In the years before the advent of the “night of humanity” (of German fascism), the Marxist philosopher and co-founder of the Critical Theory Max Horkheimer wrote a series of aphorisms. They concern the triumph of imperialism, the barbarity of slaughterhouses, the systematic ideologisation of the people and the bourgeois’ dilution of Marxism in advanced capitalism.

In the collection of text fragments first published in 1934 under the title Dämmerung. Notizen in Deutschland (published in English as Dawn and Decline: Notes 1926-1931 and 1950-1969), one learns: already in the 1920s existed the problem of the ruling class having seized power over one of the most important means to resistance of the oppressed and taken control of the concepts which the lower class requires to voice its lack of freedom, misery and hardship. If nothing else, in “post-war Germany, the translation of Marxism into the academic idiom was a step toward breaking the will of the workers to fight capitalism”, Horkheimer registered shocked. An aggravating effect were the ideologisation of the concept of ideology. Karl Marx had used the latter “as a kind of subterranean explosive device against the mendacious structures of official science. It was the distilled expression of his contempt for the deliberate or half-deliberate, instinctive or considered, paid or unpaid deception of exploitation, on which the capitalist system rests, this concept inhered”, Horkheimer indicted. “Now they have formulated it [the concept of ideology] clean as relativity of knowledge, as historicity of the theories of the humane disciplines and others more. It has lost its dangerousness.”

Today, in a time when more and more “critics of ideology” prove themselves as the most perfidious ideologists in the service of capital, this development has perfected itself and worsened dramatically. Reasons for this are the contradictions of capitalism, that becomes more aggressive and that once more threatens to drag everyone and everything into the abyss of a devastating apocalypse. The more the tyranny of the minority of the ruling class intensifies, the more unscrupulous its criminal wheelings and dealings, the thicker is the fog, through which the suffering majority is screened off from the light of revelations necessary for resistance – for instance that there cannot be any emancipatory equality and justness in a class society. “The spreading of darkness was always a tool in the hand of the reaction”, wrote Horkheimer.

Currently, Dämmerung prevails (again). The democratic state under the rule of law erodes – to what form of bourgeois rule this development will lead is uncertain. Fact is however: one neo-imperialist war and terror alarm follows another. Bit by bit, basic rights to freedom are revoked. Rigorous cutbacks of social support have brought forth the impoverishment of the masses. The escapees from the world’s poorhouses are exposed to state prosecution, discrimination and harassment. The revoking of taboos on torture and other forms of maltreatment of humans is booming in “Western civilisation”. Animals and nature are approved simultaneously for total utilization and destruction. Fascist gangs commit their violent crimes less and less fettered.

Dämmerung can be the preliminary stage to total darkness. But it is also a sign of danger that still holds the possibility of collective awakening and breaking off the numbness of political passivity and resignation. Horkheimer expressed hope when he wrote that during history, humans have time and again succeeded in “turning Dämmerung into the dawn of a day”. Our project is supposed to contribute to finally make the fulfilment of such hope last . . .

[1] In German the term Dämmerung can refer to the dimmed light during dawn as well as dusk. Since Horkheimer’s appropriation, from where we derive it here, plays on this ambiguity and because there is no adequate English equivalent we retain the original.