Historical Materialism London: Presentation on Hans-Jürgen Krahl

At the 20th Annual Historical Materialism Conference in London (9th to 12th November 2023), I will present the paper “Hans-Jürgen Krahl: The practical revolutionary branch of Critical Theory”. My presentation will take place in the Panel “Studies in Critical Theory” on Sunday, November 12th, 2.45-4.30 pm.


I will portray Hans-Jürgen Krahl as a revolutionary theorist who was at the same time organizer and activist, thus contesting common pictures of Critical Theory, not least Perry Anderson’s in Considerations on Western Marxism, which conceive Critical Theory as distanced from practice and as engaged in merely aesthetic and cultural questions.

Krahl was student of Adorno, part of the board of German SDS among the most important theorists of the German 68 movement. His works had great influence in Germany and Italy (autonomia, operaism) until the early 1980s when it disappeared from the discussion, as a consequence of sharp attacks from the various newly formed currents of the left. Krahl was thus part of a larger current of Critical Theory that includes also well-known figures as Angela Davis (who shared a flat with him in Frankfurt), Alexander Kluge or Oskar Negt.

I will show this by outlining three topics of Krahl’s theory:

  1. His concept of a “historically adequate” revolutionary theory which combines Historical Materialism and materialist dialectics to represent the present capitalist system (economy, politics, ideology) in its dynamics. Revolutionary theory thus lays ground for strategical analysis and organizational efforts but draws at the same time on existing class consciousness, militant research and ongoing fights.
  2. His concept of concrete relationships between theory and practice where both are intermediated by the revolutionary organization. It has to be emphasized that Krahl engaged intensely in the according discussions and practical activities.
  3. The inseparable connection between economical and cultural emancipation which was of course constitutive for the 68 movement but which Krahl explicitly theorized (mostly drawing on Marcuse).  

My talk will based on our German-language book on Krahl: Meike Gerber/Emanuel Kapfinger/Julian Volz (editors) (2022): Für Hans-Jürgen Krahl. Beiträge zu seinem antiautoritären Marxismus, Mandelbaum. With a preface by Alexander Kluge.