Tag Archives: Martin Jay

On the Frankfurt School’s Analysis of Nazism

I’m reading Martin Jay’s The Dialectical Imagination right now, and I’m surprised how much work the Frankfurt School did on analyzing Nazism. I had figured they had written about it, but not to the extent and with the nuances they actually used. Within the Institut itself, there were divergent approaches to their analysis. Here’s an excerpt of Jay’s book that gives you some idea of such divergence:

Still, the major burden of Neumann’s argument was that, contrary to Pollock, Nazism was a continuation of monopoly capitalism, albeit by other means. Behemoth, however, had a secondary thesis as well, which corresponded somewhat more closely to some of the notions of the Institut’s inner circle. This argument was reflected in the book’s title, which referred to Hobbes’s study of the chaos of the English civil war of the seventeenth century. To Neumann, “National Socialism is—or [is] tending to become—a non-state, a chaos, a rule of lawlessness and anarchy.” Not only was “state capitalism” a misnomer, but the existence of a state in any traditional sense was itself questionable. Instead, a domination was becoming more nakedly unmediated without the buffer, however imperfect, provided by the liberal state.

In other words, Neumann, like Horkheimer and the others, felt that the semi-humane mediations of the past were rapidly being eroded in the authoritarian states. Where they disagreed was in their descriptions of the nature of the unmediated domination (165).

Theory and Party Solidarity in the Early 20th Century

This is an interesting bit from the introduction of Martin Jay’s history of the Frankfurt School, The Dialectical Imagination:

The split that divided the working class movement in Weimar between a bolshevized Communist Party (KPD) and a nonrevolutionary Socialist Party (SPD) was a sorry spectacle to those who still maintained the purity of Marxist theory. Some attempted a rapprochement with one faction or another. But as demonstrated by the story of Georg Lukács, who was forced to repudiate his most imaginative book, History and Class Consciousness, shortly after its appearance in 1923, this often meant sacrificing intellectual integrity on the altar of party solidarity.

When, however, personal inclinations led to a greater commitment to theory than to party, even when this meant suspending for a while the unifying of theory and praxis, the results in terms of theoretical innovation could be highly fruitful (4).

I wonder what today’s situation might be in regards to the relationship between theory and practice. For Adorno, he considered his time to be not yet ready to be political. Today, leading members of the Platypus Affiliated Society, like Chris Cutrone, also see the contemporary moment as being pre-political.