A critique of the concept of abstract domination in Moishe Postone's work

Zaira Rodrigues Vieira


Due to his unilateral emphasis on historicity, Moishe Postone misrepresents the materialism in Marx' work, thereby eliminating the natural base of abstract labour, but also obfuscating other concrete aspects on which the social relations of domination are based, like the relation of the concept of capital with material wealth. In his best known work, 'Time, Labor and Social Domination', Postone hypostatizes the characteristics of value as social form or the more abstract aspects of the capitalist mode of production, leaving aside the more concrete aspects, such as surplus value, labour power and all that concerns its material characteristics. Other than Marx who in the first sections of 'The Capital' uses the procedure of abstraction as a methodological resource – but without ever disregarding the fact that abstractions never exist differently than as parts of a whole –, Postone, like the classical economists, doesn't execute the synthesis between the abstract and the concrete. For him, there is no ontological primacy of the production of material life in the work of Marx. By disregarding the fact that these concrete aspects are equally important as the abstract ones, he ends up confounding these dimensions and using them interchangeably. In doing so, capital is defined as value; the concepts of commodity and value are used alternatively, and the author finally falls into the trap of reducing the exchange between capital and labour to a simple exchange of commodity

Postone - materialism - Marx - capital - the abstract and the concrete