Iring Fetscher, “The young and the old Marx” (1970)

I. Introduction to the problem

In the old European So­cial Demo­crat­ic parties, Karl Marx was honored as a great eco­nom­ist, as the writer of Cap­it­al, a book in­ten­ded to prove the in­ev­it­able de­cline of the cap­it­al­ist­ic sys­tem with sci­entif­ic rig­or. In the per­spect­ive of Len­in’s in­ter­pret­a­tion of Marx­ism and the activ­it­ies of the Com­mun­ist In­ter­na­tion­al, Marx ap­peared to be first of all a polit­ic­al thinker who taught the work­ing class to cre­ate its own or­gan­iz­a­tion as a basis for the seizure of polit­ic­al power. Un­der this per­spect­ive, the Cri­tique of the Gotha Pro­gram was praised as one of Marx’s most im­port­ant con­tri­bu­tions. However, in the de­vel­op­ment of the com­mun­ist Weltan­schauung of the So­cial­ist and Com­mun­ist parties, Friedrich En­gels and even Joseph Di­et­z­gen were far more sig­ni­fic­ant and in­flu­en­tial than Marx him­self.

In part this view res­ults be­cause the young Marx, that is, Marx the philo­soph­er, was al­most un­known and ab­so­lutely neg­lected un­til the pub­lic­a­tions of Karl Korsch and Georg Lukács in 1923. The early writ­ings of Marx, known to some ex­perts, were held to be bril­liant but not genu­inely Marx­ist, and as such they were at best be­lieved to be sig­ni­fic­ant for our eval­u­ation of the gen­es­is, not for the un­der­stand­ing, of Marx’s ma­ture works. In this re­spect, the words with which Mehring in his 1918 bio­graphy of Marx ended the chapter on his early writ­ings are char­ac­ter­ist­ic of the then-pre­vail­ing ap­pre­ci­ation of the young Marx:

Thus in shad­owy con­tours we ob­serve an out­line of so­cial­ist so­ci­ety be­gin­ning to form. In the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, Marx is still plow­ing the philo­soph­ic field, but in the fur­rows turned over by his crit­ic­al plow­share the first shoots of the ma­ter­i­al­ist con­cep­tion of his tory began to sprout, and un­der the warm sun of French civil­iz­a­tion they soon began to flower.1

Con­sequently, the philo­soph­ic­al writ­ings of Marx were un­der­stood as the first steps to­ward a sci­entif­ic meth­od of his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism that ob­vi­ously was not con­sidered to be a philo­sophy, and thus Marx’s early writ­ings were in­ev­it­ably con­sidered “im­ma­ture” where­as even the pub­lic­a­tions of a so­cial­ist as the­or­et­ic­ally feeble as Kaut­sky were taken to be far-reach­ing ap­plic­a­tions of the sup­posedly sci­entif­ic meth­od in­aug­ur­ated by Marx.

Karl Korsch and Georg Lukács had grown up in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent in­tel­lec­tu­al cli­mate. They not only knew the neo-Kan­tian the­ory of know­ledge but also Hegel’s philo­sophy; moreover, Lukács was fa­mil­i­ar with the prob­lems of the dif­fer­en­ti­ation between the nat­ur­al sci­ences on the one side and the hu­man­it­ies and the so­cial sci­ences on the oth­er through his early con­tacts with such out­stand­ing rep­res­ent­at­ives of neo-Kan­tian­ism as Emil Lask and Max Weber. The lo­gic of in­quiry with­in these dis­cip­lines could no longer be con­ceived of as a uni­ver­sally ap­plic­able the­ory, and con­sequently dif­fer­ence between caus­al and/or func­tion­al ana­lys­is on the one hand and the in­ter­pret­a­tion of cul­tur­al phe­nom­ena in their com­plete to­tal­ity [Sin­nver­stehen] on the oth­er was, from now on, held to be fun­da­ment­al. Wil­helm Dilthey, no less than Max Weber, be­longed to the great in­spir­ing mas­ters. Con­sequently, Lukács and Korsch, il­lu­min­ated by the ideas of this most re­cent epoch of the his­tory of Ger­man philo­sophy and with the in­ten­tion of help­ing the re­volu­tion­ary con­scious­ness to an ad­equate and deep­er un­der­stand­ing of its own con­tem­por­ary status, went back to Hegel and the young Marx, al­though they did not and could not know all early writ­ings of Marx of that time.

The re­proaches against Lukács and Korsch from the side of the so­cial demo­crat­ic and com­mun­ist or­tho­dox writers were raised as a de­fense. Not only was the older in­ter­pret­a­tion of Marx’s the­ory as an eco­nom­ic the­ory threatened, so also was a gen­er­al meth­od of his­tor­ic­al in­vest­ig­a­tion. Lukács and Korsch in­sinu­ated that Marx had cast the prob­lems of the bour­geois philo­sophy in­to a more ad­equate mold with deep­er un­der­stand­ing than could have been achieved by the bour­geois philo­soph­ers them­selves and on a new basis which def­in­itely opened a way for fi­nal solu­tion. To the ideo­logues of the So­cial Demo­crat­ic and Com­mun­ist parties, it still ap­peared ne­ces­sary to em­phas­ize the rad­ic­al dif­fer­ence between the bour­geois and the pro­let­ari­an re­volu­tion on the one hand, and the two Weltan­schauun­gen on the oth­er hand. Lukács, and later on Max Horkheimer, Wal­ter Ben­jamin, Her­bert Mar­cuse, and Theodor Ad­orno even thought that to stress the con­tinu­ity of the bour­geois and the re­volu­tion­ary move­ments was most im­port­ant be­cause of the fact that the Ger­man and Itali­an bour­geois­ie were in the age of fas­cism about to be­tray the ideals of their own past. They en­deavored to show to the bour­geois in­tel­lec­tu­als the gulf between the lib­er­al prin­ciples and hu­man­it­ari­an as­pir­a­tions of the early bour­geois­ie and the mean­ing and scope of the mod­ern bar­bar­i­an­ism which grew out, as they thought, of the ant­ag­on­ism of con­tem­por­ary cap­it­al­ist so­ci­ety and led to fas­cism.

Both the dangers of fas­cism and the re­apprais­al of Hegel’s philo­sophy led to a new in­ter­pret­a­tion of Marx’s early writ­ings. Hu­man­ism, a genu­ine con­stitu­ent of Marx’s early works, could no longer be taken for gran­ted. It was neg­ated in prac­tice and dis­avowed in the­ory by the fas­cist move­ments as well as Sta­lin­ism. Thus the time was ob­vi­ously ripe to win the young Marx as an ally in the fight against these forms of rising bar­bar­ism.

This in turn ne­ces­sit­ated re­apprais­al of Hegel’s philo­sophy. There­fore the au­thors just men­tioned set out to fight against the myth of Hegel as the Prus­si­an state philo­soph­er. They took up an is­sue with which Marx and En­gels had already dealt but which had again be­come ac­cen­tu­ated by the mys­ti­fic­a­tion of Hegel in works like those of Kuno Fisc­her and oth­er au­thors of im­per­i­al Ger­many.

While the rep­res­ent­at­ives of pos­it­iv­ist neo­lib­er­al­ism de­nounced Hegel (and with him Rousseau and oth­er mod­ern philo­soph­ers of demo­cracy), these au­thors em­phas­ized the per­spica­city with which Hegel had an­ti­cip­ated the pit­falls and in­con­sist­en­cies of the lib­er­al so­ci­ety and its ele­ment­ary dy­nam­ics and with which he already had seen through the lib­er­al for­mu­la­tion of the rights of man.

The in­ter­pret­a­tion of Marx’s early writ­ings, of course, de­pended to a great ex­tent on the eval­u­ation of the bour­geois philo­soph­ic­al tra­di­tion. Where­as Lukács and Korsch in­ter­preted Marx’s in­ten­tions as an at­tempt to solve by a rad­ic­al the­ory and re­volu­tion­ary prax­is the prob­lems with which the bour­geois philo­sophy could not come to grips, Marx was, ac­cord­ing to the doc­trines of so­cial demo­crats and com­mun­ists, the founder of a sci­entif­ic pro­let­ari­an Weltan­schauung that they con­tras­ted em­phat­ic­ally with the Weltan­schauung of the bour­geois­ie. Be­cause both polit­ic­al move­ments, So­cial Demo­cracy and Com­mun­ism, in­ten­ded to cre­ate their own Weltan­schauung — each of course with a spe­cif­ic char­ac­ter — they had to stress the dif­fer­ence between Hegel and the young Marx on the one hand and the old Marx on the oth­er; and con­sequently, both had to de-em­phas­ize Marx’s early writ­ings. To the ideo­logues of Sta­lin­ism, the dis­cus­sion of and the ref­er­ences to the young Marx were in­ex­pedi­ent be­cause Marx in his early writ­ings spoke of the pro­let­ari­an re­volu­tion and so­cial­ism as a means for the real­iz­a­tion of a genu­inely hu­man so­ci­ety and not as ab­so­lute and dog­mat­ic stand­ards. The new So­viet so­ci­ety, labeled so­cial­ist by its own ideo­logues, was threatened to be ex­posed to cri­ti­cism based on the char­ac­ter­ist­ics Marx at­trib­uted to a truly “hu­man so­ci­ety.” This con­cep­tion ob­vi­ously and def­in­itely stood, among oth­er things, in sharp con­trast to the con­cep­tion of the state and law as it was propag­ated by the Sta­lin­ist or­tho­dox writers.

In the light of the motives I have just men­tioned, which func­tioned as an im­ped­i­ment to the in­cor­por­a­tion of the young Marx in­to the the­or­ies and doc­trines of the labor move­ment, the rather late and first pub­lic­a­tion of the im­port­ant parts of his early writ­ings, above all the Philo­soph­ic and Eco­nom­ic Manuscripts and the Ger­man Ideo­logy (both first pub­lished in 1932), was less rel­ev­ant. One should not for­get that some of the early writ­ings, like Marx’s con­tri­bu­tion to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher were pre­vi­ously known and that lead­ing so­cial demo­crats were well-in­formed about Marx’s lit­er­ary be­quest without press­ing for pub­lic­a­tion. Not un­til re­cently were there signs of a re­apprais­al of the young Marx in the “so­cial­ist” states — a re­apprais­al which was triggered, however, as Adam Schaff once re­marked, by the in­tens­ive re­search and stud­ies of West­ern schol­ars. Moreover, it seems to me that the achieved status of the So­viet so­ci­ety and the per­spect­ives of as well as the plan­ning for a trans­ition to a “real” com­mun­ist so­ci­ety nowadays also fa­vor a frank con­front­a­tion with the young Marx. The dis­par­ity between con­tem­por­ary so­cial­ist states and Marx’s con­cep­tion of a real hu­man so­ci­ety can be more eas­ily de­scribed today as the dis­tance between the so­cial­ist phase and the ter­min­al com­mun­ist stage of the trans­ition. This now sounds more cred­ible than at an early stage of the move­ment ori­gin­ated by Marx; at that point this trans­ition was still so far re­moved in time that the dis­tance between so­cial­ism and com­mun­ism would have been con­sidered only as a con­trast.

Un­doubtedly we should also con­sider the fact that the misery in which the work­ing class had to live for dec­ades in cap­it­al­ist so­ci­et­ies was, by and large, done away with by the de­vel­op­ment of mod­ern tech­niques and by the polit­ic­al and so­cial in­ter­ven­tions of the state, so that the more subtle and more crit­ic­al ar­gu­ments of the young Marx, after hav­ing been used by the New Left, were wel­comed as an en­rich­ment to the po­lem­ic­al ar­sen­al of the Com­mun­ist parties as well.

II. The meaning of Marx’s early writings for an interpretation of the critique of political economy

The his­tor­ic­al dis­tance which sep­ar­ates the present from the polit­ic­al, so­cial, and eco­nom­ic prob­lems char­ac­ter­ist­ic of Marx’s time has grown so great that we are at least able to come to grips with his crit­ic­al the­ory as a whole. I do not think that this is due to its ob­sol­es­cence or out­dated­ness. Rather, I be­lieve that Marx’s the­ory was worn out by the vari­ous kinds of in­ter­pret­a­tion which were placed on parts, rather than on the whole, of his the­or­et­ic­al frame­work. It seems to me, then, that, as a con­sequence, the ap­pre­ci­ation of the whole of Marx’s writ­ings was best and most suc­cess­fully provided in those cases where in­di­vidu­al crit­ic­al schol­ars — without a close party af­fil­i­ation and, there­fore, without any total al­le­gi­ance to an ideo­lo­gic­al body of doc­trine — turned to Marx. The in­sight, by the way, that in­de­pend­ence from or­gan­iz­a­tions and parties is an in­dis­pens­able pre­con­di­tion for any genu­inely sci­entif­ic work was re­it­er­ated many times by En­gels, for ex­ample, in a let­ter to Au­gust Bebel (April 1, 1891) where he wrote: “You, with­in the party, need the so­cial­ist sci­ence, and this sci­ence can­not prosper without liberty.”

The grasp­ing of the mean­ing of Marx’s the­ory as a whole with all of its com­plex­it­ies and prob­lems has been im­peded, among oth­er things, by the fact that his meth­od was re­duced to “his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism” and that his­tor­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism was con­ceived of as a par­tic­u­lar case of the ap­plic­a­tion of so-called “dia­lect­ic­al ma­ter­i­al­ism.” The mere in­clu­sion of Marx’s crit­ic­al the­ory in­to a com­pre­hens­ive and al­legedly sci­entif­ic Weltan­schauung made an ad­equate un­der­stand­ing of all its com­plex­it­ies im­possible. Isol­ated ele­ments of Marx’s the­ory were in­teg­rated in­to the sys­tem of a sup­posedly glob­al ma­ter­i­al­ist­ic Weltan­schauung at the very time that Marx­ist in­tel­lec­tu­als were in­teg­rated in­to a hier­arch­ic­ally struc­tured party ma­chine which be­came more pet­ri­fied the farther the time of re­volu­tion­ary trans­ition was left be­hind and the more the move­ment changed in­to a new sys­tem of dom­in­a­tion. Adam Schaff al­luded to these con­tin­gen­cies when he wrote that the epoch of the per­son­al­ity cult had pre­ven­ted many in­tel­lec­tu­als from ad­equately ap­pre­ci­at­ing Marx’s early writ­ings.

After these in­tro­duct­ory re­marks, let me get down to the sub­stance of the prob­lem and al­low me first to state a thes­is which I shall try to prove dur­ing the re­mainder of my es­say. As in the works of most great thinkers, one unique and cent­ral is­sue can be traced through the whole of Marx’s work, that is, in his sci­entif­ic in­vest­ig­a­tions and his in­struc­tions for prax­is, one fun­da­ment­al prob­lem was up­per­most dur­ing all his life­time. The cent­ral prob­lem is the ques­tion: How did it hap­pen that the bour­geois re­volu­tion did not achieve its pro­claimed aims, and why, des­pite form­ally leg­al­ized freedoms, in­di­vidu­als came, in the course of the di­vi­sion of labor and mod­ern mar­ket mech­an­ism, to be dom­in­ated by so­cial pro­cesses which pre­vailed be­hind their backs and pre­ven­ted every­body from achiev­ing a status of hu­man­ity which could have been real­ized in the light of the wealth of the so­ci­ety that already ex­is­ted?

Marx’s cent­ral and most im­port­ant in­sight was that this new de­pend­ence was not the con­sequence of the bad in­ten­tions of in­di­vidu­als or of a par­tic­u­lar so­cial group, but rather the in­ev­it­able im­plic­a­tion of a spe­cif­ic so­cioeco­nom­ic struc­ture. More spe­cific­ally his task con­sisted, first, in the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of a so­cial class, which more than any oth­er had to be in­ter­ested in the trans­form­a­tion of this eco­nom­ic struc­ture; secondly, in fur­nish­ing an ir­re­fut­able proof that the dy­nam­ics of the con­tem­por­ary so­ci­ety made this trans­form­a­tion in­creas­ingly easi­er even if one sup­posed that the minor­it­ies pos­sess­ing in­terests in the per­petu­ation of the pre­vail­ing or­der would res­ist any re­or­gan­iz­a­tion of so­ci­ety. The smal­ler the priv­ileged class, the great­er is its in­terest in the con­ceal­ment of the real so­cial con­di­tions and the less val­id is the “bour­geois eco­nom­ics” which, in its “hero­ic” early phase, had even once ad­vanced a rudi­ment­ary cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy on which Marx could build up his own the­ory.

With these re­marks I am try­ing to in­dic­ate the pos­sib­il­ity of an in­ter­pret­a­tion that en­com­passes Marx’s writ­ings as a whole; up to this time that in­her­ent unity of his work has not been proved. I in­tend to do this by dis­cuss­ing the crit­ic­al cat­egor­ies that Marx de­veloped in the Philo­soph­ic and Eco­nom­ic Manuscripts and in his note­book of the mid-forties and by show­ing that these cat­egor­ies are still the basis of the cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy in Grundrisse der Kritik der Polit­ischen Ökonomie (1857-1858) as well as in Cap­it­al (1867) and were nev­er dis­avowed by the old Marx.

In oth­er words, I in­tend to show that an in­ter­pret­a­tion of the early writ­ings not only helps us to re­cog­nize the motives which led Marx to write a cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy [Cap­it­al] but also, in ad­di­tion, that the cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy im­pli­citly and, in part, even ex­pli­citly, still con­tains that same cri­tique of ali­en­a­tion and re­ific­a­tion which was the very top­ic of his early writ­ings.

1. Ali­en­a­tion and re­ific­a­tion in the works of 1844

The manuscripts of 1844 had, by and large, been planned as a cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy. In his in­tro­duc­tion Marx wrote that he wanted to pub­lish suc­cess­ively bro­chures con­tain­ing his cri­tiques of law, eth­ics, polit­ics, and so forth, and that he in­ten­ded fi­nally to ap­proach the whole sub­ject once again in a sep­ar­ate work.2

The start­ing point in this first at­tempt at a cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy was the crit­ic­al study of the “polit­ic­al eco­nomy” to which Marx was led mainly by En­gels “Out­lines.” As for the meth­od to be used, Marx re­ferred here (as in the in­tro­duc­tion to his “Cri­tique of the Hegel­i­an Philo­sophy of Right”) to Lud­wig Feuerbach; moreover, an ex­pli­cit ref­er­ence to Hegel’s Phe­nomen­o­logy of Spir­it evid­ences an in­flu­ence which can be traced even to the point of the manuscripts’ whole lit­er­al for­mu­la­tions.

“Cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy” at this time and later al­ways meant first a cri­tique of the cap­it­al­ist eco­nomy ac­cep­ted as ab­so­lutely ra­tion­al by bour­geois eco­nom­ists and secondly, a cri­tique of the cor­res­pond­ing the­or­et­ic­al self-con­scious­ness. In Marx’s mind, this cri­tique did not first of all and ex­clus­ively lead to a mor­al con­dem­na­tion in the name of some ab­so­lute eth­ic­al norms. Rather, it was in­ten­ded as proof of the de­fi­cien­cies of the cap­it­al­ist and all pre­ced­ing modes of pro­duc­tion, meas­ured against and based on the stand­ards of a truly hu­man so­ci­ety, which had now ob­ject­ively be­come pos­sible be­cause of the sci­entif­ic and tech­no­lo­gic­al know­ledge and wealth that the most de­veloped na­tions had se­cured. Marx praised the his­tor­ic­al achieve­ments of cap­it­al­ism for its su­peri­or­ity over all pre­ced­ing modes of pro­duc­tion and to a cor­res­pond­ing ex­tent cri­ti­cized its lim­it­a­tions, the ob­struc­tion of fur­ther hu­man pro­gress.

The early writ­ings stress the lim­it­a­tions, the re­pres­sions, the in­hu­man­ity, and the short­com­ings of cap­it­al­ism much more than any ap­pre­ci­ation of its achieve­ments, it is true. But it would be com­pletely wrong to in­sinu­ate that in 1844 Marx rad­ic­ally and ahis­tor­ic­ally con­demned cap­it­al­ism. As the main de­fi­ciency of the the­or­et­ic­al self-con­scious­ness of the bour­geois­ie, Marx con­sidered its in­ab­il­ity to grasp that cap­it­al­ism was a phe­nomen­on that had grown out of his­tory and, con­sequently, was a re­l­at­ive and sur­mount­able mode of pro­duc­tion.

Polit­ic­al eco­nomy starts from the fact of private prop­erty but it does not ex­plain it to us. It con­ceives the ma­ter­i­al pro­cess of private prop­erty in ab­stract and gen­er­al terms… which then serve it as laws. It does not com­pre­hend these laws.3

That is to say, the bour­geois polit­ic­al eco­nomy did not un­der­stand that these al­legedly nat­ur­al laws grew out of spe­cif­ic so­cial re­la­tions of both pro­duc­tion and prop­erty and that these “laws” only re­flect hu­man re­la­tion­ships which con­sti­tuted them­selves as quasi-ob­ject­ive and in­de­pend­ent pat­terns, vis-à-vis and op­pos­ite to the in­ter­act­ing in­di­vidu­als.

In the manuscripts of 1844 Marx searched “for the es­sen­tial con­nec­tion between private prop­erty, av­arice, the sep­ar­a­tion of labor cap­it­al and landed prop­erty, ex­change and com­pet­i­tion, value’’ and the de­valu­ation of man, that is, between this whole ali­en­a­tion and the money sys­tem.”4 In this con­text, “money eco­nomy” stands as a meta­phor for cap­it­al­ism in which products (and even in­di­vidu­als) are de­graded to the cat­egory of pure com­mod­it­ies, the value of which is totally dis­tinct and finds its most com­plete ex­pres­sion in money (and its more and more ab­stract forms to the very cred­it sys­tem). As you may re­mem­ber, Marx be­gins his dis­cus­sion with the fam­ous de­scrip­tion of ali­en­ated labor, and he pro­ceeds in four steps; moreover, he refers to the same phe­nom­ena un­der vari­ous per­spect­ives.

The ali­en­a­tion of the laborer from the product of his activ­it­ies leads to a con­sol­id­a­tion of the product as an in­de­pend­ent power; as a res­ult this means that:

The work­er be­comes all the poorer the more wealth he pro­duces and the more his pro­duc­tion in­creases in power and range. The work­er be­comes an ever cheap­er com­mod­ity the more goods he cre­ates. The de­valu­ation of the hu­man world in­creases in dir­ect re­la­tion with the in­crease in value of the world of things.5

Hegel’s con­cep­tion of the hu­man­iz­a­tion of man through a cre­at­ive trans­form­a­tion of nature by work stands be­hind this de­scrip­tion. Un­like the an­im­al, man must be­come what he can be through labor. As an en­tity with only po­ten­tial fac­ulties, he can come to self-con­scious­ness and to a con­scious re­la­tion­ship with all oth­er men only through an ob­jec­ti­fic­a­tion of his powers. But this pro­cess, which is the more evid­ent the more per­fect man’s dom­in­a­tion over nature be­comes, leads to ali­en­a­tion as soon as the ob­jects cre­ated by man stand “ali­en and hos­tile,” or in op­pos­i­tion to its cre­at­ors and as soon as the ob­jects are sub­ject to their own pat­terns of be­ha­vi­or and “coldly” dis­reg­ard the hopes, wishes, and as­pir­a­tions of the in­di­vidu­als.

The ali­en­a­tion of the work­er from his product, from the per­spect­ive of the work­ing class, ap­pears as an ali­en­a­tion of the pro­duct­ive and cre­at­ive activ­ity it­self. Ali­en­ated labor can­not be un­der­stood as a prop­er ar­tic­u­la­tion of one’s fac­ulties but as forced labor con­ceived simply as a means for sheer sub­sist­ence. Labor, there­fore, does not live up to Marx’s re­quire­ments; it is not “the sat­is­fac­tion of [a genu­ine hu­man] need but only a means to sat­is­fy needs ex­tern­al to it [namely, labor].” Since labor is not a pleas­ur­able activ­ity but rather one of self-sac­ri­fice and “self-cas­tig­a­tion,” all hu­man be­ha­vi­or con­sequently be­comes per­ver­ted.6

At this point Marx’s ar­gu­ments be­come mor­al and norm­at­ive, but he nev­er­the­less con­siders the stand­ards of his crit­ic­al ap­pre­ci­ation as part of a his­tor­ic­al ana­lys­is and as the ex­pres­sion of the an­ti­cip­a­tion of fu­ture pos­sib­il­it­ies, def­in­itely not as a We­sensschau of al­legedly etern­al and mor­al norms.

From all this, it can be seen that man (the work­er) feels him­self to be freely act­ive only in his an­im­al func­tions — eat­ing, drink­ing, and pro­cre­at­ing, or at most also in his dwell­ing and per­son­al ad­orn­ment — while in his hu­man func­tions he is re­duced to an an­im­al. The an­im­al be­comes hu­man and the hu­man be­comes an­im­al. Eat­ing, drink­ing, and pro­cre­at­ing are, of course, also genu­inely hu­man func­tions. But, con­sidered in ab­strac­tion from the sphere of all oth­er hu­man activ­ity and turned in­to fi­nal and sole ends, they are an­im­al.7

If a man’s pro­duct­ive activ­it­ies are noth­ing oth­er than forced labor ne­ces­sary for sub­sist­ence and for that reas­on ex­tern­al to him, his in­terests shift en­tirely to those an­im­al func­tions (men­tioned by Marx); or as we would rather say today, all of his as­pir­a­tions be­come ab­sorbed in his wish for fur­ther con­sump­tion, made pos­sible and im­posed on him by mod­ern eco­nomy. Moreover, this con­sump­tion has be­come more sense­less in the same de­gree that his pro­duct­ive work has be­come more spir­it­less.

As ali­en­a­tion from his pro­duct­ive activ­ity ef­fected through in­dir­ect co­er­cion, or oth­er-dir­ec­ted­ness, and not on his own ini­ti­at­ive and re­spons­ib­il­ity, the work­er be­comes ali­en­ated from his spe­cies. To con­strue man’s an­im­al func­tions as his prop­er ones means a loss of hu­man­ity it­self. ‘”Free con­scious activ­ity is the spe­cies char­ac­ter of hu­man be­ings,” and “pro­duct­ive life is spe­cies life.”8 Only man can fail to real­ize his real po­ten­ti­al­it­ies. His priv­ileged status vis-à-vis the an­im­al, which con­sists in his fac­ulty to turn ex­tern­al nature in­to his “in­or­gan­ic body,” is con­ver­ted in­to a ser­i­ous dis­ad­vant­age, be­cause through ali­en­a­tion he is de­prived of this “in­or­gan­ic body.”

The im­me­di­ate con­sequence of this ali­en­a­tion of the work­er from his spe­cies life (and of hu­man­ity) means the “ali­en­a­tion of man from oth­er men” which can most im­press­ively be in­ferred from the re­la­tion between the sexes.

This broad de­scrip­tion of ali­en­a­tion can hardly be found in the later works of Marx. But we can as­sume that he did not ques­tion it later and that it is con­son­ant with the many hints in the Grundrisse (1857-1858) and in Cap­it­al (1867). In con­trast to these later works, Marx, in 1844 had only a vague idea about the ab­ol­i­tion of ali­en­a­tion; in any case he did not then re­late the re­volu­tion­ary prax­is to the self-ant­ag­on­ism of the cap­it­al­ist­ic mode of pro­duc­tion as dir­ectly as he did in later works. In 1844 his ar­gu­ment­a­tion was as fol­lows: the ali­en­ated re­la­tion to the labor product me­di­ately pro­duces the power of one per­son over oth­ers, just as re­li­gious ali­en­a­tion pro­duces the power of a heav­enly be­ing over its be­liev­ers. Private prop­erty no longer ap­pears as the basis, but as the product and con­sequence of ali­en­ated labor, “just as the gods ori­gin­ally were not the source but the ef­fect of the il­lu­sion of man.”9 Only much later on this re­la­tion be­comes an in­ter­re­la­tion.

Marx be­lieved that the solu­tion to the prob­lem could be found by put­ting the ques­tion in a dif­fer­ent way. No longer did he seek the ori­gin of private prop­erty but rather “the re­la­tion of ali­en­ated labor to the evol­u­tion of hu­man­ity”:

If one speaks of private prop­erty, one thinks of deal­ing with something out­side man. Speak­ing of labor, one im­me­di­ately deals with man. To state the prob­lem in this way in­cludes its solu­tion.10

The ab­ol­i­tion of an ali­en­ated so­ci­ety can be car­ried out only by the work­ers. For the “non-work­er” it ap­pears only as a state [Zus­tand] of ali­en­a­tion, where­as by the work­er him­self it is ex­per­i­enced as an “activ­ity [Tätigkeit] of ali­en­a­tion.”11 By his ali­en­ated mode of pro­duc­tion, the work­er sim­ul­tan­eously pro­duces him­self and his op­pos­ite; he be­comes a com­mod­ity, but as a “self-con­scious and self-act­ive com­mod­ity”12 he ob­tains the basis for ab­ol­ish­ing the en­tire world of com­mod­it­ies. Marx in­ter­prets this in­sight (fol­low­ing En­gels) as a con­sequence of the evol­u­tion of eco­nom­ic the­or­ies from mer­cant­il­ism to the physiocrats and the bour­geois polit­ic­al eco­nomy to the fi­nal so­cial­ist cri­ti­cism. This the­or­et­ic­al de­vel­op­ment runs par­al­lel to the de­vel­op­ment of civil so­ci­ety. By 1844 Marx knew that the vic­tory of cap­it­al­ism over all pre­cap­it­al­ist modes of pro­duc­tion was a pre­con­di­tion for the ab­ol­i­tion of all ali­en­a­tion.

Marx sep­ar­ated the the­or­ies of the su­per­ses­sion [Auf­hebung] of ali­en­ated so­ci­ety in­to three lo­gic­ally suc­cess­ive forms. The first form of com­mun­ism is merely the gen­er­al­iz­a­tion of private prop­erty in­to com­mun­ist prop­erty. This leads to crude com­mun­ism. There is no con­nec­tion between this way of ab­ol­ish­ing private prop­erty and the real ap­pro­pri­ation of ali­en­ated real­ity. On the con­trary, all people would be re­duced, ac­cord­ing to this no­tion, to the un­nat­ur­al sim­pli­city of poor people without needs and wants. “Com­munity [in this case] is only a com­munity of labor and equal­ity of salary paid out by the com­mun­ist cap­it­al, the com­munity as the uni­ver­sal cap­it­al­ist.”13 The ob­vi­ous in­dic­a­tion of this kind of brute com­mun­ism which Marx un­der­stood as a prim­it­ive gen­er­al­iz­a­tion of private prop­erty is the Weiberge­meinsch­aft, the com­munity of wo­men. This com­mun­ism is in­hu­man, not be­cause it des­troys cap­it­al­ism but be­cause it makes cap­it­al­ism broad­er, more rad­ic­al, and more ab­so­lute. It does not tran­scend cap­it­al­ist­ic so­ci­ety but even lags be­hind some of the more pro­gress­ive as­pects of private prop­erty. Nev­er­the­less, Marx thought at this time that at least from the the­or­et­ic­al point of view this kind of com­mun­ism was a stage through which one ne­ces­sar­ily had to pass.

The second type of com­mun­ism, Marx con­sidered, is of a polit­ic­al nature, demo­crat­ic or des­pot­ic. It too re­mains im­per­fect and “af­fected by private prop­erty, that is, the ali­en­a­tion of man.”

In its third form alone, “com­mun­ism means the pos­it­ive tran­scend­ence of private prop­erty and con­sequently, a genu­ine ap­pro­pri­ation of the hu­man es­sence by and for man.” By this Marx meant a so­ci­ety in which all people can freely em­ploy all their man­i­fold and dif­fer­en­ti­ated fac­ulties in or­der to be able to ap­pro­pri­ate their products in the free and many-sided way of “total men.” In it, the mere pos­ses­sion of goods no longer pro­hib­its the many-sided and more dif­fer­en­ti­ated forms of ap­pro­pri­at­ing hu­man­ized nature. The re­fined eye, ear, and emo­tions of all are now able to ap­pro­pri­ate the past and present achieve­ments of hu­man cre­ativ­ity.14

A com­plete de­scrip­tion of this un­ali­en­ated so­ci­ety was fur­nished by Marx in his Ex­zerpthefte, the note­books writ­ten dur­ing this peri­od, where he tried to show how in such a so­ci­ety the pro­duct­ive activ­it­ies of free in­di­vidu­als are cor­rel­ated, and how these activ­it­ies re­flect the hu­man spe­cies, and not an ali­en, ob­jec­ti­fied, and re­ified world. In it, there would be no more greed, com­pet­i­tion, profit­mak­ing, cheat­ing, fraud, and ex­ploit­a­tion; rather, all re­la­tion­ships would be in har­mony, and an at­mo­sphere of love would be ini­ti­ated by free con­scious­ness so that all of man’s activ­it­ies would en­rich man.15

2. The concept of ali­en­a­tion and re­ific­a­tion as elab­or­ated in the Grundrisse der Kritik der polit­ischen Ökonomie (1857-1858)

Since the pub­lic­a­tion of the Grundrisse,16 which were ed­ited in Mo­scow in 1939 and 1941, it is easi­er than be­fore to prove the con­tinu­ity of Marx’s thought. These manuscripts date back to the time when Marx pre­pared the Kritik der polit­ischen Ökonomie, pub­lished in June 1859, and of which the first volume of Cap­it­al is but an en­larged and re­vised ver­sion. In the Grundrisse, Marx pondered prob­lems and top­ics he had dealt with in his early writ­ings and made use of the res­ults of his more re­cent eco­nom­ic stud­ies.

The his­tor­ic­al pro­cess which led to an ex­treme ali­en­a­tion of in­di­vidu­als from their so­cial re­la­tion­ships is de­scribed here in a more pre­cise way than in 1844. In the money sys­tem, the in­ter­course of in­di­vidu­als with that en­tire so­ci­ety of which they are a part be­came com­pletely ob­jec­ti­fied. Money has be­come an ali­en power to them. The in­di­vidu­al “car­ries his so­cial power and his re­la­tion­ship to so­ci­ety in his pock­et.” Thus “the activ­ity and the product of activ­ity is the ex­change value, that is, a uni­ver­sal in which all in­di­vidu­al­ity and par­tic­u­lar­ity is neg­ated and ex­tin­guished.”17 The dif­fer­ence between mod­ern and pre­cap­it­al­ist so­ci­et­ies is to be found in the fact that the so­cial char­ac­ter of their pro­duct­ive activ­ity, the par­ti­cip­a­tion of the in­di­vidu­al in the so­cial pro­duc­tion pro­cess and the so­cial char­ac­ter of the product today ap­pear ali­en and con­tra­dict­ory to in­di­vidu­als. On the sur­face, no re­la­tions of per­son­al de­pend­ency ex­ist; rather, all in­di­vidu­als ap­pear as free; but in real­ity, every­body is totally sub­ject to ali­en ob­ject­ive laws [frem­de Sachge­set­z­lich­keit] that res­ult from blind so­cial and eco­nom­ic pro­cesses. More than ever be­fore, Marx em­phas­izes, however, at the same time the pro­gress­ive and ne­ces­sary char­ac­ter of these so­cial re­la­tion­ships. He con­trasts them to the re­stric­ted and lim­ited re­la­tion­ships in pre­vi­ous modes of so­ci­ety (for ex­ample, to the pat­ri­arch­al modes of an­tiquity and the Middle Ages). He wel­comes the dis­sol­u­tion of small-group sub­sist­ence eco­nom­ies and the de­vel­op­ment of the world­wide di­vi­sion of labor and the suc­cess­ive ex­change of goods in the mar­ket as pro­cesses through which pro­ductiv­ity is en­larged.

The ex­change as me­di­ated through ex­change value and money pre­sup­poses mu­tu­ally de­pend­ent pro­du­cers and sim­ul­tan­eously the ab­so­lute isol­a­tion of their private in­terests and a di­vi­sion of so­cial labor, the unity and mu­tu­al com­ple­ment­ar­ity of which must ex­ist as a quasi-nat­ur­al re­la­tion out­side the in­di­vidu­als and in­de­pend­ently of them. The pres­sure upon each oth­er of gen­er­al de­mand and sup­ply me­di­ates the con­nec­tion of mu­tu­ally in­dif­fer­ent in­di­vidu­als.18

This cor­res­ponds very closely to the de­scrip­tion of the sys­tems of wants and needs and of the “Not- und Ver­standesstaat” de­pic­ted by Hegel, which al­legedly con­sti­tutes it­self — without the know­ledge and will of the in­di­vidu­als — through Adam Smith’s “in­vis­ible hand.” Marx blamed the in­dif­fer­ence of people for each oth­er and the im­possib­il­ity of fa­cing up to their re­la­tion­ship to so­ci­ety; but he clearly saw that the new mode of pro­duc­tion was su­per­i­or to all pre­vi­ous ones and that it sim­ul­tan­eously ten­ded to des­troy all genu­ine so­cial re­la­tions, that it isol­ated the pro­du­cers (and con­sumers), and that des­pite its im­mense wealth it im­pov­er­ished people in both lit­er­al and fig­ur­at­ive senses, that is, the in­creas­ing spe­cial­iz­a­tion of skills and abil­it­ies pre­ven­ted the in­di­vidu­al from real­iz­ing all of his powers.

Every­body must con­vert his product (his activ­ity) in­to an ex­change value, in­to “money,” be­cause only in this, and in no oth­er form, is to be found so­cial power and in­dis­pens­able power over oth­ers. From this fact one real­izes that “people pro­duce only for so­ci­ety and in so­ci­ety” and that on the oth­er hand their pro­duc­tion is not im­me­di­ately so­cial and not as­so­ci­at­ively or­gan­ized. This means that every­body has to sell his product in or­der that he may take it over in the form of money as an ob­jec­ti­fic­a­tion of the so­cial char­ac­ter of his own pro­duc­tion. In money, the in­di­vidu­al pro­du­cer ac­quires, though in ali­en­ated form, a part of so­cial pro­ductiv­ity; in money he ap­pro­pri­ates in ali­en­ated form, without know­ing it, part of the com­munity. Inas­much as the di­vi­sion of labor ex­tends over the whole world and leads to a world mar­ket (with a world­wide cur­rency), the in­ter­course of in­di­vidu­als be­comes uni­ver­sal. But at the same time, as a res­ult of these in­ter­re­la­tions, the de­pend­ence of in­di­vidu­als be­comes more and more rad­ic­al; thus, Marx could see in this status the trans­it­ory con­di­tions lead­ing to a new form of so­ci­ety and eco­nomy.19

Moreover, we must re­mem­ber that Marx launched his po­lem­ic against any ro­mantic glor­i­fic­a­tion of “nat­ur­al” pre­cap­it­al­ist con­di­tions with their loc­al, func­tion­al, so­cial, and per­son­al re­stric­tions. He def­in­itely pre­ferred the world­wide in­ter­con­nec­tions of the par­ti­cipants of the cap­it­al­ist world mar­ket. But Marx con­sidered them as trans­it­ory and as a ne­ces­sary pre­con­di­tion to the fu­ture sub­or­din­a­tion of all so­cial re­la­tions to the con­trol of as­so­ci­at­ively or­gan­ized pro­du­cers, be­cause he did not con­ceive any status as something oc­cur­ring nat­ur­ally, but as a product of his­tor­ic­al prax­is. Any status had been hitherto achieved in his­tory without be­ing con­sciously sought for. The present situ­ation con­sti­tutes the pre­con­di­tion of a fu­ture so­ci­ety in which man, as a whole be­ing, will be a real pos­sib­il­ity. Man will no longer be a product of nature but a product of his­tory. In a word, this means that the total eman­cip­a­tion of man pre­sup­poses his total ali­en­a­tion.

Armed with this his­tor­ic­al in­sight, Marx thought it equally ri­dicu­lous to long for the “ori­gin­al plen­it­ude” of prim­it­ive so­cial re­la­tions or to hold fast to the hu­man empti­ness that marks the present. However, his es­sen­tial point was that the bour­geois con­scious­ness could not over­come the un­dia­lect­ic­al con­trast of ro­mantic as­pir­a­tions and cyn­ic­al ac­cept­ance of both a rich and an im­pov­er­ished present.20 “These con­trasts com­prise its be­ing, and will, con­sequently, re­main with it to its end.”

However, pro­gress to­wards a uni­ver­sal cap­it­al­ist­ic mode of pro­duc­tion does not ap­pear only as a ne­ces­sary pre­con­di­tion for the uni­ver­sal pro­mo­tion of pro­duct­ive ca­pa­cit­ies; rather, it leads to the fi­nal point where all per­son­al re­la­tions are broken and sub­jec­ted to the uni­ver­sal basis of new so­cial in­ter­re­la­tion­ships. As soon as most in­di­vidu­als are dom­in­ated by “ma­ter­i­al con­di­tions” or by so­cially ob­jec­ti­fied in­ter­re­la­tions, and not by oth­er in­di­vidu­als, then the task for man­kind is ob­vi­ous: to bring these in­ter­re­la­tions un­der man­kind’s com­mon con­trol and so to break through the course of his­tory, where un­til now power elites have been cir­cu­lat­ing without ever fa­cing up to the root cause of de­pend­ence and re­pres­sion. Surely, as Marx stresses, “in­di­vidu­als are now dom­in­ated by ab­strac­tions where­as they pre­vi­ously de­pended on each oth­er,” but these ab­strac­tions fi­nally bring forth the pre­con­di­tions on which also all pre­vi­ous modes of dom­in­a­tion res­ted. Throughout his­tory, the de­pend­ence of “slaves” on their “mas­ters,” has not res­ul­ted from the will of the dom­in­at­ing classes but can be ex­plained only by the prim­it­ive modes of pro­duc­tion and the ne­ces­sit­ies of those lim­ited so­cial con­di­tions (which re­quired spe­cif­ic or­gan­iz­a­tions, as for in­stance, spe­cial mil­it­ary pro­vi­sions). Where­as in pre­vi­ous stages of his­tory the ob­ject­ive con­di­tions ap­peared as per­son­al, “in the mod­ern world the per­son­al re­la­tions are clearly seen as the pure ex­pres­sion of the modes of pro­duc­tion and ex­change.” In the pos­sib­il­ity of such an in­sight, Marx saw an­oth­er im­port­ant ad­vant­age of cap­it­al­ist so­ci­ety.

As I have already in­tim­ated, Marx in the Grundrisse elab­or­ated on the no­tion with which he first dealt in the Philo­soph­ic and Eco­nom­ic Manuscripts — the no­tion that “world his­tory is noth­ing but the pro­du­cing of man by man’s work.” More than in the early writ­ings, the pos­it­ive mean­ing of the cap­it­al­ist­ic mode of pro­duc­tion is stressed, but the lines of ar­gu­ment­a­tion are by and large the same as be­fore.

3. The fet­ish char­ac­ter of com­mod­it­ies and the concept of the de­struc­tion of ali­en­a­tion in Cap­it­al

In Cap­it­al, cap­it­al­ist so­ci­ety is con­ceived of as a dia­lect­ic­al to­tal­ity in which ant­ag­on­isms tend to tran­scend present so­cial con­di­tions and are ne­ces­sary at the same time. As with any to­tal­ity, the parts re­flect the whole and every part is gov­erned by the same prin­ciples as the whole. What char­ac­ter­izes cap­it­al­ist so­ci­ety is the com­mod­ity char­ac­ter it at­trib­utes to everything. In the so­ci­et­ies of Marx’s time this pro­cess of con­vert­ing all things in­to com­mod­it­ies had not yet come to an end, but Marx thought that he could fore­see that the pro­cess would closely fol­low this mod­el. The dia­lect­ic­al re­con­struc­tion of so­cial en­tit­ies, which is pos­sible only in­so­far as so­ci­et­ies are truly gov­erned by dia­lect­ic­al pro­cesses, does not con­struct the whole from its parts. This means that the present­a­tion can­not prop­erly be­gin un­til the ana­lys­is has been com­pleted.

In the be­gin­ning of Cap­it­al Marx deals with the com­mod­ity. Every­one in a cap­it­al­ist­ic so­ci­ety is fa­mil­i­ar with com­mod­it­ies, but Marx wants to un­der­stand them in their his­tor­ic­al gen­es­is and be­com­ing and in their struc­ture. In his study of the com­mod­ity char­ac­ter of products, his ana­lyses from his early writ­ings are still used, and yet at the same time tran­scen­ded.

In the chapter men­tioned, Marx ana­lyzes the com­mod­ity in four steps. (1) The double char­ac­ter of the com­mod­ity is re­flec­ted upon; it rep­res­ents use value and value. As use value, it pos­sesses spe­cif­ic qual­it­ies; as a value, it has no qual­ity but rep­res­ents a mere quant­ity. (2) This char­ac­ter of the product is traced back to labor’s own twin qual­it­ies in a cap­it­al­ist eco­nomy. On the one side, the work­ers pro­duce par­tic­u­lar work [be­son­dere Arbeit]; on the oth­er, as a res­ult of their gen­er­al work [allge­meine Arbeit], they pro­duce ex­change val­ues. What Marx does is to probe back­wards from the fixed be­ing to the activ­it­ies from which it res­ults. (3) Marx shows, his­tor­ic­ally, how the value form had de­veloped from the simple and ac­ci­dent­al to the money form un­til in the money eco­nomy the ab­so­lute split of use value from ex­change value has be­come clearly evid­ent. Now all products of hu­man activ­it­ies rep­res­ent only money equi­val­ents and the gen­er­al work of so­ci­ety is only able to re­cog­nize it­self in this re­ified form. (4) Marx ana­lyzes the fet­ish char­ac­ter of the com­mod­ity and its mys­ter­ies.

The mys­tery of the form of com­mod­ity con­sists in the fact that for in­di­vidu­als it re­flects the so­cial char­ac­ter of their own work, as ob­ject­ive qual­it­ies of the products of labor them­selves, as so­cial nat­ur­al qual­it­ies of these things [gesell­schaft­liche Natureigenschaften] and, con­sequently, that it mir­rors the so­cial re­la­tions of the pro­du­cers to the total work as a so­cial re­la­tion­ship among ob­jects ex­ist­ing out­side them.21

The com­mod­ity char­ac­ter of a product of hu­man activ­ity con­sists in the phe­nomen­on that this product pos­sesses a value which can be ab­stractly ex­pressed in money and there­fore be­comes in­ter­change­able with oth­er products. This qual­ity of ex­change and in­ter­change­ab­il­ity ap­pears as a qual­ity of the ob­ject it­self, a qual­ity which is due to its be­ing a part of the gen­er­al (world) mar­ket, to the laws of which this com­mod­ity is sub­ject. In real­ity, however, these re­ified re­la­tions of things re­flect so­cial re­la­tions of the pro­du­cers and the own­ers of the means of pro­duc­tion. “It is only the de­term­in­ate so­cial re­la­tion of in­di­vidu­als which takes the chi­mer­ic­al shape of a re­la­tion of ob­jects.”22 This phe­nomen­on, that an en­tity res­ult­ing from the activ­it­ies of in­di­vidu­als comes to dom­in­ate their life, can only be ana­lyzed ac­cord­ing to the way Feuerbach saw the re­la­tion­ship between God and man.

To find an ana­logy, we have to take refuge in the neb­u­lous sphere of the re­li­gious world. Here the products of our ima­gin­a­tion ap­pear as in­de­pend­ent, in­tel­li­gent, and autonom­ous fig­ures re­lated to man. The same is true in the world of com­mod­it­ies with the products of man’s work. This I call the fet­ish­ism which is at­tached to the labor products as soon as they are pro­duced as com­mod­it­ies and which is by con­sequence in­sep­ar­able from the pro­duc­tion of com­mod­it­ies.23

As soon as people re­late them­selves to their ob­jects as to a fet­ish, they be­gin to at­trib­ute some qual­it­ies to this dead ob­ject which in real­ity stem from their own life, the power and im­pot­ence of their own so­cial re­la­tions, for ex­ample. In oth­er words, the ma­gic power at­trib­uted to the fet­ish is real only in­so­far as be­lief in it makes pos­sible the suc­cess of the tribe. But er­ro­neously this suc­cess is at­trib­uted to the fet­ish and not to the or­gan­ized power of the tribe, just as the in­ter­change­ab­il­ity of the com­mod­ity is be­lieved due to the char­ac­ter of the products and not to the di­vi­sion of labor and the mar­ket mech­an­isms. There is a dearth of con­scious or­gan­iz­a­tion of pro­duc­tion in both cases. What Marx calls in this con­text fet­ish­ism, he de­scribed in his early writ­ings as ali­en­a­tion.

Let me quote one more sen­tence: “Its own so­cial move­ment pos­sesses for them [the pro­du­cers of com­mod­it­ies] the form of a move­ment of ob­jects, which they are con­trolled by rather than con­trolling.”24 That the fet­ish­ism of com­mod­it­ies, that is, the mys­ti­cism of the com­mod­ity world, is only the spe­cif­ic ex­pres­sion of the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion is proved by Marx in his ex­amples of Robin­son and of the me­di­ev­al mode of pro­duc­tion. In both of these cases, the meas­ure of labor is reg­u­lated by the in­di­vidu­al and so­cial needs of spe­cif­ic use val­ues, that is, the so­cial char­ac­ter of pro­duc­tion is pre­sup­posed, where­as in the com­mod­ity-pro­du­cing so­ci­ety the so­cial char­ac­ter of the pro­duc­tion of in­de­pend­ently pro­du­cing private work­ers is con­sti­tuted in the pro­cess of cir­cu­la­tion — and there only in ali­en­ated form. In the Middle Ages “the so­cial con­di­tions of in­di­vidu­als ap­peared in their works as their own per­son­al con­di­tions and were not con­cealed as the so­cial con­di­tions of ob­jects.”25 The re­la­tions were trans­par­ent and not mys­ti­fied.

However, as we have already seen in his manuscripts of 1857, Marx re­jects any ro­mantic glor­i­fic­a­tion of these older modes of pro­duc­tion. The com­mod­ity-pro­du­cing so­ci­ety with its ali­en­a­tion is ob­vi­ously ne­ces­sary as one trans­it­ory stage which lays the ma­ter­i­al ground­work for a new so­ci­ety. In Cap­it­al Marx com­pared this new so­ci­ety to an “as­so­ci­ation of free people” (a term which he bor­rowed from Max Stirner, and which he mocked many times in oth­er con­texts).

In­so­far as such an as­so­ci­ation works with so­cial­ized means of pro­duc­tion and the in­di­vidu­als con­sciously or­gan­ize their in­di­vidu­al powers to a so­cial power… then all de­term­in­a­tions of Robin­son’s mode of pro­duc­tion are re­it­er­ated…, but now so­cially, no longer in­di­vidu­ally.26

The product of such an or­gan­ized pro­duct­ive activ­ity would im­me­di­ately be so­cial, and one part of it could re­main so­cial and be em­ployed as means of pro­duc­tion, where­as oth­er parts could be dis­trib­uted for the sake of in­di­vidu­al con­sump­tion. Marx does not re­flect in de­tail on the mode of dis­tri­bu­tion but con­siders it de­pend­ent on the level of the pro­du­cers’ de­vel­op­ment. It might be or­gan­ized along the so­cial­ist line of pro­por­tion­al dis­tri­bu­tion ac­cord­ing to the amount of work per­formed by in­di­vidu­als or along com­mun­ist lines ac­cord­ing to genu­ine in­di­vidu­al needs.

If one looks only at the chapter on the fet­ish char­ac­ter of the com­mod­ity, one might be­lieve that Marx ex­pec­ted the Auf­hebung of ali­en­a­tion to be achieved solely through the com­mon con­trol of pro­duc­tion based on the di­vi­sion of labor and that he no longer chal­lenged the prin­ciple of the di­vi­sion of labor, it­self. One could in­sinu­ate that Marx con­sidered it suf­fi­cient that the sum of all in­di­vidu­al labor forces be­come one so­cial labor force, a situ­ation which could be con­son­ant with main­ten­ance of di­vi­sion of labor. But Marx un­mis­tak­ably stresses the ne­ces­sity to over­come the di­vi­sion of labor. His ar­gu­ment in chapter thir­teen of the first volume of Cap­it­al — it is true — is based on the re­volu­tion­ary char­ac­ter of tech­no­logy and not on the in­di­vidu­als’ need to de­vel­op their own po­ten­ti­al­it­ies, but even­tu­ally it leads to the same con­clu­sion as the early writ­ings:

If change of spe­cial work is car­ried through rather like some over­whelm­ing nat­ur­al law, and with the blindly de­struct­ive ef­fects of a nat­ur­al law which finds obstacles every­where, then large in­dustry be­cause of its cata­strophes must make it a life and death mat­ter to ac­cept both the change of jobs and the greatest pos­sible uni­ver­sal­ity of the work­er as a gen­er­al so­cial law of pro­duc­tion, and to ad­apt the so­cial con­di­tions to the work­er’s nor­mal real­iz­a­tion. It be­comes a ques­tion of life and death to re­place the mon­stros­ity of a poor labor pop­u­la­tion — a re­serve held for dis­pos­i­tion to meet the vary­ing ex­ploit­a­tion needs of cap­it­al with the dis­pos­al of man for var­ied jobs; the par­tial in­di­vidu­al [Teilindi­vidu­um], the bear­er of a par­tial so­cial func­tion, by the totally de­veloped in­di­vidu­al, for whom many so­cial func­tions con­sti­tute suc­cess­ive modes of activ­ity.27

The “total man,” whom Marx pos­tu­lated in his early writ­ings as a con­trast im­age to the im­pov­er­ished one-sided, crippled in­di­vidu­al who really ex­is­ted, is here con­ceived as a ne­ces­sity to which the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion it­self is pushed. This is one of the many ob­ser­va­tions by which Marx showed him­self far ahead of his time, for not un­til re­cently was there a widely shared opin­ion that mod­ern modes of pro­duc­tion re­quires not over-spe­cial­iz­a­tion but a most com­pre­hens­ive train­ing of the laborer to al­low him to ad­apt him­self to the ever-chan­ging re­quire­ments of in­dus­tri­al pro­duc­tion.

III. Some fi­nal re­marks

Nobody would deny that the style and the am­bi­ance did change in Marx’s writ­ings. There is in­deed a dif­fer­ence between the sober ex­plic­a­tion in Cap­it­al with its em­phas­is on the­or­et­ic­al vig­or and em­pir­ic­al de­tail and the crit­ic­al and mor­al­ist­ic-sound­ing ana­lyses of 1844. But there re­mains one fun­da­ment­al top­ic which is the start­ing as well as the end­ing point: the quest to tran­scend cap­it­al­ist so­ci­ety to­wards a more hu­man, free, and sat­is­fact­ory so­ci­ety. There is no war­rant for the con­clu­sion that the old Marx bur­ied the hopes of his youth and aban­doned the ful­fill­ment of his aims. His later writ­ings can be ad­equately un­der­stood only in the light of his first writ­ings. If later the “how” of this trans­form­a­tion and its em­pir­ic­al chances of real­iz­a­tion were stressed more strongly than the ne­ces­sity of the “that” (of which Marx re­mained too deeply con­vinced to need stress­ing), this should not be mis­taken for an es­cape in­to a gen­er­al philo­sophy of his­tory or an ex­clus­ive con­cen­tra­tion on the ana­lyt­ic­al re­struc­tur­ing of the modes of the cap­it­al­ist eco­nomy. His in­ten­tions, throughout his life, were dir­ec­ted to­wards a cri­tique of polit­ic­al eco­nomy, and this means the prac­tic­al cri­tique of cap­it­al­ist so­ci­ety as much as it does its the­or­et­ic­al con­cep­tion in the doc­trines of the bour­geois eco­nom­ists. Marx did not bring forth a new pro­let­ari­an eco­nom­ic the­ory to stand be­side the clas­sic­al bour­geois the­or­ies. And the wide­spread no­tion of an “eco­nom­ic the­ory for the pro­let­ari­at” some­times sanc­tioned by Marx and En­gels them­selves, is, by and large, mis­lead­ing.

In Cap­it­al Marx’s re­flec­tions centered around a cri­tique of those ali­en­ated so­cial re­la­tions he had already cri­ti­cized in 1844. If Marx (and par­tic­u­larly En­gels later on), were not al­ways con­scious of the con­tinu­ity of this crit­ic­al ap­proach, this would not amount to a ser­i­ous ob­jec­tion against my in­ter­pret­a­tion. Cap­it­al re­mains a frag­ment, and be­ing bound to the gal­ley of his journ­al­ist­ic writ­ings, plagued by ill­ness and lack of genu­ine en­thu­si­asm, over­whelmed by or­gan­iz­a­tion­al du­ties, Marx was no longer able to pon­der his work and treat it as a whole. His suc­cessors had already be­gun dur­ing his life­time to pick out pieces of his the­or­et­ic­al re­flec­tions which they found ex­pedi­ent for their im­me­di­ate polit­ic­al and or­gan­iz­a­tion­al aims. The story of the in­ter­pret­a­tion of his work was, as in all cases of great thinkers, a story of mis­in­ter­pret­a­tions.


1 Franz Mehring, Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (Ann Ar­bor, 1962), p. 73.
2 MEGA, I, 3, 33; cf. Karl Marx, Philo­soph­ic and Eco­nom­ic Manuscripts, trans­lated by M. Mil­ligan (Mo­scow, 1961), p. 15.
3 MEGA, I, 3, 81; cf. trans., p. 67.
4 Ibid., 82; cf. trans., p. 68.
5 Ibid., 83; cf. trans., p. 69.
6 Ibid., 86; cf. trans., p. 72.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid., 88; cf. trans., p. 75.
9 Ibid., 92; cf. trans., p. 80.
10 Ibid., 93; cf. trans., p. 82.
11 Ibid., 94; cf. trans., p. 80.
12 Ibid., 98; cf. trans., p. 85.
13 Ibid., 112; cf. trans., p. 100.
14 Ibid., 114 ff.; cf. trans., pp. 102 ff.
15 MEGA, I, 3, 544 ff.
16 Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der polit­ischen Ökonomie (Ber­lin, 1953).
17 Ibid., p. 75.
18 Ibid., p. 76.
19 Ibid., p. 80.
20 Ibid., pp. 80 ff.
21 MEW, XXIII, 86; cf. Karl Marx, Cap­it­al (Mo­scow, 1954f f.), Vol. I, p. 72.
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid.
24 Ibid., 89; cf. trans., p. 75.
25 Ibid., 91; cf. trans., p. 77.
26 Ibid., 92; cf. trans., p. 78.
27 Ibid., 511 ff.; cf. trans., p. 487.