Horkheimer: Labour is what mediates between human beings. The ‘process of civilization’ has been fetishized.footnote1

Adorno: In Marx’s chapter on fetishism, the social relation appears in the form of the exchange principle, as if it were the thing in itself.

Horkheimer: The instrument becomes the main thing.

Adorno: But our task is to explain this by speculating on labour’s ultimate origins, to infer it from the principle of society, so that it goes beyond Marx. Because exchange value seems to be absolute, the labour that has created it seems to be absolute too, and not the thing for whose sake it basically exists. In actuality the subjective aspect of use value conceals the objective utopia, while the objectivity of exchange value conceals subjectivism.

Horkheimer: Work is the key to making sure that ‘all will be well’. But by elevating it to godlike status, it is emptied of meaning.

Adorno: How does it come about that work is regarded as an absolute? Work exists to control the hardships of life, to ensure the reprod-uction of mankind. The success of labour stands in a problematic relationship to the effort required. It does not necessarily or certainly reproduce the lives of those who work but only of those who induce others to work for them. In order to persuade human beings to work you have to fob them off with the waffle about work as the thing in itself.

Horkheimer: That’s how it is among the bourgeoisie. This was not the attitude of the Greeks. The young worker on the motorbike treats work as his god because he enjoys riding the bike so much.