The Third International after Lenin

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Alienation in Marx: from anthropology to political economy

From: Ernest Mandel's The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx: 1843 to Capital.

Chapter 10 From the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts to the Grundrisse: From an Anthropological to a Historical Conception of Alienation


….Hegel’s philosophy of labor that provided Marx with the conceptual tools with which to undertake his first struggle with political economy. 3 This philosophy of labor, whose foundations were laid down in the System der Sittlichkeit (System of Morality), developed in the Realphilosophie (Philosophy of the Real), firmly established in the Phenomenology of Mind , and defended in the Philosophy of Right and the Science of Logic , 4 is at the same time a veritable anthropology.

….Marx states clearly his critical position as regards political economy, no less than as regards philosophy. 12 His starting point in this critique is by no means the “concept” of alienated labor; on the contrary, it is his practical observation of the misery of the workers , which increases parallel with the increase of the wealth that these same workers produce. His conclusion is by no means a philosophical conclusion, on the plane of thoughts, ideas, intellectual work. On the contrary, he concludes that: “In order to abolish the idea of private property, the idea of communism is completely sufficient. It takes actual communist action to abolish actual private property.” 13 The call to revolutionary action, to be carried out by the proletariat, is already substituted for the resignation of the “philosophy of labor.”

Does this mean that in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts Marx had already rid himself of all the philosophical slag from a way of thinking that thenceforth became rigorously social and economic? This is obviously untrue. What we have here is the transition of the young Marx from Hegelian and Feuerbachian philosophy to the working out of historical materialism. In this transition, elements from the past are inevitably combined with elements belonging to the future. Marx combines in his own way—that is, by profoundly modifying them—the dialectics of Hegel, the materialism of Feuerbach, and the social facts established by political economy. 14 This combination is not a coherent one; it does not create a new “system,” a new “ideology.” It presents us with scattered fragments which contain many contradictions. 15 Nor must we forget that this was a manuscript that was “not merely unfinished but also partly destroyed.” 16 It is precisely in the light of the concept of alienated labor that the contradictions contained in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts can be most clearly revealed….

….The evolution of Marx’s concept of alienated labor is thus clear: from an anthropological conception (Feuerbacho-Hegelian) before the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts , he advances toward a historical conception (starting with The German Ideology ). The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts constitute a transition from the first to the second, with the anthropological conception surviving here and there, though it already marks a considerable advance on Hegel’s conception, first because it is no longer based on a dialectic of needs and labor that issues in the impossibility of a solution, 27 and second because it already implies the possibility of transcending alienation through the communist struggle of the proletariat.

….the attempt to equate the concept of alienation of labor in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts with the concept of alienation and mutilation of the worker that we find in Marx’s later works, ignores the real problem, namely, the juxtaposition in the Manuscripts of an anthropological and a historical conception of alienation which are logically and practically irreconcilable. If alienation is indeed rooted in the nature of labor, and labor is indispensable to man’s survival, as Marx was later to declare in a well-known letter to Kugelmann, 32 then alienation will never be overcome. In a precise comparison of two passages, one from the Manuscripts and the other from Capital, 33 Fromm does not notice that in the former what is being discussed is labor and products of labor in general , whereas the latter begins with these very words: “Within the capitalist system …”

….Nor can we accept the view expressed by Palmiro Togliatti that in the Manuscripts “economic categories are reduced to the necessary expression of a real dialectical process. The road is open to the critique of bourgeois society as a whole, a critique that would be made in the years and in the works that were to follow, culminating in Capital, but which we can say was already largely complete.” We agree still less when he writes: “Despite the form, which is not simple, we indeed sense that all Marxism is already contained here.”35 All Marxism—without the labor theory of value, without the theory of surplus value, without the understanding that the conflict between the level of development of the productive forces and the relations of production is the driving force of social revolutions?

It is interesting to note the identity of the views of Togliatti and Father Calvez: “There have been … plenty of commentators who have accepted the view that the economic categories of Capital do not spring from the same way of thinking as the philosophical categories in Marx’s youthful writings. … I have come to a conclusion that runs absolutely contrary to any attempt of this sort to dissociate the two. The whole of Marx’s argument is based on the connection between the various alienations.” And again: “There is a genuine unity in all Marx’s work: the philosophical categories of alienation which he took from Hegel in his youth were to form the framework of the great achievement of his mature years.”36 Unfortunately for this hypothesis, the “philosophical” categories taken from Hegel had already been “stood on their feet,” that is, transformed into socioeconomic categories, from the Manuscripts onward, and they represent at most the motivation of Capital, not its “framework,” which is provided by a critique of the categories of bourgeois political economy, and by the perfecting of the theories of value and surplus value.

Nor can I agree with the following observation by Jean Hyppolite: “… Marx’s original theses are to be found in Capital and provide the best means of understanding the full significance of the theory of value.”37 By saying this, Hyppolite is actually suggesting that Marx’s theory of value is not to be understood except as an expression of its author’s moral indignation when faced with the phenomena of alienated labor. The real dialectic of Marx’s evolution is both more complex and richer. There is conformity between the ethical motivation and the conclusions of the economic analysis; the one does indeed coincide with the other. But this economic analysis has an independent value of its own. It results from a strictly scientific study. The theory of surplus value corresponds to an objective reality; though it reinforces Marx’s moral indignation regarding capitalism, it is independent of that feeling.

A similar confusion is to be found in some writers who nevertheless emphasize the differences between the Manuscripts and Capital. Thus, Adoratsky writes in his introduction to the first Soviet edition of the Manuscripts that “the real contradictions of the capitalist social order are here strikingly revealed in the situation of the working class.”38 Instead of saying “revealed” it would have been much more correct to say “suggested” or “foreshadowed.” The Manuscripts are far from giving an analysis of the real contradictions of capitalism, and even the description of the workers’ situation is seriously hindered by the presence of the theory of “absolute impoverishment” that Marx was later to abandon.

Even a writer like Wolfgang Jahn, who erects an absolute dogmatic screen between the concept of alienation and that of labor value, tries to find a theory of “production relations in general” in the Manuscripts, whereas no such theory can be found there.39 Similarly, Heinrich Popitz, though he stresses the differences between the “young Marx” and the “mature Marx,” sees in the Manuscripts a sign of the discovery of the conflict between the level of development of the productive forces and the relations of production,40 even though in 1844 Marx was clearly still only on the threshold of discovering this conflict—a threshold he had not yet crossed.41

….This is how Marx introduces the problem of alienated labor in the Grundrisse, in the chapter on money: “It has been said, it can be said, that what is fine and great [in commodity economy] is based precisely upon this interconnection, this material and spiritual metabolism, independently of the knowledge and will of the individuals involved; and presupposing precisely their mutual independence and indifference. And this objective interconnection is certainly preferable to a lack of interconnection, or to a purely local interconnection, or to one based on something narrow and primitive such as a blood relationship, or relations of domination and slavery. It is likewise certain that individuals cannot take control of their social interconnections before they have created them. But it is foolish to think of this merely objective interconnection as an interconnection that is ab origine impossible to dissociate from the nature of individuality (in contrast to reflected knowledge and will) and immanent in it. It is its product—a historical product. It belongs to a definite phase of its evolution. The alien character and independence that it retains in this regard merely show that it [the individuality] is still in the process of creating the conditions of its social life, instead of having started from these conditions in the first place. It is the original interconnection between individuals within the framework of definite, limited, production relations. Individuals with an all-around development whose social relations have been subjected to their own collective control as their own collective relations, are not a product of nature but of history. The degree and universality of the development of the capacities [of the productive forces] which makes such individuality possible, presupposes precisely production based on exchange values, which produces, along with generality, the alienation of the individual from himself....

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