THERE IS A BAD THEORETICAL HABIT common among leftists: the confirmation of revolutionary aspirations through an unmediated verification by the “facts” or “data.” The ghost of an “objective” reality obscures the effort to grasp the “concrete” as the combination of many abstractions and, instead, “a chaotic representation [Vorstellung] of the whole” (Marx) is preferred, offering a temporary foundation for self-affirmation and miraculously turning a “bad” reality into a “good” one. A more critical way to regard “facts,” related to the pursuit and furtherance of freedom in society, is forgotten if not defamed today. As Max Horkheimer once put it: “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. Comparison with similar historical events can be drawn only in a limited degree.”
FOR YEARS Theodor Adorno’s theoretical work has suffered from either neglect or semi-hostile “interpretation.” It is therefore refreshing to see Detlev Claussen, who studied under Adorno at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt from 1966 to 1971, take a more sympathetic approach to the study of Adorno’s philosophy and intellectual life. In Theodor W. Adorno: One Last Genius, Claussen attempts to track the historical and biographical factors that influenced Adorno’s critical theory and, in doing so, strives to carefully reconstruct both the changing context and the abiding problematic that Adorno was attempting to grasp in and through his work.
RANDI STORCH’S RED CHICAGO takes to task prevailing caricatures of American Communism during the so-called “Third Period” of the late twenties and early thirties, a period in the history of American Communism frequently criticized for its growing ideological rigidity, its organizational Stalinization, and its ultimate failure to revitalize the flagging world revolution and to check the threat of fascism. Against such views, Storch argues historians have been unfair to the early Chicago Communists, falsely constructing them either as mannequins manipulated by Soviet puppeteers, or else as heroic defenders of the city’s working class, a collection of hyper-romantic organic radicals whose every breath stood in defiance of both employers and the party itself.
IF THE COLOR LINE WAS THE PROBLEM of the American 20th century, then the 20th century did not manage to solve it. De jure segregation ended some forty years ago, and American social norms mostly bar the public expression of racist sentiment or stereotype. Yet by any measure—access to quality healthcare and education, rate of incarceration, etc.—black Americans remain proportionally worse off than their white peers.
KARL KORSCH'S SEMINAL ESSAY “Marxism and Philosophy” (1923) was first published in English, translated by Fred Halliday, in 1970 by Monthly Review Press. In 2008, they reprinted the volume, which also contains some important shorter essays, as part of their new “Classics” series.
THE STORY ITSELF IS WELL KNOWN: Originally trained as a physician, Ernesto "Che" Guevara was an Argentine revolutionary who played a significant part in the Cuban Revolution. Later, Che tried to help incite revolution in the modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Bolivia, where he was eventually killed in 1967. In the more than four decades since his death, Che has been transformed from one among many icons of the revolutionary 1960s into the most recognizable political icon of the period.
SUSAN BUCK-MORSS'S RECENT OFFERING, Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, takes critical aim at two targets: what she identifies as Eurocentric models of universal history, on the one hand, and, on the other, the rejection of any notion of universality whatsoever in favor of the postmodernist "plurality of alternative models" (ix). What she proposes instead is "a universal history worthy of the name" (x), by which she means one that does not give the European Enlightenment and its direct heirs a monopoly on the historical project of freedom. It is refreshing to see the false choice of Eurocentrism vs. postmodernist pluralism identified as such, but if Buck-Morss opposes such a false choice, she fails to register and critique it as a contemporary historical symptom itself. She thus ends up with a theory that is universal in name, but which remains essentially postmodernist in content.
Sunit Singh DER BAADER-MEINHOF KOMPLEX (2008) dramatizes the violence that the Leftist group the Rote Armee Fraktion ("Red Army Faction" [RAF] aka the Baader-Meinhof) wreaked across West German cities in the 1970s. The film documents, or, rather, reenacts their streak of violence that started with petty vandalism against storefronts in Frankfurt but that soon escalated into more serious acts.
If it did not come to end in 1989, as conservative critic Francis Fukuyama expected, this is because, in Hegel's sense, as freedom's self-realization in time, History had already ceased. Long before the new geopolitical configurations and institutional forms of the post-Soviet world, a new and unprecedented, though scarcely recognized, political situation had taken shape: The last threads of continuity connecting the present with the long epoch of political emancipation were severed. In the second half of the 20th century the history that stretched back through modern socialism and the labor movement to the Enlightenment and the bourgeois revolutions that came before, became bunk. Yet, unlike Stalinism's well-publicized (if exaggerated) collapse, the passing of History and the death of the long-ailing Left in our time has passed almost wholly unnoticed and unmourned.
However sincere its backers or belligerent its enemies, the “War on Terror” is not and cannot become anti-Islamist. This is not because, as some think, there is no Islamist or Taliban-style fascism on the receiving end of America’s War on Terror. Far from it. The reason is that the prosecutors of the war are only half committed to the selective elimination of certain religious reactionaries.