chapter  15
Praxis and method
Pages 14

Methodologically speaking, Horkheimer claimed that the logical form of both critical and traditional theory was the same, at the level of connections between terms or statements within a theory. Logical necessity was distinguished from real necessity.1 But in saying this, unlike Hegel, Marx and Marcuse, he did not distinguish between which of the concepts of the critical theory of society related to its appearance and which to its essence, and how this unity of the nominal and the real was to be investigated and analytically pre­ sented. Methodologically, Marx on the other hand musters his con­ cepts, as does Hegel, in such a way as to appropriate the totality and construct it as a whole theoretically; in the case of Marx, this is prior to and furthers the real total appropriation of the totality by the proletariat in communism. In the case of the bourgeois capitalist mode of production the concept of essence carries the methodological connotation of relating to the production and expropriation of sur­ plus value from its producers. (The concept of essence in Marx also carries the second connotation of referring to that cognized but presently fully unrealized, shifting social potential for a more rational organization of society made possible by the current level of develop­ ment of the productive forces of society. But this potential is fettered by the archaic “ensemble of social relations” through which those forces are mediated. The methodological sense of the concept of essence is apparently related to this other general sense, since it is only at a certain stage of the development of society (the bourgeois epoch) that it develops as its essence the process of value production which coincides with the general potential for rational self-determina­ tion (its truth) of that stage. The problems in relating the two senses are, however, complex and beyond my present scope, but it is worth noting that in his essay “The Concept of Essence” 2 Marcuse con­ fusingly conflates the two senses of essence mentioned here.)

Marx conceptualizes the essence of the bourgeois capitalist mode of production critically in the following way: commodities have common quality, beyond their physical properties, of being produced by abstract labour, the measure of exchange value. This abstract labour is a fraction of the total labour potential at society’s disposal at a given point in time. The labour potential refers to the socially necessary labour for producing the commodity at a given stage of the development of the social relations of production, and so is variable.3 The measure of exchange value in Marx is therefore related to how effectively labour power could be (‘rationally’) utilized in society given the current stage of the development of the forces of produc­ tion. Since these forces are fettered by various social relations of production (which therefore hinder this possible utilization of labour power) then to analyse production in this way is for Marx inherently critical and therefore political, since it highlights the ‘irrational’ fettering of what is possible. The surface movement of capitalist production (analysable typically in terms of wages, prices and profit), its appearance, exists in a unity with the process of value production, its essence. The young Marcuse maintained that in Marx the first set of concepts (for example wages, prices and profit) focus on how the mode of production is organized, tending to consider its structure as eternal. The second set, on the other hand (relating to value pro­ duction) critically shows the mode of production as containing the possibility of being organized differently. This is because this set implies surplus value, leading to the concept of expropriation and therefore to the historical class character of bourgeois society. Taken together, says Marcuse, the two sets of concepts form a critical analysis: taken separately, a conservative one.4