Vasilis Grollios: Negativity and Democracy: Marxism and the Critical Theory Tradition.

AuthorLiotzis, Evangelos
PositionBook review

Vasilis Grollios

Negativity and Democracy: Marxism and the Critical Theory Tradition, New York and London: Routledge, 2017; 268 pp.: ISBN 9781138886469, 110 [pounds sterling] (hb)

Negativity and Democracy is one of the most ambitious books written on early Frankfurt school theory, aspiring to fill in a gap in the literature by offering an out of the mainstream overview of the key concepts of totality, negativity, fetishization, contradiction, identity thinking, dialectics and corporeal materialism as they have been employed by the major thinkers of the critical theory tradition Marx, Engels, Horkheimer, Lukacs, Adorno, Marcuse, Bloch and Holloway. (Back cover)

Grollios stresses that, for Marx, as he himself confessed, the secret of his concept of critique is the twofold character of labour, which like commodities, is concrete and abstract since it must follow the demands of socially necessary labour time, that is the logic of'time is money', of alienation in everyday life (p. 9).

The author holds that '[t]o date, no other study has attempted to draw such a strong connection between the first generation of theorists from the Frankfurt School and Marx's theory of dialectics, and especially his notion of the "enchanted, perverted, topsy-turvy world'" (p. 5) which is based on the aforementioned alienation. In his big introduction, he underlines that the key question is why human action results in social forms, such as money, state, capital, that people cannot control. This results in a starkly different perspective from that which democracy should be theorised. 'Through exploring and elaborating on the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, this book challenges the view that democracy should be understood as a call for a more effective domination of the people, as another kind of power' (pp. 1-2).

For the author, critical theory does not carry a vague meaning that distances it from anti-capitalist philosophy, as is usually believed. After criticising, in the introduction, Negri, Lazzarato, Boltanski and Chiapello's radical theories from this standpoint, in the first chapter he expands on the materialist character of Marx's theory of autonomy. It must also be born in mind that, for Grollios, materialism in Marx and early Frankfurt is not related to matter, as understood in physics. The author differentiates himself from the majority of studies on the theme by underlining that materialism is about the human content of social forms such as the...

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