Sohn-Rethel and the Origin of ‘Real Abstraction’: A Critique of Production or a Critique of Circulation?*

In: Historical Materialism
Anselm Jappe École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris and Accademia di Belle Arti di Frosinone

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Alfred Sohn-Rethel did not just elaborate a materialist theory of knowledge, he also introduced the term ‘real abstraction’ into Marxist debate. However, he locates the origin of commodity abstraction solely in the sphere of circulation, conceiving of production itself as a mere metabolism with nature. This conception, in which the critique of capitalism aims exclusively at distribution, and which rejects the Marxian concept of ‘abstract labour’, remains widespread. It is our express intention here to undertake a critique of such a conception for the benefit of a critique of the very mode of capitalist production.

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