(2) The conception of man from The German Ideology to Capital
In The German Ideology, i.e. in the first great work which establish and deepens the theoretical turning-point marked by the Theses Feuerbach, ‘the brilliant germ of the new world outlook’, Marx and Engels undertake a radical critique of the standpoint of philosophical humanism — philosophical always being taken at this time and in this context in the pejorative sense of speculative. They therefore most categorically reject the concept of abstract Man whose history is merely self-development and, at the same time, the theory of alienation as it was presented in the 1844 Manuscripts. The German Ideology consummates their rupture with what may be called the speculative anthropology-abstract humanism couple. As a matter of fact this is the essential content of what Marx, thirteen years later, in the Preface to the Contribution, called the settling of accounts with their former philosophical conscience and his principal aim was self-clarification. From now on they regard their major mistake as having been that which is revealed for example in this passage taken from among twenty others:
If from a philosophical point of view one considers this evolution of individuals in the common conditions of existence of estates and classes, which followed on one another, and in the accompanying general conceptions forced upon them, it is certainly very easy to imagine that in these individuals the species or ‘Man’ has evolved, or that they evolved ‘Man’ — and in this way one can give history some hard clouts on the ear. One can conceive these various estates and classes to be specific terms of ,the general expression, subordinating varieties of the species, or evolutionary phases of ‘Man’.
In a word, this is what Feuerbach does:
He never arrives at the really existing active men, but stops at the abstraction ‘Man’, and gets no further than recognizing ‘the true, individual, corporeal man’ emotionally, i.e. he knows no other ‘human relationships’ of ‘man to man’ than love and friendship, and even then idealized. He gives no criticism of the present conditions of life … and thus … relapses into idealism at the very point where the communist materialist sees the necessity, and at the same time the condition of a transformation both of industry and of the social structure.
This idealist inversion of real relations between man and history, between individuals and social relations (an ‘inversion which for the first is an abstract image of the actual conditions’, ‘turning ever thing upside-down’, arises just as much from [men’s] historical life process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life process’, is what must be radically eliminated: the investigation of the historical development of men must materialistically and scientifically be put back on its feet. ‘This method of approach is not devoid of premises. It starts but from the real premises and does not abandon for a moment. Its premises are men, not in any fantastic isolation and rigidly but in their actual, empirically perceptible process of development under definite conditions.”
And, in this sense, one has to ‘leave philosophy aside’, ‘one has to devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality’,’ for the characteristic of philosophy is to transform everything into abstract categories, even ‘the word “communist”, which in the real world means the follower of a definite revolutionary party,” and through that to remain within a viewpoint ‘interpreting’ the world when the point is to change it.’ The transformation, through the division of labour, of personal powers (relationships) into material powers, cannot be dispelled by diminishing the general idea of it from one’s mind, but can only be abolished by the individuals again subjecting these material powers to themselves and abolishing the division of labour.’
This is why those philosophers who are the most radical in words are’ the staunchest conservatives’.’ At this stage in their thought, Marx and Engels therefore completely repudiated in principle the speculative attitude which still vitiated their works in 1844 and especially the Manuscripts. They explicitly emphasize it several times themselves. Thus Bruno Bauer indulges in speculations about The Holy Family. ‘The expression “real humanism”, which he found in the preface to this polemic document, provides the main basis of his hypothesis.” Marx and Engels put things in focus. They recall that the development towards the materialist inversion of speculative philosophy was already indicated in the Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher, the Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law and On the Jewish Question, hence in 1843—44:
But since at that time this was done in philosophical phraseology, the traditionally occurring philosophical expressions such as ‘human essence’, genus’, etc. gave the German theoreticians the desired excuse for misunderstanding the real trend of thought and believing that here again it Was a question of merely giving a new turn to their worn-out theoretical garments’
The German Ideology is therefore indeed the exposition of reasons for an irrevocable rupture with philosophical humanism.
But this rupture in no wise removes real men from the theoretical arena: rather, they emerge in it in the stead of abstract man. As a matter of fact, following the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach, which presents the human essence ‘in its reality” as the ensemble of social relations, The German Ideology is a lengthy demonstration of the fact that the, [history] of the productive forces’ is also ‘the history of the development of the forces of the individuals themselves’. This is shown in Marx’s letter to Annenkov, dated December 28 1846, in which the whole of the German Ideology is summarized:
Because of this simple fact that every succeeding generation finds itself in possession of the productive forces acquired by the previous generation which serve it as the raw material for new production, a coherence arises in human history, a history of humanity takes shape which is all the more a history of humanity as the productive forces of man and therefore his social relations have been more developed. Hence it necessarily follows that the social history of men is never anything but the history of their individual development, whether they are conscious of it or not their material relations are the basis of all their relations. These material relations are only the necessary forms in which their material and individual activity is realized.
It is therefore precisely the inversion of the sterile viewpoint of abstract humanism and empty phrases about the human essence understood in the idealist sense, which permits the change to a fruitful scientific view of concrete individuals and their historical development because individuals are now understood by way of their true essence: social relations.
The German Ideology is a striking demonstration of the fertility of this new standpoint for understanding real men. In wonderfully profound pages, remarkably suggestive, in my opinion, for anyone reflecting on the theory of personality, Marx and Engels show, without yet having analysed it completely, how what they call the division of labour — hence an ensemble of social relations — makes human labour lose the sense of ‘self-activity’ and leads the majority of men in bourgeois society to the point where ‘[they are] robbed thus of all real life-content’. They also show how by virtue not at all of a mystical development of the human essence but of a concrete development of the productive forces, which have reached a stage where they require ‘the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves’ and class relations, which, ,by completely denying the proletarians all self—activity, puts them in a position ‘to achieve a complete and no longer restricted self-activity’, the communist revolution necessarily has a total and universal character and opens the way to a society in which self-activity coincides with material life, which corresponds to the development of individuals into complete individuals’ This whole analysis grounds the general conclusion that the proletarians, ‘if they are to assert themselves as individuals, will have to abolish the very conditions of their existence hitherto’; ‘in order … to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State’.
These last turns of phrase, particularly resistant to the anti-humanist interpretation but the significance of which one can see on the contrary elaboration of a scientific theory of personality, are by no means isolated turns of phrase in The German Ideology. In particular they are developed at length in the polemic against Max Stirner. Marx and Engels show, and this enables one to grasp how deeply historical materialism involves taking men into consideration, that the separation between men and social relations does not only make men incomprehensible but also indeed the development of social relations, the class struggle. In Max Stirner, they write:
On the one side he has the ‘transformation of existing conditions’, on the other side — ‘people’, and the two sides are entirely separate from each other. [He] does not give the slightest thought to the fact that the‘ conditions’ have always been the conditions of these people and could never have been transformed without the people transforming themselves and, if that should be the case, without their being ‘dissatisfied with themselves’ in the old conditions.
The German Ideology thus demonstrates in advance the famous thesis in the Manifesto, and more broadly in all Marxism, in which the bourgeoisie itself produces its own grave-diggers.
The proleterian, for example, who like every other person is called upon to satisfy his needs and who is not in a position to satisfy even the needs that he has in common with other people, whom the necessity to work a 14 hour day debases to the level of a beast of burden, whom competition degrades to a mere thing, an article of trade, who from his position as a mere productive force, the sole position left to him, is squeezed out by other, more powerful productive forces — this proletarian if only for these reasons is confronted with the real task of revolutionizing his conditions.
At the present time individuals must abolish private property. All this amounts to saying that philosophical humanism is not simply cast aside in The German Ideology, which would rid us of it in a negative way; it is denied dialectically, i.e. surpassed — not of course and this point is fundamentally important) in the Hegelian sense of the concept of surpassing, i.e., discovering a ‘higher’ point of view within philosophical speculation, but in the specifically Marxist sense of a materialist inversion and a scientific transmutation which finally allows us to escape definitively from speculation. Not only is the concept abstract Man invalidated as speculative, but its historical genesis is also explained on the basis of conditions in which real men develop a consequently a new concept of man as a historically determined social individual replaces it, opening the way to a non-speculative anthropology of which the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach constitutes the cornerstone. The theory of alienation itself, a mystical odyssey of the human essence, can neither reveal its most deep-seated idealism nor therefore be absolutely eliminated except in so far as the totality of historical processes, including the processes of personal life is understood on the basis of the real and not the imaginary human essence, therefore on the basis of the concrete investigation of social relations, their actual contradictions and political development. At the same time, the philosophical theory of alienation then gives way to a scientific theory of contradictions and of the conditions of historical flowering of individuals. Thus the new concepts and theories which result from the thoroughgoing materialist inversion (renversement) of speculative relations between human essence and social relations are by no means simply the inverted reflection of idealist theories and concepts whose place they take; such an inversion (inversion) would not really enable us to escape from the world of speculation. But, generated in a new way on the basis of the investigation of objective historical conditions, they fulfill the explanatory function with regard to reality scientifically which the idealist theories and concepts of previous philosophy merely succeeded in fulfilling speculatively. It is this homology of function in the framework of theoretical systems, which none the less are qualitatively different, which permits the reading of the new scientific solutions as an effective answer to the insoluble problems of previous philosophy, on condition that we are careful never to fall into the trap of their pure, unadulterated confusion, the beginning of an inevitable regression into speculative humanism. Marx and Engels frequently proceed in this way in The German Ideology, going so far as to flirt with the speculative terminology even when in other passages they sarcastically discredit it, and this not at all through ‘inconsistency’ (the inconsistency of the ‘works of the break’ according to the antihumanist interpretation) but. on the contrary, because the approaches are basically identical: the possibility of solving a previous insoluble problem by translating it into a new problematic is the most convincing of proofs of the senility of the old one.
Thus it is that The German Ideology, like the 6th Thesis, identifies the ensemble of material social conditions as the ‘real’ human essence, ‘the real basis of … [the] “essence of man” . An extremely condensed version even says that ‘the existence of men is their actual life process,’ a statement in which the verb to exist clearly does not mean an indifferent identity of subject and predicate but a transcription which can be made from the first into the second — and which, despite appearances, therefore has a totally different meaning from the statements in the 1844 Manuscripts, ‘The individual is the social being, a careful examination of which in its context shows that it, on the contrary, asserted the pure and simple equivalence of the language of real society and the language of the abstract human essence. In the same way, The German Ideology transcribed into the new scientific concepts what the term alienation referred to.
This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to nought our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development till now …. This ‘estrangement’ (to use a term which will be comprehensible to the philosophers) can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises.
Elsewhere, criticizing Feuerbach, for whom the existence of a thing or a man is at the same time its or his essence’, Marx and Engels consider it possible to reply in Feuerbach’s own terms:
Thus if millions of proletarians feel by no means contented with their living conditions, if their ‘existence’ does not then in the least correspond to their‘ essence’, then, according to the passage quoted, this is an unavoidable misfortune, which must be borne quietly. The millions of proletarians and communists, however, think differently and will prove this in time, when they bring their ‘existence’ into harmony with their ‘essence’ in a practical way, by means of a revolution.
In yet another place, they show that if one defines them historically as a‘ product of social conditions’, the terms ‘human’ and ‘inhuman’which, related to an ideal and abstract Man, essentially form part of the mystified terminology of speculative philosophy, are not for all that purely and simply meaningless.
The positive expression ‘human’ corresponds to the definite conditions predominant at a certain stage of production and to the way of satisfying needs determined by them, just as the negative expression ‘inhuman’corresponds to the attempt, within the existing mode of production, to negate these predominant conditions and the way of satisfying needs prevailing under them, an attempt that this stage of production daily engenders afresh.’
This is why
the nonsensical judgment of the philosophers that the real man is not man is in the sphere of abstraction merely the most universal, all embracing expression of the actually existing universal contradiction between the conditions and needs of people. The nonsensical form of the abstract proposition fully corresponds to the nonsensical character, carried to extreme lengths, of the conditions of bourgeois society.
It can be seen that in the very work of Marx and Engels which bring about the decisive rupture between the standpoint of their youth which is still ‘philosophical’ and the scientific standpoint of their mature years with regard to the central question of the conception of man the anthropological-humanist conceptualization does not disappear. It undergoes a complex scientific transmutation which appears both as a radical critique but also as a new theoretical validation of it. Furthermore, this is precisely what has become of that which I called above ‘the 1844 psychology’. Looking at it closely, the great wealth of suggestions which one finds in The German Ideology as far as a psychology of personality is concerned is by no means simply the extension of what one finds in the 1844 Manuscripts, the specious nature and delusive scientific barrenness of which we saw earlier. For, as far as the essential point is concerned, the analyses in The German Ideology on needs, desires, passion, intellectual wealth, concentration of artistic talent in a few individuals and, even more, on the actual structures of contradictions in personal life — analyses which are so remarkable and of which use will be made in the following chapters — are based not on considerations located abstractly in the world of ‘species man’ but on the investigation of real social relations. Their basic limitation, in fact, is Marx’s and Engels’ economic knowledge in 1845-46. But it seems clear that something of fundamental importance for the theory of the concrete individual is born here which prefigures the real solution to this crucial problem.
In order to press forward quickly, let us see what point Marx has reached with regard to these problems some ten years later in the enormous body (nearly 1200 printed pages) of his economic works of 1857-59 which, in the order of their writing, are best entitled the Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy (1857), the Grundrisse or Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (1857—58), the preserved fragment of the Original Version (1858); and the final version of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1858-59) — only the latter work being published by Marx in his own life-time. If one compares these texts with The German Ideology from the point of view of the problems discussed here, what is immediately striking is that the polemic against philosophical humanism has practically disappeared. At the very most one comes across incidental remarks echoing what constituted the central critical theme in the German Ideology four or five times, if that, in 1200 pages: in the 1857 Introduction, a phrase against Proudhon who finds ‘of course it is a convenience … to be able to give a historico-social account of the source of an economic relation, of whose historic origins he ignorant’ later in the same text, the brief remark that ‘the philosophical consciousness — for which conceptual thinking is the real human being’ in the Grundrisse, a paragraph almost literally summarizes a page in The German Ideology to explain the illusion of philosophers who ‘have determined the reign of ideas to be the peculiarity of the new age, and have identified the creation of free individuality with the overthrow of this reign’, and elsewhere, in the course of a discussion of the viewpoint of Adam Smith, the following detail; ‘But what we want here initially is not to go into his view on labour, his philosophical view, but into the economic moments’
This almost complete disappearance of the explicit polemic against philosophical humanism obviously does not mean that Marx is calling its validity into question again but that, on the contrary, as far as he is concerned from here on it goes without saying; it is a stage in its crossing onto the terrain of historical materialism that has been wholly worked through and to this extent actually surpassed. It is now no longer a question of demonstrating to the reader, while proving to oneself, the foolishness of speculation about Man, but rather of pursuing critical work in the domain of bourgeois political economy and of constructing a scientific, materialist political economy which can alone provide a correct theoretical basis for studying the ensemble of problems of man, society and history.
But precisely for this reason, while the critique of abstract humanism now surpassed for Marx, on the other hand, the critique of abstraction in general and in political economy in particular becomes a vital task for him. In this sense, more than ever, we will see, there is still a critique of abstract man in the works of 1857-59; it is just that the critical effort is displaced , if I may say so, from the noun to the adjective. In order to complete the working out of new concepts including the new concept of man) which are to take the place of the of philosophical humanism, it is necessary to complete the working out of the new theory of the concept, of abstraction and of the concrete, of essence and existence, and to pursue to its limits the critique of the speculative conception of knowledge and the construction of a materialist, scientific theory which is to replace it. Indeed this is undoubtedly why Marx begins his immense work in 1857-59 by writing the Introduction and developing in particular ‘The Method of Political Economy’, of which it must be said with Louis Althusser that it ‘can rightly be regarded as the Discourse on Method of the philosophy founded by Marx’. What Marx, then thirty-nine years old, completed in this text is, in short, the critique of Hegel’s dialectic which he had begun from his earliest youth — the materialist inversion’ of this dialectic. It goes without saying that this huge question goes far beyond the scope of the present work. But now we must take a step back in order to point out a small number of essential facts, the decisive importance of which for the construction of a truly scientific theory of personality will be seen in subsequent chapters.
The first fundamental critique of the Hegelian dialectic which Marx devoted himself to is contained in the 1843 manuscript, the very important Critique of Hegel ‘s Philosophy of Law. The meaning of this critique is summed up in a page which is central in every respect.
Hegel’s chief error is to conceive the contradiction of appearances as unity in essence, in the idea, while in fact it has something more profound for its essence, namely, an essential contradiction, just as here this contradiction of the legislative authority within itself, for example, is merely the contradiction of the political state, and therefore also of civil society within itself.
Vulgar criticism falls into an opposite, dogmatic error. Thus it criticizes the constitution, for example. It draws attention to the antagonism of the powers, etc. It finds contradictions everywhere. This is still dogmatic criticism which fights with its subject-matter in the same way in which formerly the dogma of the Holy Trinity, say, was demolished by the contradiction of one and three. True criticism, by contrast, shows the inner genesis of the Holy Trinity in the human brain. It describes the act of its birth. So the truly philosophical criticism of the present state constitution not only shows up contradictions as existing; it explains them, it comprehends their genesis, their necessity. It considers them in their specific significance. But comprehending them does not consist, as Hegel imagines, in recognizing the features of the logical concept everywhere, but in grasping the specific logic of the specific subject.
Here is the germ of all Marxist criticism of the Hegelian dialectic and its materialist inversion — criticism and inversion being absolutely inseparable.
In a word, what does Marx say? By showing dialectical movement in the sphere of the state, as in all others, Hegel made a remarkable advance. But in him this discovery is still that of an idealist, speculative philosopher i.e., empirical contradictions do not become the object of a materialist science which seeks their real basis, but the subject of speculation which considers them from the viewpoint of their reflection in thought i.e., turns them into a logical abstraction — the dialectical movement — which, through a classical ideological inversion, in its move appears like the real essence and origin of the empirical contradictions. This means that in Hegel the brilliant discovery of the dialectic is doubly mystified: in its status and in its content. In its status: the real, material bearer of empirical contradictions not being understood, ‘the mystified idea becomes this bearer’. Hegel ‘standseverything on its head’, ‘the actual becomes a phenomenon’, while the idea becomes the real subject; pure ‘logical … mysticism’. In its content: for, at the same time, instead of ‘the specific logic of the specific subject’ being sought everywhere scientifically, ‘it is always the same categories which provide the soul, now for this, now for that sphere’. For example, ‘the logic does not serve to prove the state, but the state to prove the logic’. In other words, Hegel does violence to the empirical facts in order to force them into pre-established categories which are therefore characterized by speculative abstraction. There is more. If existing contradictions are merely empirical manifestations of the logical contradiction, their solution can only arise by way of logic, therefore speculatively, and not practically by a revolution in the present state of things. This is Marx’s deepest criticism: the dialectic in Hegel is not really critical. Instead of relating empirical contradictions to the real movement which has produced them and which must surpass them in practice, it projects them into the sphere of speculation in which they obtain their ideal solution in advance — which therefore also already has its empirical manifestation in reality. Thus dialectical surpassing becomes the most conservative thing there is: to surpass contradictions merely in thought (idealism) means that one uncritically accepts their real basis (empiricism). For example:
Hegel is not to be blamed for depicting the nature of the modern state as it for presenting that which is as the nature of the state. That the rational is actual is proved precisely in the contradiction of irrational actuality, which everywhere is the contrary of what it asserts, and asserts the contrary of what it is.
Hegel thereby endeavors to make us believe that the solution to existing political contradictions might be found in the very framework of ‘Pr state and society which are precisely their real basis, going practically so far as slavishness’ with respect to authority. In reality
the abolition of the bureaucracy is only possible by the general interest actually — and not, as with Hegel merely in thought, in abstraction — becoming the particular interest, which in turn is only possible as of the particular actually becoming the general interest. Hegel starts an unreal antithesis and therefore achieves only an imaginary identity which is in truth again a contradictory identity.
Idealist in its content and status alike, the Hegelian dialectic therefore unusable in this form. And yet ‘in spite of its speculative original sin’ it provides, as one finds in the Phenomenology for example ‘the elements of a true description of human relations’. This stems precisely from the fact that in spite of the idealist consciousness which it has of itself, the Hegelian dialectic has its origin in the last analysis in the reflection of objective reality. This is a fundamental fact, often poorly understood because until now the history of the development of the Hegelian dialectic has nearly always been written starting from the idealist view which Hegel had of it himself. It is also necessary, of course, to invert the history of this birth materialistically, i.e. to analyze in the spirit of historical materialism how the Hegelian dialectic came to sum up an immense development in practice and theory while inverting it ideologically and mystifying it through speculative abstraction. It therefore appears that the radical critique of the Hegelian dialectic, i.e. the scientific elucidation of its birth, coincides with its inversion, i.e. with the materialist rectification of its status (the dialectic is the reflection in thought of the real movement) and the scientific reformulation of its content (the dialectic not as speculative abstraction but as ‘the specific logic of the specific subject’.)’ The materialist rectification of its status is achieved as soon as it is conceived, since it simply consists of its theoretical representation; and this is why Marx glimpsed it very early, just as soon as he was able to start to conceive the principle of historical materialism, i.e. in his own estimation in the Preface to the Contribution, as early as 1843 in his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. The scientific reformulation of the content of the dialectic, on the other hand, which involves critically taking stock of the whole Hegelian dialectic in the light of scientific work and political struggle, represents an immense and in a sense infinite task. One must be on one’s guard against both the temptation to retain Hegelian categories insufficiently critically, which would lead to falling back partly into speculation — and against misunderstanding of the kernel of truth which they contain, i.e. from the theoretical point of view, regressing. It is this exceptionally difficult but important task which Marx undertakes and which one can follow from book to book, for example, in connection with the concept of the negation of the negation which he never stops going back to in the third of the 1844 Manuscripts in The German Ideology (in which he sets over against the Hegelian concept of ‘negative unity’, the speculative transcendence of of a contradiction, ‘the materially determined destruction of the preceding materially determined mode of life … with the the disappearance of which this contradiction together with its unity also disappears, in other words, a new concept of the negation of the negation, of surpassing), in The Poverty of Philosophy and the Manifesto (in which this new concept gets extensively developed), then the 1857-59 works and Capital, in which it plays an irreplaceable part.
Accordingly, from the actual point of view of elaborating the theory of concrete individuals, nothing is more important in the 1857 Introduction than the critique of speculative abstraction and the scientific theory of the essence and concept which are developed with unparalled depth after fifteen years reflection on problems of method. At the very outset Marx enters into criticism of what he calls the ‘eternalisation of historic relations of production’. He writes: ‘all epochs of production have certain common traits, common characteristics. Production in general is an abstraction, but a rational abstraction in so far as it really brings out and fixes the common element and thus saves us repetition’.
Taken in this sense, abstraction does not imply speculative mystification. But if one wishes to develop the content of this‘ production in general’, i.e. the general conditions of all production, ‘this reduces itself in fact to a few very simple characteristics, which are hammered out into flat tautologies’. As soon as one concretely examines production in historically determinate conditions, on the contrary, these traits common to all epochs give way to essential differences which one notes from one social formation to another: in place of the limited abstraction of production in general, always and everywhere the very same, we find the variety of branches and forms of production, the specificity of its occurrences depending on the social body to which it belongs. The terrain of preliminary abstractions must therefore be abandoned if we wish to work out a scientific representation of the concrete.
The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauungj and conception. Along the first path the full conception was evaporated to yield an abstract determination; along the second, the abstract determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought. In this way Hegel fell into the illusion of conceiving the real as the product of thought concentrating itself, probing its own depths, and unfolding itself out of itself, by itself, whereas the method of rising from the abstract to the concrete is only the way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind. But this is by no means process by which the concrete itself comes into being.
Thus the most fundamental theoretical error in handling abstraction the speculative error which bars every way to true science, is the one which consists in confusing the abstract generality, which is still only the purely external representation of things themselves, with the real essence, which directs their concrete movement, mistaking this abstract generality, the mere beginning of theoretical labour, for the objective point of departure, the actual basis of the real process. For example production in general is not on any score what develops and distinguishes itself in the real historical forms and stages of production; at most it is the designation of what appears to thought as remaining identical through these forms and stages. When bourgeois economists tell us this generality is the deepest essence of their object in their expositions on production in general, they therefore present production to us ‘as encased in eternal natural laws independent of history, at which opportunity bourgeois relations are then quietly smuggled in as the inviolable natural laws on which society in the abstract is founded. This is the more or less conscious purpose of the whole proceeding’. The essential feature of this mystification is ‘to confound or to extinguish all historic differences under general human laws’.
Here, at the end of what might first of all have appeared like a disgression, one can see how despite appearances, Marx’s epistemological and economic work in 1857 is far from having forgotten the critique of abstract man in The German Ideology : on the contrary, it is a deepening of it from the standpoint of its material base (political economy) as well as its intellectual base (epistemology). Marx writes: ‘To summarize: There are characteristics which all stages of production have in common, and which are established as general ones by the mind; but the so-called general preconditions of all production are nothing more than those abstract moments with which no prehistorical stage of production can be grasped’. Every word must be weighed in this statement, in which the whole Marxist critique of abstraction is crystallised. And for anyone who has really done so any accommodation of Marxism with a speculative humanism is necessarily over.
Another example shows this eloquently: the example of labour. As a matter of fact the central part in the 1844 Manuscripts is played by the labour and alienation of labour. But in what way? All phenomena which relate to it are considered as understood as soon as they can be presented as manifestations of the general alienation of human labour, i.e. in point of fact, amalgamated under an abstraction. But as the concept of alienation of labour in general is immediately suggestive of realities experienced in bourgeois society, for the good reason that it is basically nothing else than their abstract designation, the illusion is created that we have reached the concrete analysis of concrete reality by the short-circuit of philosophical abstraction. In actual fact, this is typically a case of the false concrete the mechanism of which is demonstrated by the Introduction, the false concrete in which the Box and Cox of empiricism and speculation still partially comes into play. The concept of alienated labour can therefore by no means play the part of point of departure, i.e. theoretical basis of the whole analysis which it had in the 1844 Manuscripts. On the contrary, it could appear at the very most as the result of the scientific investigation of all the determinations of capitalist economy. As a matter of fact Marx takes the example of labour up again in 1857 in the Introduction.
labour seems quite a simple category. The conception of labour in this general form — as labour as such — is also immeasurably old. Now it might seem that all that had been achieved thereby was to discover the abstract expression for the simplest and most ancient relation in which human beings — in whatever form of society — play the role of producers. This is correct in one respect. Not in another.
It is correct in the sense of a rational abstraction which effectively expresses an ensemble of determinations common to all forms of labour, determinations, moreover, which come down to very little. But is incorrect in the sense that ‘indifference towards any specific kind of labour presupposes a very developed totality of real kinds of labour, of which no single one is any longer predominant’.
Thus the category of labour in general, i.e. of indifferent labour, corresponds to a determinate stage of development of the productive forces. On the other hand, the reduction of all particular kinds of labour to the abstraction of labour in general, presupposes the full development of market production, capitalist society. Consequently,
the simplest abstraction, then, which modern economics places at the head of its discussions and which expresses an immeasurably ancient relation valid in all forms of society, nevertheless achieves practical truth as an abstraction only as a category of the most modern society. This example of labour shows strikingly how even the most abstract categories, despite their validity — precisely because of abstractedness — for all epochs, are nevertheless, in the specific character of this abstraction, themselves likewise a product of historic relations and possess their full validity only for and within these relations
Thus, not only are the abstract generalities far from immediately expressing the universal essence of their object, but, looking at it closely, the illusion they have of doing so is already proof of historical particularity. This is what the 7th Thesis on Feuerbach says very succinctly: not only does Feuerbach abstract from the course of history by reducing the real human being to an abstract individual but he also does not understand that ‘the abstract individual whom he analyses belongs in reality to a particular form of society’, bourgeois society. This theme is taken up again in the 1857 Introduction: ‘The epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual [bourgeois society of the eighteenth century, as he has stated a few lines earlier. L.S.] is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations’.
More generally, it is the 1857-59 works as a whole which, in connection with the most varied categories, develop the analysis of the epistemological conditions under which alone a non-speculative anthropology can be conceived: all its categories — individual, need, labour, etc. — taken separately as well as in their relations within the theory, are necessarily not abstract generalities but the conceptual expression of the historical movement, which presupposes their radical criticism and materialist transformation in relation to vulgar anthropological ideology.
But as a matter of fact Marx’s 1857-59 works are a further vivid proof that a non-speculative anthropology is possible once these conditions are respected, and that it is even necessarily implied in the development of historical materialism and scientific political economy it is impossible to become acquainted with them without being forcibly struck by the wealth and fullness of the analyses and insights that one continually finds respecting the historical development of individuals This wealth is undoubtedly even greater fundamentally than that in The German Ideology, although it bears on a much more limited um0 problems. In The German Ideology it is a question of passion an labour, artistic talent and need alike; in the 1857-59 works it is nothing else than a ‘psychology’ both presupposed and suggested in most immediate way by the analysis of economic relations. In it self transmutation is highly significant. In The German Ideology it is only the law of polemic which prompts Marx and Engels to pursue adversaries on the terrain of the most varied psychological questions including the discussion of Fourier’s psychology, it is also, it seems, the very understandable tendency to draw up at once the inventory of the totality of knowledge to which the completed material is the transformation of the human essence provides access in principle. It is a feverish delight in proving the fruitfulness of the new point of view in all ways at once. But the characteristic of this new point of view is precisely not to afford ‘a recipe or schema, as does philosophy, for neatly trimming the epochs of history. On the contrary, our difficulties being only when we set about the observation and the arrangement — the real depiction — of our historical material, whether of a past epoch or of the present’.
The inevitable inadequacy of Marx’s and Engels’ concrete knowledge at the time when they were writing The German Ideology had the effect that in spite of their scientificity in principle, which is the source of their profound value, many ‘psychological’ analyses, to refer here only to them, retain not only a conjectural but also a somewhat speculative character.
Ten years later, one can judge not only how Marx’s knowledge has developed, particularly in economic matters, but to what extent his rigour has hardened in bringing the new epistemology and its prohibitions into play. It is this rigour which goes so far as to make him forgo publishing in the first part of the Contribution in 1859, the 1857 Introduction, which contains among other things extremely profound analyses concerning the individual and need just as much as labour, since, he says, ‘on further consideration it seems to me confusing to anticipate results which still have to be substantiated’.
Thus, there are more developments related to individual existence in the Grundrisse and the Contribution than those which result strictly from economic analysis and proof. But what is lost in breadth is made up, and more, in depth. Or rather, in these 1857-59 works, at least for anyone who studies them in the light of what we can understand today of the problematic of the theory of personality, it begins to seem that the materialist inversion of speculative psychology gives birth not to a scientific psychology but, unquestionably, to a complex system of sciences and part-sciences having as their object the psychism of human individuals: a theoretical presentiment incredibly in advance of its time still that of ‘spiritual faculties’— and perhaps even partly of ours. In particular, it appears that irrespective of all so-called ‘psychology’, economic science has the duty and the means to constitute on its terrain a theory of the historical forms of individuality — forms of needs, Productive activity and consumption in their social determination; forms of individuality implied by social relations, for example, the hoarder, the free labourer, the capitalist; forms of contradictions in individual existence corresponding to these relations. And, at the same time, but in a much vaguer and negative way, it appears that this theory of general forms (in the historical sense of the word) of individuality, must not be confused with a theory of concrete individuality, a theory of personality which for all that, cannot be conceived outside its articulation with the former or on the other hand, with biological science. This asymmetry of the quite simple domain of speculative psychology and the complex field of the real sciences of individuals is perfectly consistent with the very essence of the materialist and scientific inversion, as has already been said. As early as 1843 Marx showed that ‘spirit’ is not the opposite of ‘matter’ it is only its ‘abstraction”: the setting right side up within a materialist science of their relations, which are inverted in ideology, cannot therefore assume the form of a symmetry, but rather the simplicity of the abstract generality is replaced by the complexity of concrete relations. This is not yet the place to analyse this complexity of the field of the sciences of human psychism in more depth. Let us merely say that it may finally convince anyone who might hesitate to consider the ‘1844 psychology’ as specious and sterile: this one fact alone discloses the still speculative character of an attempt which, on the basis of still abstract concepts on which it depends, was necessarily premature.
But let us look more closely at what the Grundrisse and the Contribution hold out for us in the matter of a science of real men. In the first place we find a many-sided proof of the fact that on the basis of historical materialism and of political economy, individuals and social relations, anthropological and economic concepts are absolutely indissociable. The conclusive point of this proof is that ‘society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand’.
In point of fact the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach already said that notwithstanding the ideological illusion, society is not composed of individuals, in other words, that individuals as social beings are not the primary elements of the social ‘body’; the human essence exists not in isolated individuals but in social relations. But precisely because it directly precludes all psychologisation of society, this conception implies the fundamental socialisation of individuals: far from playing the part of primary elements, individuals as social beings are ‘a product of history’.” It is therefore impossible to found a science of individuals on a different basis from the science of history. But it is equally impossible to found the science of history without at the same time founding the theory of the historical production of individuals. For the historical production of individuals is not a by-product which is, as it were, accidental from the point of view of history: it is integrated with it in multiple ways as an essential moment. The Grundrisse provides many examples of this integration. Generally there is no economic process or relation which does not call men into action, no economic concept, therefore which does not have an anthropological side. Thus ‘the main force of production (is) the human being himself’.’ Every development of the productive forces is at the same time the development of human capacities. In their turn the relations of production are basically nothing else than relations between men; not, of course, in the sense that men as social individuals pre-existed these relations — on the contrary, this is a complete speculative illusion — but in the sense that these pre-existing relations are the ones in which men necessarily enter into in production and in which they found their real life process, in the social sense of the term, determined in advance.
In this respect, the apparently sound idea that the objectivity of social relations as historical materialism conceives them rules out that it might be a case of relations between men, is actually based on the twofold error of misrecognising the objectivity to which the historical- materialist concept of man refers — from this point of view, is not theoretical anti humanism in part precisely the last, negative (in the non-dialectical sense of the word) avatar of the idealist reduction of the human subject to subjectivity? — and reciprocally misrecognising the fact that it is relations between men which constitute the real essence of relations between things. This twofold error is therefore nothing else than the ‘reifying’ illusion which in commodity production makes relations between individuals disappear behind the appearance of pure relations between things. In a society in which such a mode of production is dominant, exchange-value ‘is nothing more than the mutual relations between people’s productive activities’ [in which] individuals have alienated their own social relationship from them selves so that it takes the form of a thing’.
” The crude materialism of the economists who regard as the natural properties of things what are social relations of production among people, and qualities which things obtain because they are subsumed under these relations, is at the same time just as crude an idealism, even fetishism, since it imputes social relations to things as inherent characteristics, and thus mystifies them.”
In fact, Marx goes much further:
The product ion of capitalists and wage labourers is thus a chief product of capital’s realization process. Ordinary economics, which looks only at the things produced, forgets this completely. When objectified labour this process, at the same time posited as the worker’s non-objectivity, of the objectivity of a subjectivity antithetical to the worker, as property of a will alien to him, then capital is necessarily at the same time the capitalist …It is posited within the concept of capital that the objective conditions of labour — and these are its own product — take on a personality towards it, or, what is the same, that they are posited as the property personality alien to the worker. The concept of capital contains the capitalist.
Capital is not ‘a pure thing’ but ‘relation of production which reflected in itself, is precisely the capitalist. In view of such analyses it must be clearly stated that the assertion which one comes across here or there according to which there is no conceivable correspondence between social relations and men in Marx’s economic theory, is evidence of a really fundamental lack of understanding. The truth, on the contrary, is that every moment, every essential aspect of social relations directly involves men and determines an aspect, a moment in their life—process. Thus, to give another example, in so far as it is renewal of his labour-power, the personal consumption of the proletarian is immediately a moment in the capitalist reproduction process as a whole.
Because … his reproduction is itself a condition for capital, therefore the worker’s consumption also appears as the reproduction not of capital directly, but of the relations under which alone it is capital. Living labour capacity belongs just as much among capital’s conditions of existence as also do raw material and instrument. Thus it reproduces itself doubly, in its own form, (and) in the worker’s consumption, but only to the extent that it reproduces him as living labour capacity.’
One can see to what extent one would be mistaken about Marx’s thought were one to believe that his mature work gives a purely metaphorical meaning to the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach when it calls the human essence ‘in its reality’ the ensemble of social relations.’ Quite on the contrary, the Grundrisse establishes that it is ‘the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation stone of production and of wealth’ and that the ‘forces of production and social relations’ are ‘two different sides of the development of the social individual”; and Marx goes so far as to write: ‘the society itself, i.e. the human being itself in its social relations’. There can therefore be no lingering doubts about the fact that historical materialism is also directly scientific anthropology.
And the second aspect of what the 1857-59 works bring us in the matter of the science of real men is precisely an ensemble of collections of concrete indications concerning the bases of such an anthropology, an ensemble of materials for a theory of the historical forms of human individuality. Its principle is that the individual, in the developed social sense of the term, is a product of history: ‘human beings become individuals only through the process of history’.’ Consequently, all the categories through which one thinks individual life must be thought first of all by starting from the social relations which are its real basis. Take the category of need, for example. Not only are the forms which needs take and the modes of satisfying needs in individuals in any given social formation determined by it — an idea already formulated in the 1844 Manuscripts and to which the Marxist critique of the concept of need is often reduced — but, much more important still, their very essence appears as its product. Although this thesis was outlined in the 1844 Manuscripts in the partially speculative reflections on money, the Grundrisse here goes much further. In 1857-59 the investigation of the anthropological effects of money is taken up again by Marx scientifically.
Money is therefore not only an object, but is the object of greed [Bereicherungssucht}. It is essentially auri sacra fames [‘that accursed hunger of gold’, Virgil, Aenid, Bk. 3, line 571. Greed as such, as a particular form of the drive, i.e. as distinct from the craving for a particular kind of wealth, e.g. for clothes, weapons, jewels, women, wine etc., is only when general wealth, wealth as such, has become individualized in a particular thing, i.e. as soon as money is posited in its third quality. Money is therefore not only the object but also the fountain head of greed. The mania for possession is possible without money; but greed itself is the product of a definite social development, not natural as opposed to historical.
There is a remarkably penetrating view here on the deepest economy of the personality in a society dominated by money and which vulgar psychological ideology has no chance of ever reaching. The 1857-59 works abound in such valuable views not only on money and need but also on labour, personal freedom, the types of individuality produced by particular social relations, from the individual in the primitive commune to the modem capitalist and proletarian, passing through the roman citizen and medieval hoarder, and again, the forms of social consciousness which go with these types of relations. There is a huge amount of scientific materials here totally unused until now.
In the third place — and perhaps it is this that strikes the reader most because of the insistence with which Marx comes back to it — there is in addition to the above what I referred to earlier as the theory of the contradictions and conditions of the historical flowering of individuals, which in actual fact represents the surpassing of the theory of alienation. Marx’s approach is easy to understand: if it is that individuals are inseparable from social relations, the contradictions in the latter clearly determine the contradictory bases of the life processes of the former; but the historical movement which necessarily abolishes the contradictory form of real social relations also, at the same time, gives rise to social individuals freed from the corresponding contradictions. The 1844 theory of alienation has therefore by means disappeared without trace: it, too, has been inverted in the materialist and scientific sense defined above. Of course, it is not a movement of alienation and then of disalienation of the human essence as an abstract generality which constitutes the meaning of history; this speculative view of things disappeared for good as early as 1845-46. But, for all that, the reality that it was alluding to has by no means disappeared. One can say, rather, that it is enough to read the 1857-59 works without blinkers to see a new concept of alienation, asymmetrical with the previous one and thoroughly scientific, functioning there in the clearest possible way. All generalizing speculation aside, what is alienation from the strict point of view of the science of real men and their historical development? It is the fact that in society based on commodity production
the social character of activity, as well as the social form of the product, and the share of individuals in production here appear as something alien and objective, confronting the individuals, not as their relation to one another, but as their subordination to relations which subsist independently of them and which arise out of collisions between mutually indifferent individuals. The general exchange of activities and products, which has become a vital condition for each individual — their mutual interconnection — here appears as something alien to them, autonomous, as a thing.’
At first in money ‘that one finds the transformation of mutual relations into definite overwhelming social relations which subjugate individuals.’ But it has its most deep-seated origin in ‘the … process which divorced a mass of individuals from their previous relations to the objective conditions of labor, which were, in one way or another, affirmative, negated these relations, and thereby transformed these individuals into free workers’, therefore setting these objective conditions of labor over against individuals.’ It is because it drives this contradictory historical process through which the growth of the productive forces is achieved to an extreme, that capitalism produces the extreme form of alienation’.’ But the conditions of its destruction mature by the same historical necessity.
The barrier to capital is that this entire development proceeds in a contradictory way, and that the working-out of the productive forces, of general wealth, etc., knowledge, appears in such a way that the working individual alienates himself [sich entllussert]; relates to the conditions brought out of him by this labour as those not of his own but of an alien wealth and of his own poverty. But this antithetical form is itself fleeting, and produces the real conditions of its own suspension)
The cultivation of all the qualities of the social human being, production of the same in a form as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations — production of this being as the most total and universal possible social products, for in order to take gratification, in a many-sided way, he must be capable of many pleasures [genussfahig], hence cultured to a high degree — is likewise a condition of production founded on capital.”
The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange-value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis. [Hence] the free development of individualities .. . .In fact, however, when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces, etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity’s own nature? The absolute working-out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick ? 112
For anyone reading these stirring texts who recalls the passage in the 1844 Manuscripts in which Marx wrote that in communism ‘it will be seen how in place of the wealth and poverty of political economy come the rich human being and the rich human need. The rich human being is simultaneously the human being in need of a totality of human manifestations of life”, the continuity of subject — the absence of a break — is obvious. But in 1857 it is the real dialectic of forces and relations of production — concepts which were not even formulated in 1844 — rather than disalienation still conceived as an abstract necessity, which makes it possible to anticipate rationally, although not ethically, the future flowering of individuals: here also there is inversion
A mass of antithetical forms of the social unity, whose antithetical character can never be abolished through quiet metamorphosis. On the other hand, if we did not find concealed in society as it is the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations of exchange the prerequisite for a classless society, then all attempts to explode it would be quixotic”
It is not the mystical quality of the Hegelian negation of the negation, which in actual fact is fundamentally conservative, that will act midwife for the new society and at the same time for the new social man: it is the class struggle. None the less, this objective movement of history takes on the form of a negation of the negation in a new sense of the concept: the real destruction of a contradiction and, through that from a specific point of view, the recovery of the former unity on higher level.
Relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms, in which human productive capacity develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points. Personal independence founded on objective (sachlicher) dependence is the second great form, in which a system of general social metabolism, of universal relations, of all-round needs and universal capacities is formed for the first time. Free individuality, based on the universal development of individuals and on their subordination of their communal, social productivity as their social wealth, is the third stage. The second stage creates the conditions for the third. The most extreme form of alienation, wherein labour appears in the relation of capital and wage labour, and labour, productive activity appears in relation to its own conditions and its own product, is a necessary point of transition — and therefore already contains in itself, in a still only inverted form, turned on its head, the dissolution of all limited presuppositions of production, and moreover creates and produces the unconditional presuppositions of production, and therewith the full material conditions of the total, universal development of the productive forces of the individual.
Such is the overall perspective of the Marxist conception of man in 1857—59.
Ten years later we have Capital, the wealth of which from the point of view we are considering here, goes far beyond the limits of the short summary of it which it is possible to give here. Moreover, everything in it confirms what has just been seen in connection with the 1857- 59 works: it is unnecessary, therefore, to repeat it at length. If Marx is again moved forward during these ten years as far as method is concerned, it is in the direction indicated by the 1857 Introduction, the quintessence of which is taken up again in particular in the famous conclusion to the first chapter, The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secrets Thereof and in the Afterword to the second German edition. If one does not see this one runs the risk of making extraordinary misinterpretations of Capital. Let us take, for example, Part III of Volume One which deals with ‘The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value’. We are confronted here by one of the most key texts in the whole of Marxism. At first it may appear as if Marx bases his whole analysis on preliminary philosophical theses — in the old sense of the word.
We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realizes a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will.”
Let us assume that, for want of taking sufficient account of the theoretical revolution which occurred between the method of Capital and that of the 1844 Manuscripts, we say that Marx’s turn of phrase ‘we pre-suppose labour … ‘ has the (speculative) meaning ‘we pre- suppose labour (in general) as our theoretical basis …‘. Hoping, what’s more, to profit by the explicit support of Capital, we would then present the quintessence of Marxism as a ‘philosophy of man’ and his ‘creative labour’, i.e. as a speculative humanism.
Speculative, as a matter of fact, and in the first place, because by holding to this interpretation, by detaching this page from the five which immediately follow it and which together with it form an in dissociable whole, one arrives at the absurd result of making Marx endorse a characterization of specifically human labour by reference to ‘the aim which already exists ideally in the imagination’, in other words, by consciousness alone. In actual fact Marx immediately goes on to write, ‘The elementary factors of the labour process are 1). the personal activity of man, i.e. work itself, 2. the subject of that work, and 3. its instruments. And developing this third point in its turn, Marx writes in particular that ‘the use and fabrication of instruments of labour, although existing in the germ among certain species of animals, is specifically characteristic of the human labour-process, and Franklin therefore defines man as a tool-bearing animal’. In this way a materialist definition of the general concept of labour is stated which includes consciousness not as the specific essence but as a moment of a material whole. Detaching the page on consciousness from the analysis of the objective elements of the labour process, on the contrary, constitutes a gross idealist falsification of Marx’s conception .
It is also, more profoundly, speculative because the whole point this concept of human labour in general is that it can provide access of the very most to the analysis of the simplest and most abstract element of the labour process: the personal activity of man, the subject on which he works, and its instruments — all this in general. Marx devotes the first six pages of Part III (which contains five chapters and 126 pages) to this analysis. After which, he writes:
The labour-process, resolved as above into its simple elementary factors is the necessary condition for effecting exchange of matter between a man and Nature; it is the everlasting Nature-imposed condition of human existence, and therefore is independent of every social phase of that existence, or rather, is common to every such phase. It was, therefore, not necessary to represent our labourer in connection with other labourers; man and his labour on one side, Nature and its materials on the other, sufficed.
In other words, in these preliminary considerations this sufficed so long as it was still not a question of concretely understanding a determinate economic formation, hence also, determinate individuals. But in order to see this, it would be enough to try to give some account of capitalist exploitation by taking the abstract generality ‘creativelabour’ ‘conscious of its purpose’ as a ‘starting-point’. In actual fact in order to do this — i.e. in order to arrive at one of his most decisive discoveries, the secret of capitalist profit — Marx needed to take up again or successively elaborate a whole series of concepts which went further and further away from the empty simplicity of ‘labour in general’ — concrete labour and abstract labour, value of commodities, value of labour-power, surplus-value, constant capital and variable capital, rate of surplus-value, etc. — and finally he had to connect with an aspect of the concrete — the working-day, the workers’ struggles for the reduction of the working-day — but a concrete which this time is understood scientifically, as the effect of a large number of determinations.
It is therefore not the false concrete, in itself sterile, of human labour in general — which is not the real human essence — which ought to taken for the theoretical basis but, rather, the particular forms of social relations typical of capitalism. One can then understand in what sense Marx can write at the beginning of Part III ‘we pre-suppose labour …If one really wishes to make an effort to understand Marx, ‘we pre-suppose’ must clearly be taken not in the sense of theoretical basis but, on the contrary, simply in the sense of the start of the exposition. It is not by way of this that everything else can be understood but, on the it is what must be absolutely surpassed in order to understand anything at all. Moreover, Marx explicitly emphasizes this in his ‘Notes on Wagner’: ‘My analytic method, which does not start from Man but from the economically given period of society, has nothing in common with the German professional concept-linking method’.’
Thus it would be unfortunate to give such a text without qualifications as characteristic of what is most fundamental in Marxism. Not, of course, that it is false to say that man is in the first instance a being who works and who produces himself through labour. On the contrary, this is a great truth which by itself situates Marxism and suffices to distinguish it from many other general conceptions of man. But one has no more defined the specific essence of Marxism when one has said that, than one would have defined the specific essence of the dialectic by saying that it is a ‘theory of evolution’. It is necessary to go radically further than these abstract generalities which still convey nothing of the real content of Marxism and to which one can subscribe without at all being a Marxist. It must be said in relation to the problem we are considering that what defines Marxism is the inversion of the speculative relation between the human essence and social relations, with all the theoretical consequences which this leads to in the conception of real men. Failing which, ‘man’ and his ‘creative labour’ in general again become metaphysical entities or else mystical ideas.
Perhaps it will be found useful to cross-check these conclusions byway of analysis of a further, seemingly limited, but no less significant example. Unable as one would expect to give a coherent picture of Capital as a whole, the speculative-humanist interpretation of Marxism tries to dispel the confusion by wielding a few paragraphs, sentences and phrases which it has unearthed here or there in which it ecstatically finds the undiscoverable ‘proof’ that Marx is in agreement with it. And this is how, we are told, in a note in Chapter XXIV of Volume One, Marx wrote that one ‘must first deal with human nature in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical epoch.
This ‘human nature in general’ which one ‘must first deal with’ is likely to be presented to us, of course, as a weighty argument in favor of the interpretation of Marxism, and this regardless of the mass of texts which entirely contradict it — as if, in any case, whatever the meaning of this little phrase, which will be gone into, a line of a footnote could outweigh the glaring scientific consistency of the opposite meaning which leaves its stamp on 2000 pages of Capital and more broadly still on all of Marx’s and Engel’s work from 1845-46. But let us consider this curious line and its context a little — for in actual fact, what is presented to us as an independent aphorism is merely the main proposition circumstantial sentence itself included in a paragraph devoted to a criticism of Bentham. Bentham, says Marx, is a ‘genius in the way bourgeois stupidity’.
The principle of utility was no discovery of Bentham. He simply reproduced in his dull way what Helvetius and other Frenchmen had said with spirit in the 18th Century. To know what is useful for a dog One must study dog nature. This nature itself is not to be deduced from the principle of utility. Applying this to man, he that would criticize all human acts, movements, relations, etc., by the principle of utility, must first deal with human nature in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical epoch. Bentham makes short work of it. With the driest naivité he takes the modern shopkeeper, especially the English shopkeeper, as the normal man. Whatever is useful to this queer normal man, and to his world, is absolutely useful. This yard-measure, then, he applies to past, present and future.
Thus Marx’s biting criticism consists in showing that Bentham is not even able correctly to apply the method of analysis of the French i8th century materialist philosophers. It does not seem impermissible to expect a Marxist philosopher to recognise in this criticism a resumé of the long analyses in The German Ideology which Marx and Engels devoted precisely to the theory of utility in the philosophy of the Enlightenment and in particular to Helvetius and Holbach, as well as to its reduction to moralizing platitudes in Bentham.’ Reading these pages, which Marx clearly had in mind when he was writing this little note in Capital, leaves no room for doubt about his opinion on this question. In The German Ideology we read: ‘The apparent stupidity of merging all the manifold relationships of people in the one relation of usefulness, this apparently metaphysical abstraction arises from the fact that, in modem bourgeois society, all relations are subordinated in practice to the one abstract monetary-commercial relation’.
In other words, the utilitarian theory amounts to mistaking the bourgeois for man in general:
One sees at a glance that the category of ‘utilisation’ is first of all abstract from the actual relations of intercourse which I have with other people ( but by no means from reflection and mere will) and then these relations are made out to be the reality of the category that has been abstracted from them themselves, a wholly metaphysical method of procedure. In exactly the same way and with the same justification, Hegel depicted all relations relations of the objective spirit. Hence Holbach’s theory is the historically justified philosophical illusion about the bourgeoisie just then developing in France, whose thirst for exploitation could still be described as a thirst for the full development of individuals in conditions of intercourse freed from the old feudal fetters.’
In Bentham, this philosophical system gets an economic content, at the same time as the idealised man of the French thinkers becomes much more clearly bourgeois; in that way the philosophy of the Enlightenment becomes ‘a mere apologia for the existing state of affairs’. ‘This generality devoid of positive content, such as we find it in Helvetius and Holbach, is essentially different from the substantial comprehensive view which is first found in Bentham and Mill. The former corresponds to the struggling, still undeveloped bourgeoisie, the latter to the ruling, developed bourgeoisie’.’ Let us now go back to the note in Capital. Its meaning is clear:
He that would criticize all human acts, movements, relations, etc., by the principle of utility [in other words, he that wishes to argue like the French 18th philosophers by speculatively idealizing real relations] must first deal with human nature in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical epoch [in other words, in such a speculative attitude it is logically a question of presenting bourgeois social relations as corresponding to the requirements of the flowering of “human nature”]. Bentham makes short work of it. With the driest naivité [for he does not even understand the crucial theoretical function of the abstract idea of human nature in the philosophical theory which he takes up again on his Own account] he takes the modern shopkeeper … as the normal man.’
Now it is clear that the fragment of the sentence which philosophico- humanist prejudice imputes to Marx as an unanswerable statement of his scientific method in spite of the context, is really the summarized characterization of a typically speculative method, that of 18th Century bourgeois philosophy. The fact that in all peace of mind one can confuse in this way Marx’s method, which is the very soul of Marxism, with the entirely opposite one of which the whole of his work from 1845-46 constitutes a crushing refutation, appears to me to prove, with self-sufficient eloquence, the absolutely mistaken nature of the speculative humanist interpretation.
Does this mean to say that in his mature works Marx never makes his own use of the concept of human nature? Not at all. Leaving aside a few, exceedingly rare, cases in which the expression really has no meaning than ‘civilised man’, ‘socialised man’ in general with all that this implies, one often finds the noun nature or the adjective designating a very specific reality: the biological basis of all human existence considered independently of the effects which socialization produces on it. This is how The German Ideology places ‘natural bases’ at the starting point of all history, among which are ‘the physical organization of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature ‘,and the ‘needs arising directly from his human nature’. In the same way the Grundrisse describes the ‘working subject’ of pre-bourgeois societies as a ‘natural being’, all the more so because ‘the first objective condition of his labour appears] as nature, earth’ which is his ‘inorganic body’, just as he possesses an ‘organic body’.’ And it is in exactly the same spirit that Capital analyses, for example, the ‘natural wants’ which determine the value of labor-power” or the ‘physical maximum bounds of the working day’.’ But what it is absolutely essential to understand fully is that this human nature is precisely not the ‘human nature’ to which speculative humanism unceasingly refers, i.e. the ensemble of the manifestations of the life of man as a socially developed being; as the 1844 Manuscripts said in a turn of phrase in which the dialectic is still highly abstract but already extremely profound; ‘man is not merely a natural being: he is a human natural being … History is the true natural history of man (on which more later)’.
The whole of scientific anthropology turns on this point which Marx was the first really to understand. And his entire work is the reasoned development of it. The German Ideology already shows very clearly the principle of the process which, through the production by man of his means of subsistence, at the same time generates the production of new needs, ‘and this production of new needs is the first historical act’.’ Furthermore, one must not only understand by ‘new needs’ the fact that desires ‘existing under all conditions’ (natural basis) see ‘their form and direction [change] under different social conditions’, but also that others arise from them ‘originating in a particular social system under particular conditions of [production] and intercourse, which absolutely does not mean to say that they are ‘artificial’ (‘Artificial need is what the economist calls, firstly, the needs which arise out of t e social existence of the individual; secondly, those which do not from his naked existence as a natural object. This clearly shows the inner, desperate poverty which forms the basis of bourgeois wealth and its science” but that, on the contrary, they ‘have become second nature’. More generally, everything which is specifically human, in the developed social sense of the term, is a product of history and not a the al given, even ‘the advantage of an individual as such over other individuals or so-called ‘natural human affinity’. All the more reason ‘in order to modify the human organism, so that it may acquire and handiness in a given branch of industry’,’ is there need for an education which itself rests on all previous social development. Only the ideological illusion analyzed earlier could make the bourgeois thinkers of the 18th Century take the individual ‘as the Natural individual appropriate to their notion of human nature, not arising historically, but posited by nature’. This is the illusion of Malthus who
abstracts from these specific historic laws of the movement of population, which are indeed the history of the nature of humanity, the natural laws, but natural laws of humanity only at a specific historic development, with a development of the forces of production determined by humanity’s own process of history. Malthusian man, abstracted from historically determined man, exists only in his brain.’
One can therefore see to what extent the belief that Marx founded his analysis in Capital, to however small an extent, on the concept of ‘human nature’, in actual fact has nothing to do with what is most essential in Marxism. And one can understand once more why, in this respect, the underestimation of the revolution carried out by Marx and Engel’s in 1845—46 with regard to the 1844 Manuscripts, the central thesis of which concerning the fusion of naturalism and humanism in communism, humanism as consistent naturalism, is most deeply vitiated within itself at least by a speculative ambiguity, is always the sign of fundamental theoretical misinterpretations.
And yet it is no more correct to conclude that man disappears in Capital. What undoubtedly strikes anyone most who re-reads it in the light of the vital questions discussed here is first of all the unceasing demonstration, at once rigorous and impassioned, of the fundamentally inhuman nature of capitalism — in the concrete, historical sense of this adjective defined in The German Ideology. All those who have some knowledge of Marxism remember the texts: capitalism ‘attacks the individual at the very root of his life’,’ manifests ‘the vampire thirst for the living blood of labor, brings about ‘the most extravagant waste of individual development’’
Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social Productiveness of labor are brought about at the cost of the individual laborer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers; they mutilate the laborer into a fragment of a man, degrade -him to the level of an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant charm in his work and turn it into hated toil; they estrange from in intellectual potentialities of the labor-process in the same’ properties the science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labor process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they transform his life time into working-time and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels the Juggernaut of capital.
Can one imagine a more striking picture of the ‘alienation in which they [social relations} place the labourer vis-à-vis the means incorporating his labour, in a phrase from Capital itself, i.e. of the tendency of capitalist relations of production to subordinate to themselves the whole life of the concrete individual? Can one even avoid recognizing in passing many phrases which one has already come across in the 1844 Manuscripts? And, more broadly, how could one not understand that what is referred to in this page from Capital is the actual reality which was alluded to in the 1844 Manuscripts when, for example, Marx noted there:
According to the economic laws the estrangement of the worker in his object is expressed thus: the more the worker produces, the less he has to consume; the more values he creates, the more valueless, the more unworthy he becomes; the better formed his product, the more deformed becomes the worker; the more civilized his object, the more barbarous becomes the worker; the more powerful labor becomes, the more powerless becomes the worker; the more ingenious labor becomes, the less ingenious becomes the worker and the more he becomes nature’s servant.
But what in 1844 was merely an empirical investigation reduced without real analysis to the still speculative dialectic of alienation, in spite of the extraordinary brilliance of form and even the richness of most of the suggestions, in Capital became the really concrete result of a far-reaching scientific analysis which went as far as the discovery of the general law of capitalist accumulation.
It is advisable to be extremely careful here: the mistake of a speculative humanist interpretation is not, for example, to maintain that certain aspects of the reality expressed by the scientific theory of impoverishment — which includes a new concept of alienation were already recognized and formulated in 1844, for this is an indisputable fact. The mistake lies in not seeing that in 1844 this reality was not understood scientifically: its real basis remained unknown. Adequate concepts of it were not formulated. Therefore it could neither be explained as a whole nor for seen in its concrete forms. It could not serve as a starting-point either for a more complex process of knowledge or for definite organization of revolutionary action. In this sense one is therefore justified in saying that in spite of the external resemblance, it is no longer a case of the same reality in Capital. And from this point of view, like the comparison between texts on the atom in the works of the philosophers of antiquity and in contemporary science, the comparison suggested by the external resemblance of two texts like these, which do not separate twenty-five years of theoretical effort by Marx by chance, runs every risk of being an epistemological play on words. However — and through this one touches on the mistake of an anti-humanist interpretation in the positive sense — while it is not a case of the same theoretical reality, it is well and truly a case here of the same material reality in the last analysis. The concepts and theory of this reality have altered enormously; one can even say in certain respects they have altered beyond recognition. But it is certain that there are still elements in them which reflect real men, their conditions and their actual exploitation — not as a philosophical starting-point, of course, but as a scientific result.
This itself is such an obvious thing that one cannot avoid asking oneself how an erudite interpretation of Capital in an anti-humanist sense is actually possible. And is not the fact that it does exists the sign that, masked by its obviousness, the former analysis overlooks a vital confusion? The fact that there are theoretical elements in Capital — for example, the concepts of capitalist and of wage-labourer — the objective correspondents of which can be found at the level of real men, concrete individuals, is obvious — and in this sense some forms and certain formulations of the theoretical anti-humanist interpretation straight away appear as unacceptable. But is one entitled to assert conversely that real men, concrete individuals as such have their objectivity correspondents in the theory of Capital? One can see immediately that the question is quite different from the preceding one. It comes back to asking in what form and on what grounds real men intervene in Marxist economic science. This is the real problem. And to this problem the anti-humanist interpretation proposes the following answer: strictly speaking real men considered in themselves as persons have no place in the theory of Capital; they only figure in it as supports of economic relations.’ This means that in meeting its own particular requirements economic science carves out concepts of individuality — the capitalist the wage labourer — from the totality of real relations, Concepts which, being objective do of course reflect reality and therefore possess a correspondent among concrete individuals but which, on the theoretical level, are only articulated with other economic concepts unconnected with the form of individuality — for example surplus-value, rate of profit — and not with other concepts of individuality in order to constitute with them a theory of the concrete individual. The capitalist in question in Capital does not at all coincide with the person of this or that capitalist, although the person of this that capitalist empirically verifies what Capital tells us about capitalist. This is why, while it is not false to say as one did above that Capital refers to men according to such an interpretation, it is vital to understand and to argue intransigently that these men are not the concrete individuals of immediate experience, the subjects of vulgar psychology, the ‘real men’ of philosophical humanism; they are exclusively economic categories, bearers of economic functions divested of all other human ‘depth’. Failing to understand this one would inevitably finish up outside of science, outside of Marxism, in ideological illusion.
This view appears quite consistent with Marx’s numerous indications in Capital, beginning with the very well-known paragraph in the Preface to the First German Edition:
To prevent possible misunderstandings, a word. I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only insofar as they are the personification of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class-interests. My standpoint, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them
Marx takes up this idea again scores of times in Capital:
[The capitalist] as capitalist … is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital.’
Collective capital, i.e.. the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e. the working-class.
Except as personified capital, the capitalist has no historical value, and no right to historical existence … And so far only is the necessity for his own transitory existence implied in the transitory necessity for the capitalist mode of production.’
If… the proletarian is but a machine for the production of surplus value on the other hand, the capitalist is … only a machine for the conversion of this surplus-value.’
The capitalist is merely capital personified and functions in the process of production solely as the agent of capital.’ The principal agents of this mode of production, the capitalist and the wage-laborer, are as such merely embodiments, personifications of capital cid wage-labor; definite social characteristics stamped upon individuals by the process of social production; the product of these definite social production relations
Things therefore seem perfectly clear: in Capital, men — the capitalist, proletarian, etc. — are not at all concrete persons but abstract social persons’, simply social characteristics which the relations of production stamp on individuals. Moreover, this is strictly the theoretical result of the whole inversion demanded by the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach: if the human essence is not an abstraction inherent in isolated individuals but in its reality is identifiable with the ensemble of social relations, it is therefore not individuals as such who produce history. On the contrary, it is history which produces individuals. From this point of view, one cannot be too careful with regard to a turn of phrase which Marx and Engels often use from the 18th Brumaire to Ludwig Feuerbach according to which it is men who make history. Nothing is easier, one might say more tempting, than to make the same kind of misunderstanding about this formulation as the misunderstandings noted earlier concerning labour as the ‘starting-point’ or concerning ‘human nature’: here philosophical humanism finds another dreamed of opportunity to take the place of historical materialism. What does this statement really mean for Marxism? It is The Holy Family which supplies the answer here. As they say from the Foreward onwards, in this work in 1844 Marx and Engels attack spiritualism or speculative idealism ‘which substitutes “self- consciousness” or the “spirit” for the real individual man’. With this they start the critical work which was to be successfully concluded two years later with The German Ideology. Attacking the speculative conception of history, they write:
Once man is recognized as the essence, the basis of all human activity and situations, only ‘Criticism’ can invent new categories and transform man himself into a category and into the principle of a whole series of categories, as it is doing now. It is true that in so doing it takes the only road to salvation that has remained for frightened and persecuted theological inhumanity. History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘wages no battles’. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; ‘history’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man Pursuing his aims.
And further on: ‘Ideas can never lead beyond an old world order but only beyond the ideas of the old world order. Ideas cannot carry out anything at all. In order to carry out ideas men are needed who can exert practical force’.
In these 1844 texts one can see straight away the imprint speculative terminology and conception which are themselves still partly speculative: ‘man’ is described as ‘the essence of all human relations. This is before the Theses on Feuerbach and the inversion of philosophical humanism which founds historical materialism is still not completed. But the meaning of the critique is very clear and it materialist meaning. The idea that man makes history is not at all opposed to the vital materialist thesis according to which men are themselves products of history — this thesis was still not really formulated in 1844 — but clearly to the idealist thesis according to which history itself unfolds without real men as an autonomous movement of consciousness and ideas, abstraction made of its ‘basis’ i.e. in this case, ‘civil society”: thus reduced to an abstraction’‘ history does nothing’; it is real men who make history. The phrase ‘men make their own history’ always retained this materialist meaning in Marx and Engels while, on the other hand, it progressively lost its humanist ambiguity. The 3rd Thesis on Feuerbach objects to the (pre-Marxist) materialist doctrine ‘which holds that men are products of circumstances’ for forgetting that ‘it is men that change circumstances’,’ not at all, of course, in order to say with philosophical humanism that’ “Man” has made history’,’— on the contrary, this is what The German Ideology sharply takes exception to in Stirner — but in order to highlight the vitally important role of ‘revolutionary practice’. Moreover, The German Ideology comments unambiguously on this 3rd Thesis in saying that:
History does not end by being resolved into ‘self-consciousness’ as ‘spirit of the spirit’, but that in it at each stage there is found a material result: a sum of productive forces, a historically created relation of individuals to nature and to one another, which is handed down to each generation from its predecessor; a mass of productive forces, capital funds and conditions which, on the one hand, is indeed modified by the new generation, but also on the other prescribes for it its conditions of life and gives it a definite development, a special character. It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances.’
Forty years later Engels expresses himself no differently: ‘We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions’, so that ‘history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a natural process’.
Thus the men whom Marx and Engels say make history themselves through and through products of history and if they display initiative by revolutionizing social relations this is not by virtue of one does know what creative essence or transcendental freedom inherent in man, but because they are compelled to do it precisely by the contradictions in these social relations.
It is therefore a radical mistake to use the phrase: men make their own history against the thesis, repeated a hundred times in Capital, according to which the persons of which political economy speaks are the personification of economic categories, the support of social relations . This idealist type of mistake finds expression again in another related idea particularly dear to all speculative humanist interpretation of Marxism: the idea that men are not reducible to social relations. That individual5 in themselves are something else than social relations is, of course, an obvious fact: and one has seen that the 6th Thesis precisely identifies the ensemble of social relations not with the individual, which would be absurd, but with the human essence. In this sense, one would make a mistake fraught with consequences if, in the statements from Capital recalled above, one disregarded the vital little word: here, i.e. from the standpoint of political economy. ‘Here individuals are dealt with only insofar as they are the personification of economic categories” ‘the worker is here nothing more than personified labour- time’,” etc. The anti-humanist interpretation does not pay enough attention to this which, as we will see, leads it to another basic mistake. But this can not in the least justify the idea which philosophical humanism always seeks to convey in its formula: individuals are not reducible to social relations — and which is even its raison d’être; i.e. the idea that as far as what is most essential, most inward and most elevated in him, man is not the product of history but transcendent, that within his inmost being he is not determined, but only influenced, by the social relations in respect of which he possesses an essential freedom.
As early as The German Ideology Marx and Engels proved, in the strong sense of the word, that what ‘up till now has been called personal freedom’ for real men, is nothing else than the ‘right to the undisturbed enjoyment within certain conditions, of fortuity and chance”; that their emancipation from these conditions which determine them does not depend on their personal freedom ‘just as the weight of their bodies does not depend on their idealistic will or on their arbitrary decision”and that their actual liberation from them depends entirely on the revolutionary abolition of private property and the construction of communist society, the only society in which the original and free development of individuals ceases to be a mere phrase’.’
Likewise, in the Grundrisse, comparing individuals’ freedom in pre-capitalist and capitalist social forms, Marx writes that in the latter
since the single individual cannot strip away his personal definition, but may very well overcome and master external relations, his freedom seems to be greater in case 2. A closer examination of these external these conditions, shows, however, that it is impossible for the individuals of a class etc. to overcome them en masse without destroying them. A particular individual may by chance get on top of these relations but the mass of those under their rule cannot, since their mere existence expresses subordination, the necessary subordination of the mass of individuals.
And in its turn Capital repeats that in this domain, ‘freedom … only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their control instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature’.’ Furthermore, it must be clearly understood that even in such a society individuals have not acquired anything like a transcendent freedom with regard to objective social laws: ‘No natural laws car, be done away with. What can change in historically different circumstances is only the form in which these laws assert themselves’.’
Communism will transform objective social laws from external, coercive laws into collectively controlled laws: this is precisely what ‘the leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom” will consist of for humanity.
Thus opposing to the central Marxist thesis of the production of individuals in and by social relations the idea, which in a strict sense is correct, that individuals are not reducible to social relations and that it is men who make history, clearly indicates that one is playing on the sense of these phrases which the whole development of Marx’s and Engels’ work surely defined unequivocally, and that this game represents a refusal to accent the consistent totality of historical materialism in its strictest rigour. By once again distancing itself from mature Marxism in the direction of the works of the Young Marx and Feuerbach, one relapses into idealism. Once can see here in striking fashion the theoretical havoc produced by the apparently harmless tendency to replace the plural men, a plural which in actual fact registers the whole theoretical revolution carried out by Marx in the Theses in 1845, by the philosophical singular and abstract man. All the idealist illusions which Marx and Engels had so painstakingly, dispelled, from the question labour to that of freedom, comes rushing back through the breach of this uncriticised category. Taken in this ambiguous way the idea that men are not reducible to social relations is all the more grossly untrue because the tragic reality in capitalist society is that, given their real life process, the majority of individuals well and truly are reduce the something infinitely poor compared with the remarkable wealth of the ensemble of social relations. The whole problem is precisely to create the historical conditions in which every individual may succeed without external restraint in assimilating the wealth of the objective social heritage, and this class society is quite unable to do. In this sense the philosophical exaltation of man who is not reducible to social relations rests albeit unconsciously on an idealization of bourgeois relations
It is therefore certainly not in this way that one might manage to defeat the anti-humanist interpretation of Capital; this way of challenging the idea according to which men are merely the supports of social relations in Marxist economic theory is the best proof a contrario of its fundamental correctness. In Capital, the capitalist and the proletarian are not concrete persons but social characteristics stamped on individuals by the process of production; these are not psychological but economic categories — and through this one gets an indication of the extraordinary ambiguities which the notion of social psychology inevitably contains: the next chapter will come back to this at length. In emphasizing these points the anti-humanist interpretation is unquestionably right. It is no longer right when it concludes from this that the problem of individuality and place for an anthropology disappear. One has only to read Capital without making arbitrary breaks to perceive in it continually analyses that constitute what, in the economic works of 1857-59 already clearly appeared as a scientific theory of general historical forms of human individuality. Is it true, in this respect, that the concepts of capitalist or wage-labourer are only articulated on the theoretical level with concepts which have nothing to do with the form of individuality (value, surplus-value, rate of profit, etc.) and not with other concepts of individuality which together with them might constitute the bases of a theory of the concrete individual? No, this is not true. In Capital, just as in the Grundrisse and the Contribution, Marx systematically elaborates concepts like those of need, consumption labour and freedom, which are concepts of economic relations and individuality at one and the same time. While it should be emphasized that it is not at all a matter here of a psychology of personality encased goodness knows how in an economic theory developing on a totally different level, nevertheless Capital clearly does provide, in the sense outlined, an ensemble of scientifically consistent materials in which, in a way which remains to be clarified, a psychology of personality may ultimately find a theoretical foundation.
But there is more, a great deal more. For while it is perfectly true that in economic theory and from its standpoint men are only considered in principle as the supports of social relations, as abstract social persons, the individual as a whole none the less unceasingly appears on the margin of the analysis and many times in fact is partially integrated in it. This results from the really crucial fact that has already been pointed out, and the misrecognition of which in substance is the main the anti-humanist interpretation, that social relations are relations between men; not, of course, in the sense of pre-existing social individuals who, on the contrary, are entirely the result of social relations, but in the sense that the very substance of these relations is productive activity of men. Being a social activity, the productive activity of men is wholly governed by the objective dialectic of social relations — and in this sense, which is that of economic theory taken in itself, men only appear as supports of economic categories; but, on the other hand, being an activity of men, it also at once constitutes a fundamental aspect of their individual life-process. These are two sides of the same reality. Consequently it is impossible to trace the boundary of economic science without at the same time delineating that of the theory of the concrete individual, and in many cases, in fact, to analyse an economic relation thoroughly without outlining the analysis of a social individual life-process through which it is manifested. Without this in the least constituting the abandonment of mature Marxism’s demands for rigour (on the contrary, it is by virtue of these demands) economic science is led to produce not only the theory of the general forms of individuality but, as far as concerns what is within the limits of its own boundary, to outline the theory of the concrete individual; not only, now, the capitalist as an economic category but the whole concept of the individual person. Is it necessary to emphasize that a new concept is involved here, entirely independent from vulgar moral, psychological or philosophical ideologies, and directly articulated with economic science, historical materialism? It is because it fails to identify this new concept, the origin of which was surely already contained in germ in the 6th Thesis on Feuerbach, that the anti-humanist interpretation thinks it can discover relapses into philosophical anthropology throughout Capital: what it rejects as dross are actually the extraordinarily precious nuggets of a new science, the science of the individual — this temporally and still imprecise term will have to be reconsidered — which Marx did not develop but the site of which he identified.
It is in The German Ideology that this site appears distinctly for the first time, in particular in this page which is of the highest interest:
Individuals have always built on themselves, but naturally on themselves within their given historical conditions and relationships, not on the pure individual in the sense of the ideologists. But in the course of historical evolution, and precisely through the inevitable fact that within the division of labour social relationships take on an independent existence, there appeals a division within the life of each individual, in so far as it is peronal and in so far as it is determined by some branch of labour and the conditions pertaining to it. (We do not mean it to be understood from this that, for example, the rentier, the capitalist, etc., cease to be persons; but their personality is conditioned and determined by quite different class relations, and the division appears only in the opposition to another class and, for themselves, only when they go bankrupt.) In the estate (and even more in the tribe) this is as yet concealed: for instance, a nobleman always remains a nobleman, a commoner always a commoner, apart from his other relationships, a quality inseparable from his individuality. This division between the personal and the class individual, the accidental nature of the conditions of life for the individual, appears only with the emergence of the class, which is itself a product of the bourgeoisie. This accidental character is only engendered and developed by competition and the struggle of individuals among themselves.
In this analysis, which catches a glimpse of a whole new scientific world to be explored, one can clearly see how the concept of personal life, the personal individual, is strictly articulated with the historico-economic analysis in which it finds its starting-point, and how nevertheless it belongs not to the science of economic relations alone but to a possible science of the individual considered in himself.
And precisely for this reason one can fully understand that, however great the interest which he clearly showed in this second order of considerations in 1845—46, Marx was still led to devote himself to the first, not only because of the determinant political importance of economic science but furthermore because, from the theoretical standpoint itself, it is the key to every investigation into problems of the individual. From the standpoint we are adopting here, however, the main point is that while devoting himself to the critique and scientific elaboration of political economy, Marx by no means overlooked and still less rejected this other possible direction of research. In actual fact, whenever misses the opportunity to sketch in passing the connections which would enable one to take it up as I showed earlier. Thus, in the Grundrisse, which is the most important text for a correct and precise understanding of the historical connection between Capital and The German Ideology, one finds suggestions over and over again concerning the imbrication of the social individual and the personal individual; these must be carefully distinguished from the standpoint of political economy of course, but at the same time they cannot be separated in the overall movement of the analysis. Tackling the problems of the turnover of capital for example, Marx was led to note that,
the time a capitalist loses during exchange is as such not a deduction from labour time. He is a capitalist — i.e. representative of capital personified capital, only by virtue of the fact that he relates to labour as alien and appropriates and posits alien labour for himself. The costs of circulation therefore do not exist in so far as they take away the capitalist’s time. His time is posited as superfluous time: not-value-creating time, although it is capital which realizes the created value.
In one primary respect, such an analysis makes quite evident the rigorous distinction between the personal and the social individual, the concrete and the abstract person on which the whole of economic science as Marx develops it rests. From this point of view, he goes on,’ Circulation time — to the extent that it takes up the time of the capitalist as such — concerns us here exactly as much as the time he spends with his mistress … The capitalist absolutely does not concern us here except as capital’.
But this here is, at the same time, the reverse of an elsewhere, which naturally does not give rise here to scientific development in itself but which is briefly pointed out as it were on the margins of the analysis: ‘the capitalist’s necessary labour time is free time, not time required for direct subsistence. Since all free time is time for free development, the capitalist usurps the free time created by the workers for society, i.e. civilization’.
This observation makes it possible to speculate on what a scientific analysis of time would be in the individual life-process. And it proves to what extent Marx was aware that, as he wrote later, ‘the capitalist is not merely capital, so that if economic theory in the strict sense ought to regard him only as the support of economic relations, theory as a whole, as historical materialism founds it, is on the contrary, perfectly able to treat him as a personal individual.
[The] only subjects [of the direct production process] are the individuals, but individuals in mutual relationships, which they equally reproduce and produce anew. The constant process of their own movement, in ‘which they renew themselves even as they renew the world of wealth they create.
Not only have considerations of this kind not disappeared in Capital but, while being even more strictly subordinated there to what the economic analysis permits, they are deepened. This is the case, for example, in Parts II and III of Volume One, the core of which is constituted by the analysis of labour-power and surplus value, or in Chapter XXIV, Section 3, which analyses the relations between the Capitalist’s accumulating function and his personal consumption: for anyone who is not sworn beforehand to anti-humanist blindness, there is there an exceptionally interesting collection of remarks concerning the problems of the individual; it is misunderstanding these remarks which makes it possible to argue that a scientific theory of personality has no chance of being constituted. There is no point in quoting here by way of a down payment: to analyze these texts would be to begin straight away the very task of determining this theory, i.e. to perform here the work of the following chapters, whereas we are as yet still concerned to solidly establish its foundations. I shall restrict myself to pointing out, for example, how in three lines of a footnote Marx remarkably condenses entire pages of The German Ideology and the Grundrisse by transposing them into a fully scientific formulation and thereby provides a really central guideline to the theory of the individual: ‘the capitalist epoch is therefore characterized by this, that labour-power takes in the eyes of the labourer himself the form of a commodity which is his property; his labour consequently becomes wage-labour’.
It is this which also enables us to understand the undeniable presence in Capital of a thoroughly non-speculative concept and theory of human alienation.’ It is crystal clear, in fact, that if men only figured in Capital in the guise of economic categories then there could be no question of their alienation. On the other hand, in so far as they are also considered as concrete persons and personal individuals, however marginally, all economic processes can equally be read as individual life processes, and the historical development of society, including the phenomenon of alienation as a basic internal contradiction, as development of social man, as social anthropogenesis. Numerous passages in Capital leave no room for doubt that this is indeed the case. In particular, Marx often goes back to the analysis of the historical inversion which the development of exchange-value and then commodity production, reaching its highest point in capitalism, produced in the relations between needs and labour and between the concrete and the abstract individual.
It is, however, clear that in any given economic formation of society, where not the exchange-value but the use-value of the product predominates, surplus-labor will be limited by a given set of wants which may be greater or less and that here no boundless thirst for surplus-labor arises from the nature of the production itself. Hence in antiquity over-work becomes horrible only when the object is to obtain exchange-value in its specific independent money-form; in the production of gold and silver.Compulsary working to death is here the recognized form of over-work.
But capitalism drives this inversion, through which individuals are deprived of the most essential content of their life, to extreme. In Capitalism,
In it is self-evident that the labourer is nothing else, his whole life through, than labour-power, that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and law labour-time, to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital. Time for education, for intellectual development, for the fulfilling of social functions and for social intercourse, for the free-play of his bodily and mental activity, even the rest-time of Sunday (and that in a country of Sabbatarians!) — moonshine! But in its blind unrestrainable passion were-wolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh. air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the labouer as a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential.
In this extraordinary description, which is far from being the only one of its kind in Capital, one can see how little Marx hesitates to pursue his analysis beyond the frontier of strict economic categories, advancing onto the terrain of related processes of individual life. And he concludes:
It is not the normal maintenance of the labour-power which is to determine the limits of the working-day; it is the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory and painful it may be, which is to determine the limits of the laborer’s period of repose.
This inversion is a process characteristic of the individual’s alienation in such social relations. One meets it again at every important moment of the analysis. Thus the division of labour under manufacture,
converts the labourer into a crippled monstrosity, by forcing his detail dexterity at the expense of a world of productive capabilities and instincts ‘ just as in the States of Plata they butcher a whole beast for the sake of hide or his tallow. Not only is the detail work distributed to the different individuals, but the individual himself is made the automatic motor fractional operation, and the absurd fable of Menenius Agrippa,” makes man a mere fragment of his own body, becomes realized.
Moreover the capitalist too is subject to processes of alienation, of specific forms.
It must never be forgotten that the production of this surplus-value … is the immediate purpose and compelling motive of capitalist production. It will never do, therefore, to represent capitalist production as something which it is not, namely as production whose immediate purpose is enjoyment or the manufacture of the means of enjoyment for the capitalist
In this respect, one can sum up the alienating nature of capitalism by saying that ‘the aim of capital is not to minister to certain wants, but to produce profit.
In as much as this inversion is not clearly understood one can discover here, moreover, the origin of the illusion that economic theory in general is sworn by a kind of abstract epistemological necessity to regard men only as a support of its own relations: being wholly subordinated to the economic necessity in which he only intervenes as an abstract social person, the concrete individual falls outside the field of this science. But in actual fact a preeminently historical characteristic of the political economy of capitalism is involved here; to be precise, what is involved is the expression in epistemology of the concrete historical phenomenon of individuals’ alienation in capitalist relations. This is why Marx has a high opinion of Ricardo.
It is that which is held against him, it is his unconcern about ‘human beings’ and his having an eye solely for the development of the productive forces, whatever the cost in human beings and capital-values — it is precisely that which is the important thing about him.
The ‘humanism’ of vulgar bourgeois economy, on the contrary, is merely an insipid sweetening of the reality of capitalism. Only, at the same time as one rigorously differentiates abstract relations and concrete individuals on the terrain of the economy of capitalism, it is essential to bear in mind that in real historical development this distinction is neither eternal nor absolute, that behind their alienated form the relations between the abstract person and the concrete person none the less continue to exist and that therefore if, from the economic point of view itself it did not try to follow the objective movement which abolishes this alienated form and makes the development of individuals an end in itself, political economy itself would miss its own object, i.e. the bringing to light of the law of development of a given social organism and its replacement by another higher one.
This is what Marx adds immediately after his defense of Ricardo: Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historical task and justification of capital. This is just the way in which it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production’.
The characteristic of Marxist economic science is that it raises process which is achieved unconsciously to the level of consciousness. But this would be impossible in principle if, as antihumanist interpretation wishes, Marx did not allow himself interpret the process of social anthropogenesis which comes about at the same time as the development of capitalist relations, i.e. if he himself remained prisoner to the limits and dissociations which they involve. There is not the slightest sign of a relapse into speculative anthropology in Marx when over and over again he shows the necessity with which
modern industry, indeed, compels society, under penalty of death to replace the detail-worker of today … by the fully developed individual for a variety of labors, ready to face any change of production, and to whom the different social functions he performs, are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers.’
One may even think of asserting. that as it happens it is the antihumanist interpretation which does not succeed in breaking away from the speculative conception of the concrete individual — except possibly in the field pioneered by Freud — and which because of this does not succeed either in recognizing in Capital, the elements of a non-speculative theory of the individual without which, however, the whole coherence of Marx’s work remains unintelligible — a coherence which one passage, among others, already quoted from Theories of Surplus Value sums up and which says everything.
Although at first the development of the capacities of the human species takes place at the cost of the majority of human individuals and even classes, in the end it breaks through this contradiction and coincides with the development of the individual; the higher development of individuality is thus only achieved by a historical process during which individuals are sacrificed.’