Blog post

The Historical Materialism book series: Alfred Sohn-Rethel's Selected Works

Karin Lavér 4 July 2013

The Historical Materialism book series at Brill is initiating a project to translate and publish Alfred Sohn-Rethel's most important work.

Alfred Sohn-Rethel (1899-1990) was a Marxian economist and philosopher. He is best known for developing the notion of 'real abstraction', which influenced the work of the Frankfurt school (Adorno), Autonomism (Virno), the Neue Marx-Lektüre, and has recently been the subject of renewed interest. As Sohn-Rethel himself noted, the idea of 'real abstraction' was the core idea he developed, revising it over the course of several decades. Yet the English translations of Sohn-Rethel's work are hard to find and only offer a partial grasp of his thought, particularly the development of 'real abstraction'. The selected works will remedy this situation by translating Sohn-Rethel's most important writings. It will also help contextualize his relationship with the Frankfurt School, Autonomism and the Neue Marx-Lektüre .

The Selected Works will broken down into the following three volumes:

Volume 1: A Critical edition of Intellectual and Manual Labour. This edition will make Sohn-Rethel's magnum opus readily available in English in a new form. This will be done by incorporate changes Sohn-Rethel made in the subsequent Italian and German editions of Intellectual and Manual Labour. It will also include a few notes he made in an annotated edition of English translation of Intellectual and Manual Labour which clarify certain passages on the epistemological dimension of real abstraction.

Volume 2: Collected essays that include the most notable of Sohn-Rethel's early work, some mid-period essays from Geistige Und Korperliche Arbeit : Zur Epistemologie Der Abendlandischen Geschichte, Warenform und Dankform and the later Das Geld, die bare Münze des Apriori, none of which are available in English. This volume will complement the critical edition of Intellectual and Manual Labour by including the essays that mark the development of the idea of 'real abstraction', prior to and following the publication of Intellectual and Manual Labour. It will also feature Sohn-Rethel's writings on the Frankfurt School, and other items of interest including essays on technology.

Volume 3: Will consist of a translation of his correspondence with Theodor W. Adorno.

Those interested in helping translate, edit and otherwise contribute to the project should contact Chris O'Kane at The project also has a website at