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Conrad Hamilton

Staying With Sohn-Rethel: On the Embryosis of Capita


With Intellectual and Manual Labour, Alfred Sohn-Rethel--for the first time--furnished us a blueprint of how to set epistemology on a scientific footing. Yet in the decades since its publication, Sohn-Rethel’s signature work has been subjected to criticism--including by Moishe Postone, who charges it with overstating the importance of the commodity-form to pre-capitalist societies (which were characterized by, so we are told, commodity circulation as opposed to commodity production). There is a kernel of truth to this critique, in so far as Sohn-Rethel does not adequately define the relationship between the generalization of commodity production and what he calls “non-empirical abstraction.” But what it fails to fully recognize is how, in the words of Ernest Mandel, “embryonic forms of the 'law of value' can be discovered” in pre-capitalist, simple commodity-producing societies, “just as the

'elementary cell' of capital, the commodity, contains in an embryonic way all the inner qualities and contradictions of that social category.” It’s the historicity of these embryonic forms that--as surely as European philosophers relied and rely on the metaphysical scaffolding passed down to them from Ancient Greece--attest to the continued vitality of Sohn-Rethel’s historical analysis.

Suggested Materials:

Marxism: Science or Humanism – Conrad Hamilton, Matt McManus and Michael J. Ardoline

Karl Marx on Value

Conrad Hamilton is a doctoral graduate from Paris 8 University, whose thesis under the supervision of Catherine Malabou dealt with the relationship between the value-form and social agency in the mature economic writings of Karl Marx. He has published articles in Jacobin, Areo, The Philosophical Salon, &&&, and Merion West. He is also the co-author of Myth and Mayhem: A Leftist Critique of Jordan Peterson.

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