known that flat boards can be
derived from a standing tree, its use-value in wagon-making also becomes
known. Different qualities of objects lend those objects to different uses.
Some species of cacti can stand as high and as thick as a useful tree for
wagon-making, but its wagon-making qualities are nil. Hence, Use-values
become a reality only by use or consumption (Marx 1967: 44). No one
with the remotest knowledge of the structural requirements of a wagon
would confuse the tree and the cactus for the purpose of wagon-making; it
is readily recognized and accepted that there is no equivalence between
the two for that purpose. An examination of these two objects shows they
are not equal in terms of strength, density and durability. The standard of
measure is a matter of convention (Marx 1967: 43); knowledge of commensurability requires knowledge of social relations as well as, in this
case, knowledge of the structure of natural objects. Thus, it is objective
knowledge of properties that becomes conventional strength and durability are standards by which we choose appropriate wagon-making materials; it is conventional that we decide that labor-time cutting the tree
and transforming the raw timber into lumber is the means by which we
will determine the economic value of the wagon. In this way we determine in actuality, not by imputing identity to the relation, that two things
are equivalent to each other precisely because of this conventional measurement. To emphasize the point, in reality objects can be equivalent in
terms of their economic value; to claim that they are identical because
one thing can be exchanged for another merely reflects reification and
false consciousness and ignores the origin and conditions of their possible
While some of what Adorno says about equivalence has a degree of
veracity in that it reflects only the alienated and reified condition of bourgeois society; it illuminates a problem at the level of criticism rarely rising
to the level of a thorough dialectical critique of capitalist society. What is
different is equalized. That is the verdict which critically determines the
limits of possible experience (Adorno 1973: 12). The references to Marx, in
Capital, indicate there is substance to this view. Commodity fetishism, reification, in reducing all relations to relations between things, is the expression of this reduction of qualities to quantities. But the solution to the
problem is not simply its presentation, a demonstration of awareness; the
question of conscious development of experience has yet to be answered.
For Adorno, the expression of exchange in the context of capitalism
concerns relations that are not merely economic but serve to buttress the

negative dialectics, identity and exchange201

ideology necessary to repel recognition and consideration of contradictions in the reality of economic activity. Exchange accomplishes this by
shaping the manner and extent of peoples interest beyond the immediacy of the economic relations by which they manage everyday life. The
equivalence of things, commodities, relations in thought manifested by
way of exchange in the context of concrete economic activity serves also
to ensure the subjects acquiescence to the dominance of capitalist relations in terms of authority, inter-personal relations, and the subjects cognitive development and expression, as well as the class character active in
all such relations. Exchange relations accomplish this by way of identifying what is bought with what is sold; two entities exchanged are equal to
one another. The difference between the two commodities is subsumed
by the equivalence of their exchange values, or as Adorno would have it,
their identity via exchange value. The obvious elements of these relations
are the labor equal to an amount of wages, the exchange of an amount
of wages equal to a period of labor necessary for the production of a commodity. Consistent with Lukcs use of reification, exchange relations
under capitalism turns human beings into objects and creates, in turn,
false consciousness about the origin and organization of such relations.
Ultimately, the human subject becomes identical with this impersonal
exchange of commodities through its own commodification, the valuing
of each of the subjects marketable fragments: labor, time, needs, disposition, and so on. Identity in exchange relations is the form cognition takes
that provides the means of survival in the immediacy of those relations
despite their actual social and economic contradictions. But as a structure
it is dependent on the absence of the recognition of contradictions in
those relations, specifically in the equivalence of objects (commodities)
and activity (labor) thus appearing to the subject to be a necessary set of
relations sufficiently attractive to reduce the subjects interest in thinking
through the contradictions of those relations. To do so would be an
impediment to a stable experience in capitalism, but collectively might
put the survival of capitalism at risk.
Thus, exchange value as a concept covers the non-identity between
things, not only covering over their difference but, by obscuring or excluding the unnamed contradictions, it distinguishes the naming of their identity in exchange and the entire exchange relation as separable from other
aspects of reality. Marx alludes to the static character of identity-thinking
in his discussion of exchange relations by noting that people begin their
understanding of these relations at the end of the process; that is, at
the moment of the presence of the commodity, taking a course directly


chapter seven

opposite to that of [the] actual historical development of the forms of

social life (1967: 80).
Equivalence is a quantitative concept, expressing a quantitative relation between things one thing can be exchanged equally for another.
This is true so long as each has sufficient qualities to confirm that it is actually identical or can be so determined by way of social consensus. On the
other hand, only that which is homogeneous can be quantified (Goldstein
1988: 135). But identity must be viewed as a qualitative concept as Adorno
indirectly indicates with his statement, Identity is the primal form of ideology (1973: 148). If subjects accept that two objects are identical because
they can be exchanged, this reflects a quality of consciousness and a quality of relations deemed to be legitimately functional. Thus, it is possible to
see Adornos conception of identity as having integral quantitative and
qualitative meanings. The difficulty lies in the absence of contextual
details of the process of exchange and of the subjects engaged in it.
Adornos presentation is not helped by the unfortunate emphasis in
Ashtons translation of Negative Dialectics where Tausch is rendered as
barter, implying a context quite distinct from the capitalism about which
Adorno is writing. This translation is formally legitimate because connotations of Tausch include exchange, barter and swap. Translation of the
term to barter, however, implies a relation that English normally reserves
for trade of things of similar social value or of things deemed of equivalent
importance for use regardless of the difference in their qualities or their
monetary value; that is, only approximately commensurable. The term is
also used to denote a system of economy in which these kinds of trade
dominate. The context in Negative Dialectics is one of exchange interactions of buying and selling goods, services or labor. However, so strong is
Adornos sense of identity in this discussion that the implications of the
English meaning of barter, even swap, are justified and the problem must
be considered in that light.
Barter is the social model of the identity principle. The barter principle
[Tauschprinzip], the reduction of human labor to the abstract universal concept of average working hours is fundamentally akin to the principle of
identification it is through barter that non-identical individuals and performances become commensurable and identical. (Adorno 1973: 146)

Historically, the diffusion of the identity principle through economic relations constrains human development and reifies thought in its relation to
that development. Human activity is levelled by the barter principle,
negating individual spontaneities and qualities as helplessly dependent on the whole (1973: 178).

negative dialectics, identity and exchange203

Adornos assumption here is that the singular factor of labor-time, identified by Marx as the measure of value, contains no divisions. If Adornos
assumption is correct, the relation of each laborer to his or her production, and to the objects of consumption (the producing and purchasing of
values), would be absolutely identical with the process of the exchange of
values his barter principle. This would, in effect, be a simple one-for-one
exchange, money in exchange for a commodity as well as for the labor
required for its production.
One could speculate on what moves Adornos Tausch closer to the connotation of barter rather than exchange. Given what we have said above
concerning his orientation to the masses and related issues, one notices
there is no division of labor, or status divisions, operable anywhere in his
discussion; there are no class divisions, only categorical capitalism, categorical cultural industries, and the categorical masses. Neither are there
divisions in what Marx called the productiveness of labour such as the
average amount of skill the state of science the social organization of
production among other things that qualify that singular measure of
value (1967: 47). How can exchange be seen as an exchange of equivalents
without also considering the possibility of these differing conditions?
Perhaps, Adornos performances (1973: 146) is an attempt to address differentiations in skill but that is not clear.
One of the most important conditions of production Marx was concerned about was the matter of surplus labor, that for which the worker
was not paid, or as he puts it, the extortion of unpaid labour. The value
contained in a commodity is equal to the labour-time expended in its production, and the sum of this labour consists of paid and unpaid portions
(Marx 1971a: 42, 4445). Thus, the standard of measure is retained but is
qualified by an economic and social condition, the social condition the
division of labor and classes that if treated as a mystery merely sustains
the valuation of commodities, whether objects bought and sold on the
market, and especially one of such exchangeables in this case, laborpower. In Adornos use, labor as the unconditional measure of the value of
commodities allows for the assumption of a convenient identity, equally
an imputation of false consciousness in the masses where the mystery of
the commodity like the mystery of fascist oratory is said to be incapable of
He and Horkheimer argued that the exchange of gifts stands for the
principle of equivalence. Even where there is no one-to-one exchange of
gifts the presentation of a gift by one person earns a gift from the other at
a later time or indirectly through a gift to a relative or associate (1982: 49).


chapter seven

However, it is precisely the temporal distance between the giving and

receiving of a gift in return that distinguishes barter economies from giftgiving economies. In his classic study Mauss (1967: 35) noted that barter
developed out of credit-based systems resting on the system of gifts given
and received on credit, simplified by drawing together the moments of
time which had previously been distinct. Horkheimer and Adorno also
do not give weight to the non-market relations of gift exchange, part of
which is the consideration of the gifter that the gift possesses a reasonable
use-value to show obligation, friendship or commitment (Lapavitsas
2004), while barter economies explicitly reduce the social, cultural, political or personal transaction costs (Appadurai 1986: 9).
Money in a capitalist economy serves as the third by which value is
expressed, and in other economies, as noted, it may be gold or bars or
any other item parties agree will serve this purpose. Barter does not possess such a third element in the form of money or other material symbols.
Barter is a direct relation between two things exchanged between persons
or groups of people. Barter is the exchange of objects for one another
without reference to money (Appadurai 1986: 9). If a third element can be
cited in barter economies it would be the social consensus that facilitates
exchange through barter, that is, commensurability of exchange is determined culturally. This basic definition usually serves to characterize less
developed economies, but it is also worth noting that Appadurais definition generally serves to explain aspects of economic relations between
nations in late modernity, such as the Soviet Bloc nations when they
existed and others due to the inconvertibility of currencies.
In contexts in which the third element is a social convention, barter is
premised on the immediate or eventual return of an item deemed to be
equivalent in value and may also be deemed equivalent in use. Thus, while
barter is direct exchange, it is not the exchange of identical values. In capitalist exchange relations, two things are commensurable because they are
measured against each other by a third element. In a strictly barter economy, at least as most commonly understood anthropologically, two things
are not commensurable where there is no cultural convention to measure
one against the other. Where there is comparability it is in the quality of
the exchange; it is not limited to the articles exchanged but to the context
of the relationship between the parties (and, again, such exchange may
occur over time). In the context of Adornos discussion modern capitalism barter is the focus because it corresponds to the directness of
exchange, one-for-one, which makes the equivalence determined by the
commensurability of two commodities to a third appear identical in the

negative dialectics, identity and exchange205

immediacy of the exchange act, an immediacy similar to that of false consciousness, to buying and selling in the modern marketplace. But such
appearance is a matter of consciousness which Adorno does not address
as a false but malleable consciousness.
Adornos equation of capitalist economic relations and those of barter
attempt to reinforce the identity principle which is, at this stage, the barter principle, Tauschprinzip. Marx confirms the similarity of the two with
regard to the introduction of money as the third element whether in the
barter system or in international trade (1986a: 80). Further, Marx is more
clear that the exchange value of a commodity expressed in money has a
special existence alongside the commodity (1986a: 79, 85); that is, it is not
directly and immediately identified with it, while Adornos concentration
on the subjects acquiescence to the identity principle in economic relations leaves little space for considering the distinction between money
and the commodity.
Adorno does imply that identity thinking and the inequality of existing
relations should be overcome. His position is worth quoting at length.
When we criticize the barter principle as the identifying principle of thought,
we want to realize the ideal of free and just barter. To date, this ideal is only
a pretext. If no man had part of his labour held from him any more, rational identity would be a fact, and society would have transcended the identifying mode of thinking. This comes close enough to Hegel. The dividing line
from him is scarcely drawn by individual distinctions. It is drawn by our
intent: whether in our consciousness, theoretically and in the resulting practice, we maintain that identity is the ultimate that we want to reinforce
it or whether we feel that identity is the universal coercive mechanism
which we, too, finally need to free ourselves from universal coercion.
(Adorno 1973: 147)

However, his pre-occupation is with exchange as an expression of the

identity orientation of the subject in capitalist society. He attempts to
show that exchange, barter, is pervasive in history a truism and that its
presence has been one of alienation and domination: identity is the universal coercive mechanism (1973: 146, 147). His perspective lacks the qualifications found in Marxs analysis. In addition to the remarks above, Marx
also more appropriately considered barter in an anthropological context
where the object of [barter] was the direct possession of the exchanged
commodity, its consumption in contrast to trade which is directed toward
the acquisition of money, of exchange values (1986a: 86). Further, Marxs
more intricate complex of relations when considering equivalence as
a form of value was not addressed by Adorno for he does not discuss


chapter seven

equivalence in terms of proportions of each object in exchange, definite

quantities of each. He does not explore value as a social category, the
determination of value based upon social relations, and the relation
between individual and social labor (1967: 6166). For Adorno, there is no
need for these qualifications based in materialist history. He violates his
analysis of concepts by designating barter as equivalence here and identity there, and with such designations proposes to cover that complex of
relations Marx enunciates and the historical determinants of each of the
components of the exchange. This, of course, is the problem with all
abstractions in so far as their internal relations are not recognized and
analyzed. With Adorno, such relations, the development and sublation of
their preceding moments, serve primarily as elements of a constellation
that are subsumed in the instant of its explosion into truth, the flash
entirely negating, not merely sublating the fuse that lit it. He is no doubt
correct about the general perception of exchange as the equivalence of
individuals and performances, and provisionally asserts an interest in
transcending the identifying mode of thinking (1973: 147). It is in this
assertion that we notice much of the problem of Adornos entire orientation: thought, thinking with little or no connection to practice or to the
mediating intervention at the theoretical level. Critical theory, he writes,
will show it up for what it is an exchange of things that are equal and yet
unequal (1973: 147), but this appears only as a tease of the problem not as
a link between theory and practice by which the transcending is realized.


Much of Adornos material that has been discussed here could not be considered his major works, with the exception of Negative Dialectics. But the
latter, as has been noted, does carry on the essential philosophical and
political orientation of some of his earlier work, work that may not be the
most important of his career but work that has garnered much attention
since the revival of critical theory by the New Left in the 1960s. The earlier
material, though some of it unfinished such as the Martin Luther Thomas
study, nevertheless provides a perspective of its authors consistent view
of such phenomena as jazz, popular music, the masses and provides
insight to Adornos perspective on the problems of capitalism. His methodological orientation, the agglomeration of aspects of reality into constellations, remains a problem as well for an unclear and essentially
subjectivist approach to philosophical and social analysis.
The focus here has been the way in which Adorno and others analyzed
aspects of modernity from a dialectical perspective. Some of those others
were his colleagues, others not, some his intellectual companions but
with significant differences. We must think here of Bloch and Kracauer,
particularly their approach to the encroachments of fascism, its historical
development, its relation to the masses.
What is missing or insufficient in Adornos work discussed here? The
enduring effect of his approach has been to provide a position from which
criticism of capitalism and its culture industries can be undertaken without an obligation to see within them some of the resources integral to the
movement and change that materialist dialectics can provide. That this
perspective is underdeveloped reveals only a rather superficial exposure
of capitalisms inherent contradictions, and at the same time it exposes
the absence of mediation to develop such contradictions to the point of
the sublation of them. When such an absence is evident in reality, it should
be regarded as momentary, historically speaking, as an instance in the
development of a consciousness and, therefore, the internal and contingent relations that would that would allow for the superseding of the contradiction. For Adorno, the absence is too often expressed categorically
as a permanent feature. That he consciously avoided searching out and


chapter eight

recognizing those existing resources closed off their development to him

and, therefore, limited the impact of critical theory as a whole. As criticism, rather than critique, this was a precious find; it allowed Adorno to
establish a position at the initiation of criticism but required no movement or reconsideration as it was articulated and developed. It is like an
amulet worn as identity, as privileged vision, at once a posture and
The absence of recognition for the positive moment in dialectics actually diminishes the usefulness of his approach for political practice and
social change. As has been discussed here, the positive moment, as the
sublation of a contradiction, lends itself to the positivist adoption of reality only when consciousness is frozen, only when actual relations are reified.
Reification and false consciousness are neither pervasive nor permanent
conditions, but in order to realize movement away from those conditions
there must be conscious and systematic intervention. That is the task of
dialectics as a mode of thought and the role of its human agent as a means
of action.
Adorno makes assumptions that too often turn out to be his conclusions. The absence of a strong element of mediation is most problematic
for political practice. We have noted in chapters four and seven the
absence of any meaningful divisions of population or classes where analysis might be usefully drawn to specific instances of internal relations and
social action. In Adornos case the notion of a social process as a whole
must be related to his negative dialectics and his cultural criticism. In such
works as the jazz essays, Martin Luther Thomas and aspects of Dialectic of
Enlightenment, Adorno began with an image of society thoroughly dominated by the culture industry, or in the case of the Thomas study, willful
acquiescence of the masses, and responded to these images solely in terms
of their overwhelming, impenetrable force. Having no sense of radical
politics and despising the notion of a roughly reciprocal relation between
theory and practice, Adornos position is that if there is to be any mediation, it cannot involve only a part or fraction of the whole. His political
position, as we have noted, is that capitalism must be completely defeated
in all its aspects before the possibility of any meaningful change can be
considered. Hegels example of two consciousnesses mediating one
another, or Lukcs belief that political organization is, itself, mediation
has no part to play in a conception of capitalism that revolves around such
an unrelenting negativity.
The priority given to an endless negativity, the reduction of a theorypractice partnership to a one-sided relation, the absence of a sense of

political action and social change among other things have been among
the matters of discussion here. Another issue is that Adorno devotes no
significant space and importance to consciousness, particularly its place
in the development of the individual and consequent social expressions.
I have noted earlier what I consider to be problematic leaps in his conception of Hegels spirit that virtually abandons the individual consciousness
for spirit as society and social labor. This means that the individual is left
without means by which to establish the kinds of relations necessary to
transcend the mentality Adorno ascribes to the masses. That mentality
may be real in the sense that Goldmann attributed to it, that it describes
what people actually think in particular circumstances at any point in
time. But such a position ignores what changes are likely to occur
(Goldmann 1977: 3233) given opportunities for self-development as well
as mediating interventions.

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Adorno, Theodor passim
alienation36, 8687, 94, 97, 104, 118, 137
animals6869, 7374
astrology85, 124, 133, 136138
attitude toward others2527
barter203, 204206
concepts4, 9, 39, 80, 87, 150, 167,
193194, 206
consciousness4, 31, 67, 91, 98, 116, 125,
142, 149, 165167, 188, 205
constellations17, 20, 22, 28, 112, 157, 170,
174, 195, 207 See also method under
culture industry1011, 18, 31, 74, 8386,
91, 96, 109, 111, 112, 118, 126, 150, 167, 168,
179, 190, 208
dialectics (including negative)12, 3, 4,
5, 7, 8, 12, 17, 21, 30, 33, 47, 62, 65, 67,
76, 87, 150, 153, 171, 172176, 179, 180,
184, 185187, 189, 191, 192, 193
equivalence94, 193, 194, 200201
fascism91, 97, 125, 140
historical materialism62, 91
identity (identity-thinking)25, 8, 24,
29, 30, 32, 39, 47, 67, 154, 167, 174,
184195, 201203, 205, 206, 208
images9, 19, 63, 64, 67, 76, 7779, 81,
164, 208
immanent character3940
immanent critique6, 7, 92
interpretation (philosophy)1, 7, 12,
6164, 66, 68, 75, 77, 86, 176
commodity9395, 102
place of Blacks in102, 106
subjection of the masses9798
labor165, 166
Marxism91, 152
Martin Luther Thomas124125, 129,
mediation151, 152, 154, 157, 161, 165171,
189, 207, 208

negative thought86, 172176
non-identity2, 5, 7, 8, 20, 2425, 3233,
46, 66, 69, 150, 174, 179180, 186, 189,
191, 193
ordinary thinking45
philosophy67 See also Adorno,
positive moment4647 See also
positivism50, 62 See also positivism
style1721, 84 See also Adorno, method
working class912, 112, 150
See also jazz, Negro music under
African Americans, Princeton Radio
Research Project
African Americans99101
musical influence90, 105111
Negro Music83, 89, 96, 98
alienation35, 36, 37, 4749, 8688, 9495,
96, 97, 101, 103, 104, 118, 130, 135, 137, 156,
164, 167, 175, 176, 182184, 195, 205
Allen, James S.28
American Federation of Labor (AFL)27
Anderson, Kevin128, 177178
antisemitism11, 14, 26, 120125, 130,
131132, 140, 143
Antisemitism Project, Institute for Social
Appadurai, Arjun204
Arendt, Hannah152, 154, 158, 161
Arnold, Abraham J.78n5
authority4749, 118, 122, 127, 129, 130131,
137, 143
Babbie, Earl123n
Baldwin, Neil124
barter199, 202, 204 See also Adorno
Baudelaire, Charles12, 62, 151162
Becker, Helmut11, 117, 129
Benjamin, Walter14, 2526, 85
Baudelaire essays12, 151162



consciousness159160, 162
constellations22, 6162, 7577
modernity156, 160
becoming34, 37, 41, 4244, 5053, 166,
170171, 172
being3, 24, 32, 35, 3742, 45, 50, 51, 57,
103, 109, 163167, 169170, 172, 176,
181182, 186
Bernstein, Richard J.10
Biale, David78
Blesh, Rudi99
Bloch, Ernst3, 14, 2324, 26
anti-fascist writings135, 144,
146148, 173
dialectics32, 33, 146
Bologh, Rosalyn195
Bonosky, Phillip28
Bonss, Wolfgang12, 26, 143
Boyer, Richard O.28
Brecht, Berthold15, 2526, 152
Brodersen, Momme151
Bronner, Stephen Eric121
Browning, Christopher148n
Buck-Morss, Susan7, 12, 1415, 20, 29, 30,
63, 64, 66, 7073, 76, 84, 92, 152
Caccamo, Rita124n
Campbell, Jan26
capitalism1, 58, 911, 16, 109, 126, 145, 146,
154, 156, 157, 159, 161, 174, 182184, 186,
190, 196, 197204, 207, 208
Carlson, John Roy124
Ceplair, Larry139n
class conflict5960, 127
class consciousness10, 36, 104
Claussen, Detlev10, 11, 14, 24, 26, 82, 83,
84, 153
Cohen, Robert28
Comay, Rebecca80
commodification11, 13, 91, 93, 100, 104, 107,
119, 131, 156, 201
commodity5, 30, 64, 66, 70, 71, 84, 91, 93,
9496, 98, 101102, 105, 109, 110, 145, 154,
156, 159, 175, 179, 195203, 205
Communist Party (US)26, 27, 139, 149, 152
communists27, 28, 134, 191

Congo Square, New Orleans106, 110

Congress of Industrial Organizations
consciousness4, 8, 45, 150, 173, 174 See also
Adorno, Benjamin, Hegel, Marx
contingent relations34, 3840, 42, 59,
161, 207
contradiction1, 34, 4446, 58, 67, 69, 71,
85, 106, 130, 148, 150, 172, 173174
culture industry10, 11, 18, 31, 36, 74, 8386,
91, 96, 109, 111, 112, 118, 126, 150, 167, 168,
179, 190, 208
Davis. Angela Y.100
determinate being4245
determinations3, 40, 4346, 54, 65, 69, 71,
173, 177, 178, 183
DeVeaux, Scott99
dialectical logic32, 5051, 70
dialectics5, 23, 33, 36, 42, 160, 174175 See
also Adorno, Bloch, Hegel, Lukcs,
Marcuse, Marx
negative moment51, 54
positive moment45, 42, 44, 4647,
4849, 50, 51, 174, 176184
Dilthey, Wilhelm64
Douglas, Susan J.113, 114, 115
DuBois, W.E.B.106
Dundes, Alan78n6
Eisler, Hans14
Ellison, Ralph99100, 119
Engels, Frederick74, 87, 155, 175, 177, 185,
187, 194, 198
Enlightenment5, 19, 22, 8586, 98, 127,
128, 129, 186
equivalence32, 180, 196, 198200, 202206
See also Adorno
Ettinger, Yair78n6
false consciousness45, 46n, 144, 146, 186,
194, 195196, 197, 198, 200, 203,
205, 208
fascism124, 125, 140, 145, 207
Finkelstein, Sidney101, 103, 110
Finlayson, James Gordon79, 8081
Fones-Wolf, Elizabeth114116
formal logic2, 25, 30, 32, 33, 173, 184, 186,
190, 193 See also Hegel
formalism8, 32, 33, 43n, 74, 132
Fromm, Erich1112, 14, 26, 113, 123, 133,
142n, 143, 144n12, 145

Genovese, Eugene D.106
Geoghegan, Vincent135, 146
Gerdes, Paulus41
Gettleman, Marvin E.28
Gilloch, Graeme143
Gioia, Ted106
Goldfarb, Michael81n
Goldmann, Lucien60, 189, 209
Goldstein, Leonard202
Gordon, Gene28
Gracyk, Theodore A.89, 91
Healey, Dorothy Ray139n10
hate propaganda120, 128
Hecht, Ben124
Hegel, G.W.F.
alienation35, 37, 4748, 49, 167, 176
being3, 34, 35, 40, 41, 163164, 165, 167,
169, 172, 181
becoming3, 34, 41, 4244, 50, 51, 166
concepts42, 48, 167, 169, 193
consciousness1, 8, 35, 57, 162163, 169
contradiction4445, 48, 128, 150, 163,
177, 178, 179, 186
determinate being3, 4245
dialectics1, 3, 43, 5051, 147, 176
externalization37, 4749, 177
formal logic32, 50, 184
identity8, 42, 50, 184
(unity)3940, 4243, 179180
intelligent reflection4546, 150
mediation42, 5257, 59, 161, 162165,
objective idealism33, 41, 167, 172, 175
ordinary thinking45, 150
positive religion4749
positivity4650, 176, 177
rationality53, 128n9
self-consciousness35, 3742, 132, 163,
164, 166, 167168
speculative thought8, 32
sublation (aufhebung)44, 48, 51,
163, 182
Heidegger, Martin65
Herskovits, Melville J.89, 106
Herzog, Herta113
Hilberg, Raul148n
historical materialism15, 18, 62, 63, 76,
84, 91, 100, 108, 114, 118, 190
Hitler, Adolph25, 125, 138
Hoare, Quintin144n13

Hobsbawm, Eric89
Hobson, Walter92, 102, 105
Hodges, H.A.137
Horkheimer, Max56, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,
19, 22, 25, 26, 30, 31, 47, 68, 69, 74, 79, 81,
8486, 92, 94, 98, 111, 112, 114, 124n, 126,
129, 135, 143, 151, 152, 153, 169, 181, 185, 186,
191, 193, 194, 203, 204
Hudson, Wayne146147
Hurston, Nora Zeale101
Husserl, Edmund65, 72
identity See Adorno, Hegel
identity-thinking30, 32
Ilyenenkov, E.V.24, 32, 37, 72
International Ladies Garment Workers
immanent critique67 See also Adorno
immediacy44, 50, 52, 58, 71, 83, 94, 98,
128, 137, 140, 141, 166, 167, 170, 174, 176,
178, 181, 184, 185, 186, 187, 189, 190, 195,
197, 201, 205
individual5, 31, 3437, 39, 40, 42, 45, 59,
100, 101, 103, 105, 109, 110, 111, 112, 116, 117,
121, 126, 129131, 133, 137, 138, 141, 145,
164, 165, 168, 183, 191, 197, 198, 202,
206, 209
internal relations1, 5, 25, 39, 43, 44, 46, 57,
58, 61, 63, 66, 69, 7273, 84, 87, 94, 105,
108, 157, 160, 169170, 178, 180, 185, 189,
192, 206, 208
irrationalism33, 125126, 127130, 133,
137, 141
Isserman, Maurice139n
Jackson, Mahalia99
Jameson, Fredric6870
Jay, Martin21, 22, 26, 7879, 124, 125
Jenemann, David14, 98, 102, 111, 116,
118, 132
Jewish Messianism8182
Kalbus, Mark12
Kang, Jaeho143
Kant, Immanuel3, 8, 21, 43n, 67, 71, 117, 138
Kaplan, Judy28
Kater, Michael83, 9091
Kelley, Robin D. G.28
Kodat, Catherine Gunther106
Kolakowski, Leszek20
Korsch, Karl18



Kosak, Hadassa28
Kracauer, Siegfried26, 33, 86n, 88, 101, 121,
130, 135, 142146, 170, 172, 184, 207
Lanning, Robert10, 23n1, 128
Lapavitsas, Costas204
Lazarsfeld, Paul F.20, 112114, 123
Lee, Alfred McClung124
Lee, Elizabeth Briant124
Lenin, V.I.37, 60, 87, 144n12
Leslie, Esther15
Levine, June28
Lifshitz, Mikhail110
Lotz, Rainer90
Lowenthal, Leo14, 1920, 25, 121, 124, 125,
126, 129, 151, 158, 168
anti-fascist writings129132, 133, 135,
140, 157
Lubasz, Heinz12, 23n2
Lukcs, Georg16, 18, 23, 25, 29, 3435, 38,
41, 48, 51, 65, 7172, 104, 107108, 128
becoming42, 44
being40, 42, 44
irrationalism127128, 141
Lynd, Helen Merrell123
Lynd, Robert S.123, 124n
MacDonald, J. Fred114, 115
Magonet, Jonathan78
Mann, Thomas14, 147
Marcus, Judith15
Marcuse, Herbert9, 14, 34, 47, 121, 175176
dialectics8, 32
Markovi, Mihailo5, 8
Marquit, Erwin45, 5051
Marx, Karl5, 7, 25, 37, 47, 66, 153, 159,
alienation103, 110
art105106, 110
being/species being37, 39, 42, 103,
110, 183
commodity66, 70, 71, 94, 109, 156, 159,
179, 195200, 201202, 203, 205
consciousness8, 37, 74, 165
consumption5660, 107, 192, 200, 203,
determinations44, 65, 183
dialectics1, 43, 46, 51, 71, 172, 178,
179, 199
exchange/ exchange value55, 70, 84,
9495, 103, 182, 195200, 205206
exploitation100, 110, 182
human senses102103, 104105, 107

mediation53, 56, 58, 60, 107, 110, 154, 199

method1, 58, 63, 66, 72, 73, 85, 155, 159,
192, 195
production5657, 60, 100, 105, 107109,
110, 154, 182, 187, 192, 195196, 203
value55, 84, 94, 165, 187, 196, 198, 203
working class65, 87
Marxism1516, 36
masses8384, 8687
Mauss, Marcel204
mediation34, 5160, 107, 150, 151171,
172174 See also Hegel, Marx
generalized domain of5860, 154,
157, 168
specific domain of60, 157
Meszaros, Istvan11, 12, 15, 20, 22
middle class12, 87, 97, 113, 121, 138, 144,
146148, 157, 173
Mishler, Paul C.28
modernity3, 5, 36, 105, 121, 127, 129132,
142, 144, 147, 155, 156, 160, 204, 207
Morais, Herbert M.28
Mlder-Bach, Inka145
Naison, Mark28, 139n
Nazism83, 129, 148
negation8, 44, 47, 49, 5052, 170, 172178,
180181, 197
Neumann, Franz133, 136
Ollman, Bertell2, 3, 25, 46, 52n, 73, 192, 194
Parkinson, G.H.R.187
Pippin, Robert B.164
Popper, Karl127
positivism47, 49, 63, 127n7, 131, 176
Princeton Radio Research Project (Office
of Radio Research)111, 113
Pritchard, Elizabeth A.7880
Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion121
radio14, 83, 85, 96, 98, 102, 111119 See also
Rabinbach, Anson81, 148
Raphael, Max41, 109
rationality53, 125, 128n9, 129, 141
reification7, 66, 72n, 92, 171, 183, 184, 195,
196, 198, 200, 201, 208
Rickman, H.P.64
Robinson, J. Braddord8990, 91
Robson, Paul115
Rochlitz, Rainer151

Rose, Gillian15, 1920, 166n
Rosenberg, David139n
Rotenstreich, Nathan43
Sandmel, Samuel78
Sargeant, Winthrop96, 99
Scholem, Gershom75, 152
Sekles, Bernhard91
Seldes, George124
self-activity24, 28, 36, 163
self-consciousness3742, 44, 58 See also
Hegel, Marx
Seymour, David129
Shapiro, Linn28
Sherratt, Yvonne86
Sinclair, Upton116
Smith, Gerald L.K.129
Smith, Wonderful115
social change5, 8, 9, 11, 18, 23, 30, 31, 34,
35, 46, 67, 79, 91, 96, 172, 191, 197,
socialism1, 2224, 26, 81, 83, 98, 101, 127,
144n12, 150, 183
Socialist Party (Austria)112
Solomon, Mark28
Somerville, John180
Southern, Eileen106107
Spinoza, Baruch165
spiritual production109110, 111
Starosta, Guido182
Steffin, Margarete152
Steiner, George129
Stepan-Norris, Judith28
Storch, Randi28
subjective9, 20, 37, 42, 62, 64, 6568, 71,
73, 77, 86, 103, 105, 121, 128, 138, 146,
148, 166, 185, 196, 198

sublation (aufhebung)2, 4, 5, 32, 34,

4546, 51, 69, 70, 71, 150, 155, 160, 161, 163,
172, 174, 176, 177180, 182, 188, 193,
206208 See also Hegel
superstructure59, 158161, 169
Tar, Zoltan15
Teitelbaum, Kenneth27
Telushkin, Joseph82
theory and practice6, 16, 2225, 30, 80, 91,
125, 157, 170, 206, 208
totality4, 4344, 58, 66, 71, 72, 109, 130, 138,
154, 160, 161, 168, 170, 188, 192, 195, 196
Truitt, Willis H.22
unity See inseparability/unseparatedness
under Hegel
Varga, Donna114
Verene, Donald Phillip8
von Hornbostel, Erich M.89, 106
Waggoner, Matt132133
Weber, Max65, 138
Weisberger, Adam M.8182
Williams, Raymond160
Winrod, Gerald B.129
Witkin, Robert89
Wizisla, Erdmut15, 25, 26, 152
Wolin, Richard128n8
working class1517, 66, 8687, 155
See Adorno, Marx
Worrell, Mark P.15, 120123
Zeitlin, Maurice28