Alfred Sohn-Rethel (4 January 1899 â€“ 6 April 1990) was a French-born German Marxian economist and philosopher especially interested in epistemology. He also wrote about the relationship between German industry and National Socialism.
Sohn-Rethel's lifelong project was the combination of the epistemology of Kant with Marx's critique of political economy. When people exchange commodities they abstract from the specific goods. Only the value of these goods is important. This abstraction is called 'real abstraction' because it occurs during the physical event of exchange of commodities between two property owners. Sohn-Rethel believed this type of abstraction to be the real basis of formal and abstract thinking. All of Kant's categories such as space, time, quality, substance, accident, movement and so forth are implicit in the act of exchange. Readers of Marx will not be entirely surprised by such a genealogy, since Marx himself suggested that the ideas of freedom and equality, at least as we know them so far, are rooted in the exchange of commodities. Sohn-Rethel's work on the nature of 'real abstraction' has been amplified and extended by the writers of Arena (Australian publishing co-operative), especially the notion that a post-marxist social and historical analysis can be founded on the 'real abstraction' principle. An example of using Sohn-Rethel's idea of commodity occurs in Slavoj Zizek's work The Sublime Object of Ideology. The second domain where Sohn-Rethel made important contributions was the study of the economic policies that favoured the rise of German fascism, much of which is based on first-hand knowledge gained from his time at the MWT. He insisted on the difference between different factions of capitalists, the more prospering industries close to BrÃ¼ning and the less successful industries close to the Harzburger Front (Hugenberg, Hitler) namely coal, construction and steel - with the exception of Krupp. The endorsement of the compromise between industry and big agrarians at the shareholders' meeting of the IG Farben in 1932 paved the way for the dictatorship, according to Sohn-Rethel.
Intellectual and manual labour : a critique of epistemology, Atlantic Highlands, N.J : Humanities Press, 1977
Economy and class structure of German fascism, London, CSE Books, 1978