What if philosophy is a problem? Not in some Heideggerian-inspired sense in which “problem” would come to mean that philosophy takes itself as its object of concern or some such (although this is certainly part of the problem identified in Kolozova’s work), but in the literal sense that it is something that we ought to resist because it is oppressive, exploitative, and destructive of human and animal life? What if philosophy was not alone in this perpetuation of horror? What if the problem of philosophy was synonymous with the alienation and exploitation of capitalism, both these systems driven by a violent, fetishistic logic that works to replace our real, material lives with abstractions, abstractions that alienate us from real life? What would it mean to not only resist this violent collusion between philosophical abstraction and capitalist fetishism, but to formulate a response to it, a real, emancipatory, metaphysics of social liberation? These are the central questions of Katerina Kolozova’s bold new book, Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism: Marx and Laruelle. More specifically, following the work of French philosopher François Laruelle, Kolozova argues that philosophy and capitalism are both governed by an essential logic of “abstraction,” insofar as they operate to constitute “a reality that establishes an amphibology with the real (acts in its stead, posturing as ‘more real than real’)” (2). What unites philosophical abstraction and capitalist fetishism is not only that they translate “material effects” into concepts or the commodity form (all representational or “transcendental” systems operate through translation or “cloning” to use Laruelle’s term), but, and this will be key, they insist that these abstractions are, in the last instance, actually more real than the real itself. It is this second claim, this “eclipsing” of the real by abstraction, the taking of the “translation” of the real as a “‘true real’ i.e., a real that is more real than the real itself” that is the fundamental problem shared by both philosophy and capitalism. For Kolozova, this is the essential insight of Laruelle’s and Marx’s work, identifying this alienating and violent logic of abstraction in philosophy and capitalism, respectively. Hence, Kolozova charts an essential affinity between non-philosophy and Marxism, an affinity on which she builds an account of concrete social realities aimed at the elimination of suffering and the cultivation of freedom and “well-being” (86–89). Now such a bold and wide-ranging argument not surprisingly raises certain questions: What is meant by “the real” or “life”? How does such a critique of abstraction avoid being simply another version of Marxist ideology critique? And, perhaps most pressingly, how does this help us formulate real resistance and social practices that concretely increase human and animal well-being? These questions will emerge in various ways in all the reviews below. However, it is also important to recognize, as all the reviewers do, the impressive scope of Kolozova’s intervention into the fields of non-philosophy, Marxism, and political theory.
Kolozova’s work provides, as Dominic Fox puts it, “perhaps the clearest indication so far of what a Laruellian politics might look like,” developing, in a fundamentally original way, Laruelle’s account of “non-marxism” into a full-blown political project. In so doing, Kolozova contributes an important and timely intervention into Laruelle’s thought, as well as putting it into conversation with other contemporary political positions, for example, accelerationism (44–45). Additionally, Kolozova’s text provides an introduction to the stakes of non-philosophy, the concretely political orientation of her work showing readers why it might be essential to engage with work as frankly difficult as Laruelle’s. Similarly, as Anthony Paul Smith comments, Kolozova’s text takes a definitive position in the long-standing debate over the oft-supposed split between Marx’s “young” and “mature” work, Kolozova arguing that there is no fundamental split in Marx’s thinking, as the concern for the abstracting logic of capitalism is central to his work from first to last. Hence, Toward a Radical Metaphysics of Socialism is a work of interest to thinkers of Laruelle as well as Marx, as it carves out new ground in the scholarship on both these thinkers. However, it is also a text of radical political thought that unabashedly presents thinking as something that ought to help change the world.
As Miglena Nikolchina succinctly puts it, Kolozova’s work dares to takes on the post–Cold War “failure of visions for world transformation” and “forcefully addresses the theoretical vacuum opened up by contemporary civic unrest vis-à-vis blatant injustice, drastic inequality, and extreme suffering.” The test of any good political thought is its ability to illuminate political, social, and economic realities, and, for Kolozova, this means showing how her account helps to explain the 2008 banking crisis, the ramping up of austerity and capital speculation, as well as the Occupy movement, and, on her account, the failures of the post–Cold War “East European experiment.” Hence, Kolozova’s work is a piece of real political thinking, one that painstakingly argues its case, walking readers through the intricacies of Marx and Laruelle (no small task in itself), but without the vanity and safety of pretending that theory was ever only about texts, theories, or ideas.
Although it is beyond the scope of this introduction to detail the ins and outs of each review and response, all of which struggle in exemplary fashion with the central questions of Kolozova’s work, there are themes that emerge across all three reviews, and that may help a reader orient themselves in the session as a whole. The first of these has to do with the logic of abstraction that is at the heart of Kolozova’s argument. The insistence on abstraction as a problem to be “resisted” or “overcome” raises what Smith succinctly names, “the problem of inescapable ideology as such.” If abstraction is a metaphysical logic by which philosophy and capitalism replace the Real of the “human-in-human” or the “lived” (to use Laruelle’s terminology) with a supposedly “more real” idea of life as “subject” or “commodity,” then how can one be assured that one’s own metaphysics, one’s own notion of “the world” in which well-being, freedom, justice, and happiness are increased, is not itself merely another abstraction, merely another form of metaphysics in the bad sense? This question emerges in different ways in all the reviews: for Fox in the relationship or “proximity” between the individual and the group, for Nikolchina in the association of the machine and the animal, and for Smith in the figure of “the world.” What is at stake in these concerns is the degree to which the abandonment of abstraction leaves Kolozova, and by extension Laruelle and Marx, without the ground on which to formulate a positive project, the degree to which retaining “metaphysics” amounts to simply retaining the logic of abstraction, albeit in a changed form perhaps. Additionally, this question connects to concerns about the role of “humanism,” and mathematics in her analysis (Dominic’s review), the character of the Real (Smith’s review), and her relationship to the work of Michel Henry (Nikolchina’s review). However, it also raises the spectre of practical politics, and what Nikolchina argues is Kolozova’s foreclosure of “a discussion that would differentiate between what failed and what did not fail in the massive East European experiment” post Cold War, a foreclosure that perhaps risks at best reinventing certain aspects of the wheel of revolutionary possibilities, and at worse problematically reduces (or abstracts) a complex set of political possibilities to a single and dismissible logic. Similarly, given that the goal of Kolozova’s project is “that the world becomes a more just and happy place, one where persecution is minimized by virtue of the reversed hierarchy between philosophy and the real, where the former would succumb to the dictates of the later” (21), Smith wonders to what degree Kolozova’s goal of emancipation from abstraction need be characterized as fundamentally “socialist” at all? Is socialism perhaps an unnecessarily loaded or problematic term for a vision of the future whose emphasis on lived well-being does not require the name socialism. In fact, Fox suggests that it is perhaps more accurate to think of Kolozova’s project as “a rehabilitation of Lucifer,” the “restoration of alienated human capacities” appearing nothing short of demonic from the exploitative capitalist logic of abstraction. Hence, this symposium promises an exciting and wide-ranging discussion of interest to anyone who, as we all should I hope, remains insistent on the world-changing possibilities of real thinking.