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Roberto Finelli

The Abstraction of Capital Versus the Abstraction of Money: The Hypothesis of a Debate Between K. Marx and A. Sohn-Rethel


The theory of real abstraction conceived by Alfred Sohn Rethel must be radically criticized. It expresses a vulgarly reductionist conception of the relation of the superstructure to the structure, according to which, for example, the Platonic theory of ideas would be a mere reflection of the function of money as a measure of exchange value in ancient Greece. The theory of money as "a priori in cash" must be criticized on the basis of Marx's indications that an economic determination, such as exchange value, finds its truest realization only in modern capitalist society (i.e. the "exchange value" as a consequent expression of "surplus value" and accumulation of capital). But it must also be criticized for a profound misunderstanding of the history of Athens and Greece, as well as of the history of ancient philosophy. All the great attention that Plato devoted to the world of techniques is in fact based, certainly not on exchange value, but on the value of use and the resulting division of labor. Plato's theory of ideas / techniques must be explained with the development of craftsmanship in an agricultural society and with the criticism of the monism of the "Being" of Eleatic philosophy. In this sense, Moshe Postone's critique of Sohn Rethel as the author of a radical historical anachronism must be confirmed, even if developing and deepening it.

Roberto Finelli (born in Rome in 1945) was professor of History of Philosophy at the University of Roma Tre. From the beginning of his research in the field of Marxism he dedicated his studies to an interpretation of Marx's work based not on the category of "contradiction" but on that of "abstraction". His basic thesis is in fact that Capital will represent the highest achievement of social science in the contemporary world as long as abstract wealth and its augmentation hegemonize and tendentially totalize the reality of the life of today. To say this means to highlight in Marx's texts a depth / surface dialectic that cannot be understood with a theory of the opposition / contradiction between opposite polarities; that is, between opposing classes. His critical reading of Marxian anthropology contained in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and of the historical materialism theorized in The German Ideology was published in English in the book of 2016, A Failed Parricide: Hegel and the Young Marx (Brill). But see also “The Limits and Uncertainties of Historical Materialism: an Appraisal based on the Text of Grundrisse”, in Re-reading Marx: New Perspectives after the Critical Edition (ed. Bellofiore and Fineschi).

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