Category Archives: realm of freedom

Whither the Family?

Whither the Family?

Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionised in practice. Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.

Karl Marx. Theses on Feuerbach, IV


Mode of Production, Social Relations and Control

Engels writes, in his preface to the first edition of the The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, that…

according to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This again, is of a twofold character: on the one side the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organisation under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labour on the one hand and of the family on the other. The lower the development of labour and the more limited the amount of its products, and consequently, the more limited also the wealth of the society, the more the social order is found to be dominated by kinship groups. However, within this structure of society based on kinship groups the productivity of labour increasingly develops, and with it private property and exchange, differences of wealth, the possibility of utilising the labour power of others, and hence the basis of class antagonisms: new social elements, which in the course of generations strive to adapt the old social order to the new conditions, until at last their incompatibility brings about a complete upheaval. In the collision of the newly developed social classes, the old society founded on kinship groups is broken up. In its place appears a new society, with its control centred in the state, the subordinate units of which are no longer kinship associations, but local associations; a society in which the system of the family is completely dominated by the system of property, and in which there now freely develops those class antagonisms and class struggles that have hitherto formed the content of all written (F.E. emphasis) history. [1]

In class societies, the means of production are owned and/or controlled by the ruling classes/castes of these societies. In ancient societies, by a slave-owning and landowning nobility (vast areas of land were actually owned by the state powers in Antiquity, especially in Asia) and in the medieval period by an investitured and infeudated aristocracy which, strictly speaking, in Europe, did not actually ‘own’ the land but rather exerted ‘control’ over its use and exploitation (in fief) as a tenanted nobility which subinfeudated the land to its vassals. The Crown in European feudalism owned most of the land. The Crown ‘distributed’ land by means of a process of investiture and subinfeudation which carried with it binding duties (especially military service) and obligations (fealty) with accompanying rights according to the specificity of the nature of the relationship between the different classes and orders. In the manorial unit, the serf and villein held land from the ‘lord’ or suzerain in return for labour and other services but these obligations also carried with them certain rights such as the right of vassals to protection by their liege-lord.  In the modern epoch, of course, the capitalist class owns everything from land, industry, finance, the means of distribution and of exchange. The old distinction between capitalist (profit) and landowner (rent) has become agglomerated with the development of capitalism. Both profit and rent are, of course, realised forms of surplus value.

Through their ownership and/or control of the means of production and distribution, the capitalist class controls the social process of the realisation of the material means of life. This ownership and control becomes institutionalised in the form of its state power which becomes the state power of capital, articulating the interests of the capitalist ruling class. In this epoch, the rule of capital becomes backed up by assorted systems and forms of ideology, especially its print and broadcasting media, serving to maintain the grip of ownership of the capitalist class on the means of production and distribution.

In pre-class tribal societies – based on the communal ownership of the land and mediated by an egalitarian access to the fruits of nature and of human labour – the forms of social control that were necessary were a product of, and reflected, the need to maintain the social cohesion of a people in its collective struggle against nature or other hostile communities. These forms of social control existed in order to facilitate the survival and propagation of a community as a whole; to defend the material interests of the whole community against any natural or human encroachments that threatened its welfare.

The rise of private property and class societies completely transforms the essential character and functions of these antecedent tribal forms of social control. Whilst appearing to represent the ‘general interest’, in essence, the forms of social control in bourgeois society really function to guard the particular interests of its ruling class and, of course, the various and sundry castes that serve its interests. The reality of the class rule of the bourgeoisie becomes presented as a social consensus. The interests of the ruling class are presented as the interests of the whole of society. The ‘general’, ‘social’, ‘public’ or ‘national’ interest becomes expressed in the ‘rule of law’ which serves to mask the reality of class rule by dressing it up in a veil of legalistic and ideological forms. An apparent and ideologically and morally-enforced consensus hides the real class nature of social relations based on the rule of capital and enables the capitalist ruling class to legitimise its reign and embody it politically in the form of the state power.

Ideology developed historically, partially at least, for this purpose. The forms of solidarity ideology of tribal, primitive communistic societies become altered in both content and form with the development of ideologies which correspond to the rise of class societies and express the material appropriation or control of the means of production by a given ruling class or caste respectively.

The historical development of the productive forces in agriculture, the attendant growth in the productivity of labour and the production of a surplus by the labouring producers formed the ground for the genesis of contradictions in earlier pre-class societies and their fragementation into castes and opposed classes. Ideological changes take place in the course of the struggle of a caste or class for social power and hegemony based on its control and/or appropriation and ownership of the means of production. Incidentally, it is entirely possible for a ruling stratum to socially control without actually owning the means of production. This took place not only in ancient formations where a priestly caste controlled but did not actually own the means of production (e.g. in ancient Egypt, Babylonia and the other great river valley civilisations of the ancient world) but also in the modern age where a controlling bureaucratic caste administered production in the Soviet system but did not actually own it.

These forms of ‘non-ownership’ control were associated with certain privileges and rights which were not available to the rest of the populus. Such castes were not classes (if we employ the criteria of ownership and non-ownership to determine ‘class’) in that they did not ‘own’ and could not wilfully dispose of the means of production as they so wished. The ability and right to alienate property is a hallmark of ownership. Where this right to alienate does not exist, it implies either non-ownership (which does not exclude ‘control’) or extreme restrictions on the disposability of property as with the feudal aristocracy in medieval England, France and elsewhere.

The origination and evolution of bourgeois society modified the forms of social control so that they corresponded to and represented the interests of the capitalist class in the ascendant or in power. In lands with a history of feudalism, this implied and necessitated a transformation of the state power and the forms of ideology. But primarily – and this is of fundamental importance – the mechanism of social control of the ‘first order’ becomes the capital relation itself. When this relation moved from being simply a social relation of circulation to one embracing both production and circulation, then the control parameters of its operation became historically dominant. It became established ‘organically’ in society as the controlling relation of the whole social metabolism. In England, this period dates approximately from the commencement of the 16th century under the Tudors but, of course, the pre-conditions were prepared long before that period. In relation to capital’s function as the ‘first order’ mechanism of social control, the state power itself stands as an indispensable and serving ‘second order’ mechanism.

From this period in England, we see the progressively emerging and pivotal role of the family in the capitalist order. The monogamous family increasingly becomes…

the social institution for the perpetuation of private ownership of property, and in particular of capital (Engels). It is, for capitalism, the unit for reproduction of the most important commodity of all, labour-power, i.e., for the continued existence of a propertyless proletariat, of the essential class system.

However, today, in the epoch of capital’s structural crisis…

….as the principal mode of transmission of values and norms to effect control of the younger generation, it is surely collapsing, which is ‘dangerous’ (hence the solemn pronouncements of government ministers and church pontiffs).

(Cliff Slaughter, Bonfire of the Certainties – The Second Human Revolution. Chapter 8, Part (a) Crisis of the Modern Family., p.90. Publisher :, 2012)

In England, the ideological and political conflict between capital and the remnants of the old feudal order becomes expressed in the struggle between different forms of Christianity, Catholicism articulating the interests of the feudal remnants of church and nobility and Protestantism the aspirations of the rising, young revolutionary bourgeoisie. Protestantism is deployed to challenge and sweep away the old forms of social control represented by these remnants which correspond to outmoded social relations.

In challenging these old forms of established social control, ideology is utilised to facilitate the destruction of outmoded social relations and thereby facilitate the transition to different class relations where new forms of social control become established and legitimised by the now dominant or coming-to-dominate ideological forms. In Tudor England, capital in circulation had reached a sufficient position of strength to force itself into complete dominance in agricultural production which the Tudor dissolution of the Monasteries augmented. Once it had captured the realms of circulation and agriculture, the historical stage was set for the final break up of the Guild system and its replacement with manufacture and later the mechanisation of production itself in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The draconian legislation and punishments we see in Tudor England were instrumental in establishing the control and dominance of capital over a population which historically had become accustomed to not labouring for large parts of the year with Roman Catholic saints’ (‘holy days’) holidays, etc. Labour-power itself had to be completely transformed into a commodity at the service of capital at any time of the year. The ideology of the Protestant Work Ethic dates from this period. It was forced into the consciousness of the English people with murder, hangings, massacres, whip and hot branding irons. It was necessary for the revolutionary bourgeoisie to stamp and legitimise the rule of capital. By this time, the state power was already doing the bidding of capital and its new class of owners. To labour throughout the whole year and breed the next generation of labourers for capital facilitated the increasingly important role of the family in this developing system of exploitation. The traditional Catholic social customs which were more suited to a bygone feudal age had to be eradicated. Reformation and persecutions were the political instruments which the rising bourgeoisie used to realise these ends in order to compliment capital’s growing control of the whole social landscape.

Ideological conflict and its role in social control therefore reflects the fragmentation of society into opposed communities or classes and the ever-present possibility of social conflict or warfare. Forms of social control – mediated by ideology –  therefore operate in order to serve the interests of particular communities or classes. In class societies, they serve to guard the interests of the dominant class and, in so doing, perpetuate the class antagonisms of a given society. However, when a class is in the ascendant historically and is struggling for power, the forms of control which it develops can be used in the overthrow of the old order and therefore of the old mechanisms of social control. Social control can therefore maintain the perpetuation of social antagonisms or, according to the different socio-historical needs and conditions of life of contending classes, create the conditions for their transcendence. We can clearly see this if we study the historical development of English society from the beginning of the 15th to the end of the 17th century.

When we investigate the systems of control found in class societies, the proposition that forms of social control predate class society may appear to be unfounded. For, after all, were not the earliest human societies based on common, tribal ownership; on an egalitarian association and a common access to the fruits of nature and human labour? These early primitive communistic societies  – without class structure and class relations – have often been conceptualised as being without forms of social control. The Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries tended to purvey this impression in contrast to the control and misery of the existence of the proletariat in the ‘dark satanic mills’ of the time. However, the primitive character of the relationship of humanity to nature at this early stage of development actually necessitated social consensus amongst a people or peoples. Intrinsic to this consensus were forms of social control which furthered the social cohesion of communities in their daily struggle to survive. Consensus was arrived at by means of the popular democracy of these communities [2]. It is only later, in class societies, that social control becomes institutionalised in the form of the state which embodies and maintains the interests of a ruling class in opposition to those of the subjugated class or classes.

The systems of social control under capitalism inevitably condition the structure and psychosocial character of interpersonal relationships. In their role as a means of social subjugation – which arises directly from the coercive, oppressive nature of capitalist social relations –  they function to maintain the socio-economic dependence of the producer proletarian class within social relations and conditions of exploitation. Such relations continue to characterise society until the conditions are established which render such forms of social control unnecessary. The family itself is an important component in the system of social control found in capitalist society. It existence as a ‘social unit’ for the production and reproduction of labour-power (variable capital in the process of the production of capital) simultaneously makes it an indispensable component for capital. And today, of course, not simply as a source of value-producing labour but also as a ‘consumerist’ source and outlet for the market realisation of this value.

The Family and Human Personality

The state power of capital is a violent power, explicitly or implicitly. Threat is indwelling in its very nature as the defender and facilitator of capital. Its control over society is always and continously referenced back and inextricably connected to the capital relation itself as the primary mechanism of control over people’s lives. Intrinsic to this control is capital’s relationship to the nuclear family which is an exploitative relationship. Because it is exploitative and violent, the possibility remains latent within the family itself as one mechanism and means through which the proletariat becomes motivated to move against capital and its state power. We must not neglect this. The predicaments and dilemmas within which capital places people within their family context can be potentially explosive on a wider social scale.

Hence, resistance to such exploitative relations may actually arise out of the situation in which proletarian families have been ‘cornered’ by capital itself. The life of the exploited class becomes conditional on a coerced subservience to capital mediated by its various forms of social control. The drama of all this actually plays out in the psychosocial dynamics of the nuclear family itself. The nuclear family is vital for capital but this relationship between capital and the family contains embryonically posited within it the actual offensive against the capital relation itself. And this can become very rapidly actualised as capital’s structural crisis worsens. Unemployment, homelessness, debt, penury, etc, specifically illustrate the explosive capacity imminent in capital’s exploitative relationship with the nuclear family.

It is through such ‘second order’ mechanisms of capital, of course, that fear itself can be used as a means of control. However, these mechanisms of control can only be employed, and can only be effective, within definite social parameters, i.e. only under very specific, definite historical conditions. Beyond a certain point of social development, the needs of the exploited can only be realised on the condition of the destruction of those social relations which are maintained and perpetuated by such forms of social control. The conflict here between the needs and interests of opposed classes becomes expressed in the form of the dynamic conflict between the imposition of and resistance to systems and mechanisms of social control. The nuclear family here is caught in the middle of this contradictory movement. On the one hand, it seeks to maintain and consolidate itself in a crisis and endeavours to take the ‘line of least resistance’. On the other, the crisis itself impels it towards struggle against the source of this crisis and this always risks the danger of the dissolution of the family. The dilemma it finds itself in is to accept the detrimental effects of the crisis upon itself and yet strive to maintain itself. Or, the other alternative, to move against capital-in-crisis whilst, at the same time inviting and heightening the risk of break up and dissolution. In the end, as capital’s crisis matures beyond a certain point, the latter alternative is the only possible one.

In The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels shows that the origin and historical development of the family in its different forms – out of the primaeval hunter-gatherer relationships of human prehistory – is inextricably connected with the rise and evolution of private property out of the original forms of common ownership. The inner conflicts which develop historically within the different forms of the family are reciprocally related to the origination and evolution of private property in its different and succeeding forms.

Engels – influenced by the researches and investigations of Lewis Henry Morgan in his writings, especially his magnum opus Ancient Society – traces the origins of the monogamous family in previous forms of the family, reaching its latest nuclear form in bourgeois society.

Today we can see that the nuclear family is starting to deform and break up under the impact of the unfolding structural crisis of capital and the crisis-effects and contradictions which is it generating within bourgeois society as a whole. Even now, people are experimenting with new kinds of relationships, human groupings and communities. This is not novel, of course, but is becoming more prevalent as bourgeois society continues on its trajectory of decay and breakdown  The psychosocial conflicts within the nuclear family are both a contributing part of, and reflect, the wider social crisis of present day society.

The family – in its very earliest forms – foreshadows the rise of private property and – in its later forms – is an intrinsic, organic part of the different social systems based on private property. The transformation of the means of production and distribution into the common property of the whole of society creates the social conditions for the complete dissolution or, at least, the revolutionisation of ‘family’ relationships beyond their currently recognised structure and state in bourgeois society.

The rearing of children within the structure of the nuclear family takes place within an environment of self-enclosed, inward looking, relationships. The dynamic of the family itself exists as a discrete unit in the continuum of social structures and relations. It constitutes, and is constituted as, a medium and means for the reproduction and rearing of human beings and their introduction and ‘socialisation’ into the relations of bourgeois society. This effectively means it serves as a social incubator for the production and reproduction of labour-power to service the needs of capital and its various agencies. In serving these functions, it emerges and evolves as an organic, intrinsic part of bourgeois society, both refracting and functioning to perpetuate its social relations.

Thus the capitalist order needs the nuclear family as the cellular unit of society. However, capital in the so-called ‘overdeveloped’ countries has other ‘needs’ – to have millions of women available as cheap and easily ‘casualised’, exploitable labour, to destroy the optimism and hope of youth through the ruthless, predatory and immoral manipulation of the consumer market, to create enormous problems of ‘affording’ care for the elderly, who constitute an ever-growing proportion of the population, to ignore morality where it interferes with sales. These and many other ‘needs’ systematically undermine the nuclear family as a coherent structure.

First; the family inevitably finds itself at the focus of all the problems of ‘overdevelopment’ and its pathological results, and yet it is the cellular unit where the subsistence of the bearers of labour-power and its reproduction must take place, thus it is structurally necessary to capital, despite the fact that capital at its latest stage must undermine it. And second; the family and its future are necessarily at the centre of that necessary historical change which we have characterised as the ‘human revolution’.

(Slaughter, C. Bonfire of the Certainties, Chapter 8, The Human Revolution..and the Modern Family, Part (a) Crisis of the Modern Family, p.90)

Any consideration of the future of the family compels us to address questions of child development in bourgeois society and beyond. The life of the child in the family and its wider life in society make up the two sides of its life as a whole which are not separate but interpenetrate in these distinct aspects. Implicitly posited in this relation of ‘private’ and ‘public’ are the ambiguities or even conflicts between its private conditions of life and its wider social conditions of life.

In bourgeois society, the initial and informative period of psychosocial development of the child is centred in the family i.e. within the relationships of the social arena where its physical and other needs are met or not met accordingly. This is not to ignore or neglect its life outside of the family. However, generally speaking, the nuclear family, at the earliest stages of child development, is the psychosocial medium within which children form their earliest, most significant psychological attachments and dependencies. The establishment, interplay and development of these ‘attachments’ and ‘dependencies’ form the psychosocial content of the inner relationships of the nuclear family within which children’s needs are supposedly identified and realised.

The socio-economic conditions which prevail in capitalist society necessitate, maintain and encourage the continuation of the inner relationships of the nuclear family, containing their contradictions within its determinate boundaries and conditions. However, at the same time, these socio-economic conditions – in the course of their development – create the basis for the introduction and cultivation of antagonisms within the family which point towards its disintegration. Bourgeois socio-economic relations therefore assert and exert these contradictory influences on the nuclear family. The family is not separate from these influences and conditions but is an intrinsic part of them, interrelated and organically moving with and within them.

The differences between the ‘public’ life of the individual within society and the ‘private’ life within the exclusive coterie of the nuclear family is one which can only continue to subsist under the conditions of alienation of bourgeois society. This separation (fragmentation) between the ‘private world’ of the individual and the individual’s ‘public world’ in society is a function of the rise and evolution of private property itself and is not something inherently human. It reaches its highest form of expression in the course of the development of the capitalist mode of production. Marx noted this, in the 1840s, within the context of the division of labour and in relation to occupation when he wrote that…

Individuals have always proceeded from themselves but of course from themselves within their given historical conditions and relations, not from the “pure” individual in the sense of the ideologists. But in the course of historical development, and previously through the fact that within the division of labour social relations inevitably take on an independent existence, there appears a cleavage in the life of each individual, insofar as it is personal and insofar as it is determined by some branch of labour and the conditions pertaining to it. [4]

This social ‘cleavage in the life of each individual’ is reflected in the conflict between the public and private psychology of the individual, this psychological contrast corresponding to the ‘cleavage’ in the social being of each individual. The conflict takes the form of the psychosocial relationship between the public ‘persona’ of the individual on the one hand (embracing occupational/professional relationships, etc) and the inner ‘egoism’ of the private world of thought and feeling of the same individual on the other hand. This antagonism between the private and public sides of human individuality reaches its most antagonistic point of development in the human relationships of bourgeois society i.e. where the social relations of this society actually necessitate the development, cultivation and perpetuation of this antagonism which serves to fragment the personality of the individual in his or her psychosocial relationships. The psychosocial aspects of alienation become deeply embedded within the human personality itself and the relationships of people with each other and themselves. The continuously repeated daily nightmare of conscious existence in bourgeois society for which only our transitory pleasures and pain-alleviating sleep offer some degree of respite.

The dissolution of the nuclear family in classless society will mean and ensure that the rearing and genuine socialisation of children takes place on an entirely different (and indeed opposite) social foundation to the impoverished one we find mediating the existence of bourgeois society.

Children are reared within the social conditions, and through the social relationships, of the commune. This communal process serves  – in its actual ontological character  –  to resolve and abolish the conflict between the private and public sides of the life of the individual. Children become the children of the whole commune – are reared by the whole community – as the psychosocial relationships which characterise the internal structure of the nuclear family of bourgeois society start to disappear.

In the socialist society which follows capitalism, the monogamous family will no longer be required as the reproductive framework for the commodity labour-power or the inheritance of private property. Production will be the production of use-values by free individuals as participants in the working of the ‘social brain’. How these individuals will be reared and formed will be an entirely new question, to be taken up by free men and women.

(Slaughter, C. Bonfire of the Certainties, Chapter 8, part (b), p.91. From the first ‘human revolution’ to the second. Publisher :

A possible implication of this communal process of rearing children will be that biological parents will cease to have the same psychosocial significance which they have for ‘their’ children which they have reared within the monogamous nuclear family in bourgeois society. Each child in the commune naturally has biological parentage but every adult becomes the social parent (guardian) of each and every child and, accordingly, every child becomes ‘the child’ of every parenting adult. If we consider the onward, unfolding development of such human relations, this implies that the very notions of ‘parent’, ‘brother’, ‘sister’, ‘son’ ‘daughter’, etc – which express the social relationships of the nuclear family in bourgeois society – will start to vanish and be replaced by a universal state of ‘brotherhood’ and ‘sisterhood’.

Child-adult relationships become transformed in the commune where biological parentage does not have, or confer, any special, exclusive social role or privilege upon these adults. The child is reared by the whole commune and grows to maturity without any notions of ‘my’ ‘family’, ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘brother’, etc, which characterised the family structure in previous societies. In a certain sense, all adults become the fathers and mothers of the children of the commune (and therefore all children become the ‘sons and daughters’ of these adults in the commune) and all children become the ‘brothers and sisters’ of each other. But the universality of the transformed relations implies that nobody will be identified as ‘my mother’ ‘my son’, ‘my father’, etc. The narrow, exclusive, alienating mode of rearing children in bourgeois society becomes superseded in the life of the commune.

The development of children into adults becomes a function of the life of the commune as a whole and not a function of the narrow and stifling confines of the nuclear family of bourgeois society. Marx points out that…

the ability of children to develop depends on the development of their parents and that all this crippling under existing social relations has arisen historically, and in the same way can be abolished again in the course of historical development. Even naturally evolved differences within the species, such as racial differences, etc,…can and must be abolished in the course of historical development. [5]

….‘the ability of children to develop depends on the development of their parents’. The social development and psychology of children is a most sensitive indicator of the general character of the social relations of the epoch. Marx asks, in the final paragraph of the Introduction to the Grundrisse, ‘Does not the true character of each epoch come alive in the nature of its children?’

The internal relations, dependencies and attachments found operating within the bourgeois nuclear family –  which bind children to this narrow and confining mode of development – start to become obsolete as humanity begins to create and re-create a communal mode of life for itself developing on the basis of its own self-reproducing foundations.

As do all those notions and affectations which are intrinsically associated with this existence within the nuclear family. The establishment of a communist life on its own self-created, evolving foundations and the constant reproduction and evolution of this mode of human life in continuously deeper and higher forms serves to dissolve the psychosocial ‘bonds’ (‘family ties’) of the nuclear family. Primarily, in the commune and commencing from birth, the needs of human individuals – which become historically created needs – become unconditionally guaranteed (‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’) and, as such, attainable and realisable outside the traditional confines and conditions of the bourgeois nuclear family.

The maturation of children in the commune outside the relations of the nuclear family will facilitate a higher degree of personal independence and realisation as ‘social individuals’ than can ever possibly exist in bourgeois society. This is in accord with the higher forms of human freedom that necessarily result from the establishment and development of communist relations. The fears and mentalities that are associated with the possible or actual non-attainment of needs – food, shelter, clothing, etc – in capitalist society will inevitably disappear and this will, further, serve to dissolve the traditional ties of the nuclear family. The psychosocial relationships of the nuclear family – which grow out of the necessity to satisfy human needs under the conditions of exploitation of capitalist society – become historically unnecessary and gradually disappear in the onward evolution of classless society. It will, accordingly, be only within the commune that each individual has….

the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community. In previous substitutes for the community, in the state, etc, personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed under the conditions of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community in which individuals have up till now combined always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and since it was the combination of one class over against another, it was at the same time for the oppressed class not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In the real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association. [6]

In the commune, the identification, cultivation, refinement, development and realisation of the comprehensive historically-created needs of human beings become socially and unconditionally guaranteed. This unconditional, ontologically-existent, guarantee arises from the actual nature of human relationships in the commune. It is neither a question of wilful disposition nor of ‘good faith’ or intention.

The exploitation and forms of social control of capitalist society vanish and, accordingly, all those forms of human behaviour, characteristics of interpersonal behaviour, modes of thinking and ideology which are the outcome of, and correspond to, these forms of exploitation and control in capitalist society.

In the transition to a global, stateless, classless society, the forms of human consciousness corresponding to this period of transition will, inevitably, continue to reflect a disappearing connection to and with bourgeois society and especially with the alienation characteristic of this dying society. This will merely illustrate that society – in this transitional phase – has not yet completely disentangled itself from the various legacies of bourgeois society as a historic formation.

So long as the historical umbilical cord connecting human society to the legacies of bourgeois society – and the human memory of them – has not been completely severed, then human society will not have re-founded and re-developed itself as an association of free human beings and freely associated human beings. At such a stage, the legacies of the relations of bourgeois society would continue to exert their influence, partially binding humanity – and even psychologically to a certain degree –  to the forms of social antagonism of the past.  Accordingly, under these conditions, the thinking, feeling, behaviour and interpersonal relationships of people would continue to be conditioned by the legacies of the exploitative relations of the dying capitalist society until the new society firmly and irreversibly establishes itself and starts to evolve on the basis of its own self-created foundations.

Interpersonal relationships in capitalist society are conditioned by the character of its exploitative social relations. Even the psychologically-internalised character of the relationship which people have with ‘themselves’, their ‘self-relation’, is conditioned by their relationships with others and vice versa. Marx writes that..

Dissatisfaction with oneself is either dissatisfaction with oneself within the framework of a definite condition which determines the whole personality e.g. dissatisfaction with oneself as a worker, or it is moral dissatisfaction. In the first case, therefore, it is simultaneously and mainly dissatisfaction with the existing relations; in the second case – an ideological expression of these relations themselves, which does not at all go beyond them, but belongs wholly to them. [3]

The individual ‘self’ is a specific ‘ensemble of the prevailing social relations’ which are themselves a product of human historical development. Even the forms of psychological self-evaluation and the characteristics of individual personality are socio-historically grounded, formed and evolved.

The human personality in its many expresssions is a historical creation which is both the outcome of pre-societal natural history and human social development. It is the outcome of this whole, this totality of development over many millions of years. However, the keynotes of the human personality of the epoch of capital, its fundamental orienting content, structures and relations arise out of the social being of the individual in this age of capital, an age of social oppression, exploitation, subjection and subordination. Individuals are an active social product of this epoch of capital-in-crisis which is conditioning and developing the content and character of the specific human personality types of the age.

The psychology of interpersonal relationships in the epoch of capital is becoming increasingly brutal. Since we are all participants in this system, do we appreciate how brutalised people have already become or are becoming in their interpersonal relationships with each other? And, moreover and most disturbingly, in their relations the wonderful, majestic creations of nature? A crass, brutal individualism ‘assaults’ us everyday and a kind of insidious, nihilistic hedonism seems to be suffocating every aspect of human culture and interpersonal relations. All this is becoming expressed in the most disturbing, gut-wrenching and nightmarish forms as capital’s structural crisis broadens and deepens.

Nature’s creation is being subjected to the most horrendous and cruel forms of torture, pillage and annihilations. Personal gratification and the mad rush for ‘pleasure’ presents itself as the pre-occupation of the age at the expense of anything and everything. All this arises organically out of a society in crisis whilst being a feeble attempt, at the same time, to blunt its edge.

In everyday life, an undercurrent of brutality flows – taking a multitude of forms – intrinsic to which is viewing and ‘appropriating’ or ‘cultivating’ people as mere objects for use, mere objects of utility to serve pre-calculated ends. This has, like a plague, invaded every aspect of human life and relationships and is encouraged by the capitalist media. This raises a very important question, a paradox. The epoch of capital-in-crisis is generating all this in people’s relationships and this motivates us to oppose its rule. However, at the same time, by totally corrupting human relationships, it actually hinders the capacity to end this epoch of capital. Within the historical framework of the global transition from and beyond the capital order, we need to consider how people can actually drive this transition forward, to transcend the epoch of capital, as the human creations of this epoch and, simultaneously, as the creators of the new society. The transition is the active transcendence, the overcoming of the effects of the age of capital on people by these self-same people who are its creations.

In other words, the exploitative character of capitalism finds its psychological correlates and expression in the life, personality and interpersonal relationships of human individuals in this class society. The life and relationships of the individual reflect, embody and personify the exploitative character of these relations and, indeed, are an intrinisic, contributing part and aspect of these relations. In the course of their development, individuals tend to replicate and exhibit – in transmuted, often highly convoluted and distorted, personalised forms – the social content and characteristics of the determinations and features of bourgeois relations. Thus, for example, its coercive, oppressive and violent social relations tend to engender interpersonal relationships which are mediated by these characteristics and yet may undoubtedly give rise to antithetical aspects of them in the human personality. The men and women of bourgeois society are its products but they are its humanly active and thinking products which contains all the possibility of opposition to bourgeois society not simply on the political level but also in people’s interpersonal relationships.

The life of society as a whole dominates and permeates the life and interpersonal relationships of the individual but not, of course, deterministically.  Bourgeois society – which is, nevertheless, most definitely a class society – is a complex system of relationships which, taken as a whole, is qualitatively distinct from a mere summation of its socially-acting individual human parts. The human personality of each individual is formed and develops within this complex network of relationships and reflects them in both its structures, conceptual content and emotional mediations. But it does not ‘reflect’ them passively or ‘mechanically’  but rather can articulate them humanly, actively, ethically, in opposition to the alienation of capitalist relations.

The dissolution of the class relations of bourgeois society constitutes the ground and pre-condition for the emergence of the higher classless human relationships and personality in the commune. In the commune, the comprehensive needs of human beings become socially and unconditionally guaranteed. This itself arises out of the ontological nature of human relationships in the commune. ‘Activity’ itself becomes established as a ‘vital need’. The oppression and exploitation of previous class societies comes to an end and with them also those characteristic forms of behaviour in individuals and in their interpersonal relationships which are the product of and correspond to these antecedent relations.

The state power of capital, of course, is the political guarantor of the exploitation of labour by capital. Herein lies its historic role in the imposition of systems and forms of coercion and control. The state power of capital is the consummate political expression and embodiment of the coercion and control which safeguards the rule of capital. This is its class nature representing and articulating the interests of the class of capitalists; the owners of capital. Its very existence is therefore the direct political expression of the antagonism between capital and its historic structural antagonist which is labour.

Historically, the state comes into being as the expression of the emergence and growth of class antagonisms and, accordingly, must disappear with the dissolution of the final historic form of these antagonisms between capital and labour. The state – in whatever form – always represents the interests of a ruling caste or class. The first forms of the state arose as the primaeval forms of communism in tribal societies were supplanted by the first class societies. These first forms of the state therefore become necessary as these tribal societies were superseded with the differentiation of society into opposed classes. Where there are no class or caste interests to defend, the state is rendered historically unnecessary. The character of social relations in the commune no longer gives rise to or necessitates the existence of a state power hovering above society as an alien body.

Lenin used the existence or non-existence of the state as a criterion for the existence or non-existence of the freedom prevailing in the commune.Thus, he writes, somewhat formally, that…

so long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.

(State and Revolution. Progress, Moscow, 1969. p.87)

We say ‘formally’ because ‘freedom’ is not, as such, an absolute state to be reached once and for all but rather more a state of being for humanity to continuously expand to wider horizons and deepen to more profound states of existence, once the fundamental pre-conditions for such a development have been established in a classless, stateless, global communal human life.

The very notion of freedom cannot exist in such a society. When the state perishes, notions of freedom vanish with it. The hankering after ‘freedom’ is itself the product of enslavement. A truly free human being is not capable of having and cultivating concepts of freedom. They are the creations of the unfree within the various forms of enslavement. Accordingly, a truly free human being cannot have any awareness of ‘being free’. Communist humanity will see itself as ‘free’ no more than it will see itself as ‘communist’. ‘Communism’ is for the enslaved. Those of the ‘true realm of freedom’ have no need of it.

As with notions of freedom, family and commune, the very notion of property itself disappears with the negation of private ownership and the emergence and onward development of social relations based upon common ownership. If everything belongs to the whole of society and to every single human being, then there is no ‘ownership’ as such and no conception to correspond to it or to actually describe it. Marx writes that..

From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another.

(Capital. Volume 3. Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1974. p.776)

Those human characteristics which are intrinsically associated with the rule of private property will disappear. Human relationships become free of their psychosocial presence and effects.


Notes and References

[1] Engels, F. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Preface to the First Edition. (Penguin, 1985) pp.35-36

[2] For example, see the work and studies of Lewis Henry Morgan in his book Ancient Society amongst the indigenous American Iroquois.

[3] Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.378

[4] Marx. The German Ideology. p.78

[5] Marx. Ibid.,  p.425

[6] Marx. Ibid., p.78


Shaun May

March 2016 (revised)


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Filed under communism, Marxist Theory of Human Personality, Psychology, Radical Psychology, realm of freedom, social relations

Marx’s Realms : Capital, Natural Necessity and True Realm of Freedom

Marx’s Realms : Capital, Natural Necessity and True Realm of Freedom

1. Hegel, Marx and ‘Freedom and Necessity’
2. Feudal and Ancient Relations
3. Realm of Global Capital
4. A Note on Human Individuality in the Epoch of Capital
5. Realm of Natural Necessity and True Realm of Freedom

1. Hegel, Marx and ‘Freedom and Necessity’

Written in 1865 – more than 20 years after the Paris Manuscripts and embracing and sublating within itself the content of those manuscripts and all the subsequent theoretical development – volume three of Capital represents the highest point of development of Marx’s critique of political economy. Without a detailed study of this text, no truly fruitful discussion of the onset in the 1970s and unfolding of the structural crisis of capital can be evolved. When we ponder the devotion and effort which Marx must have put in to his work – and the discipline to which he must have subjected himself – we cannot do other than marvel at this and his achievements and must truly acknowledge and assimilate our indebtedness to him as a revolutionary thinker.

A re-read of any of Marx’s writings always invites one on to a new journey of discovery. Just when we thought we knew the ins and outs of a work, we find that there is always more to unearth and dig out. A new reading brings out new aspects, reveals new channels and fissures which we overlooked before, and this augments and enriches our overall conception. Just when we start to think the mine has been exhausted, new seams are discovered.

We know essentially what we are fighting against but what are we fighting for? What are we fighting to establish? This article focusses on Marx’s concepts of the ‘realm of natural necessity’ and the ‘true realm of freedom’ found in volume three of Capital.

What follows is a lengthy quote from volume three with which we will work and to which we will refer back and return as and when required.

Surplus labour in some form must always remain, as labour beyond the extent of given needs. It is just that in the capitalist, as in the slave system ,etc., it has an antagonistic form and its obverse side is pure idleness on the part of one section of society. A certain quantum of surplus labour is required as insurance against accidents and for the progressive extension of the reproduction process that is needed to keep pace with the development of needs and the progress of population. It is one of the civilizing aspects of capital that it extorts this surplus labour in a manner and in conditions that are more advantageous to social relations and to the creation of elements for a new and higher formation than was the case under the earlier forms of slavery, serfdom, etc. Thus on the one hand it leads towards a stage at which compulsion and the monopolization of social development (with its material and intellectual advantages) by one section of society at the expense of another disappears; on the other hand it creates the material means and the nucleus for relations that permit this surplus labour to be combined, in a higher form of society, with a greater reduction of the overall time devoted to material labour. For, according to the development of labour productivity, surplus labour can be great when the total working day is short and relatively small when the total working day is long. If the necessary labour-time is 3 hours and surplus labour also 3 hours, the total working day is 6 hours and the rate of surplus labour 100 per cent. If the necessary labour is 9 hours and the surplus labour 3 hours, the total working day is 12 hours and the rate of surplus labour only 33 1/3 per cent. It then depends on the productivity of labour how much use-value is produced in a given time, and also therefore in a given surplus labour-time. The real wealth of society and the possibility of a constant expansion of its reproduction process does not depend on the length of surplus labour but rather on its productivity and on the more or less plentiful conditions of production in which it is performed.
The realm of freedom really begins only where labour determined by necessity and external expediency ends; it lies by its very nature beyond the sphere of material production proper. Just as the savage must wrestle with nature to satisfy his needs, to maintain and reproduce his life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all forms of society and under all possible modes of production. This realm of natural necessity expands with his development, because his needs do too; but the productive forces to satisfy these expand at the same time. Freedom, in this sphere, can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature. But this always remains a realm of necessity. The true realm of freedom, the development of human powers as an end in itself, begins beyond it, though it can only flourish with this realm of necessity as its basis. The reduction of the working day is the basic prerequisite. [1]

Realm of necessity? realm of freedom? In the very nature of things, any realm of necessity must be intermediated by a given degree of freedom and any realm of freedom intermediated by relations of necessity of a given nature and order. It is the actual historically-established, real, specific, character of social relations within and through which humanity lives which determine and denote the stage of living development at which the relationship between necessity and freedom has arrived .

Hegel teaches us that…

‘A freedom involving no necessity, and mere necessity without freedom, are abstract and in this way untrue formulae of thought. Freedom is no blank indeterminateness : essentially concrete, and unvaryingly self-determinate, it is so far at the same time necessary. Necessity, again, in the ordinary acceptation of the term in popular philosophy, means determination from without only – as in finite mechanics, where a body moves only when it is struck by another body, and moves in the direction communicated to it by the impact. This however is a merely external necessity, not the real inward necessity which is identical with freedom’ [2]

It is this ‘real inward necessity which is identical with freedom’ which Marx is articulating when he writes of the ‘true realm of freedom’. As Hegel demonstrated, necessity and freedom, in their dialectics, are mutually engendering, relating, negating and reaffirming sides of each other. They are ‘not independently real’ and ‘to abstract and isolate either conception is to make it false’ [3]

Causality itself expresses the inherently contradictory character of Nature in which ‘the act of distinguishing and intermediating becomes a primariness of actual things independent one against the other’ within which ‘their independence only lies in their identity’. This continuous ‘circulation’ (movement, negativity, ‘negative self-relation’) and ‘independence’ of things which is immediately and simultaneously their relation (identity, ‘infinite self-relation’) and ‘intermediation’ is the ‘truth of necessity’ which is ‘freedom’. The whole movement is one which is ‘self-repulsive into distinct independent elements yet in that repulsion is self-identical, and in the movement of reciprocity still at home and conversant only with itself’ [4] [§§157-158]

This conception of a necessity which is inseparable from freedom contrasts with ‘necessity immediate or abstract’ in which it is walled off from ‘abstract freedom’ in a state of ‘rigid externality’. For Hegel, neither necessity nor freedom can have subsistence independently of each other, have ‘no independent reality’. To think so is the work of the ‘understanding’ (Verstand), ‘formal’, ‘unspeculative’, ‘metaphysics’. It is not to grasp the world as being in an unending state of development, as living, unfolding paradox in its infinite variety of forms, as paradox simultaneously resolving and re-positing itself.

In Hegel, the separation of necessity and freedom – their ‘externality’ to each other – is transcended by demonstrating that…

‘the members, linked to one another, are not really foreign to each other, but only elements of one whole, each of them, in its connection with the other, being, as it were, at home, and combining with itself. In this way necessity is transfigured into freedom – not the freedom that consists in abstract negation, but freedom concrete and positive. From which we may learn what a mistake it is to regard freedom and necessity as mutually exclusive. Necessity indeed, qua necessity, is far from being freedom : yet freedom presupposes necessity, and contains it as an unsubstantial element in itself’ [4] [Zusatz]

In Marx’s ‘true realm of freedom’, the activity of the human individual is that of a social individual (as opposed to the private individual of class society) which is lived necessarily as a ‘free mediation’ in the life of the species as whole. The social form of necessity in this realm ceases to bear the same compulsive ‘external’ character as it does in the ‘realm of natural necessity’. The necessity of the ‘true realm of freedom’ is the ‘truth’ of the previous form of ‘external’ necessity prevailing in that antecedent realm of ‘natural necessity’. It is a necessity which is no longer compulsive but of a totally different, higher order altogether. It is the character of this higher order of necessity to ‘suspend its presupposition’, to transcend its previous form and, in so doing, creates itself as the very ground, the presupposition of itself. And in this lies the human freedom of this realm. The ‘free mediation’ of each becomes the necessary condition for the ‘free mediation’ of all and vice versa.

This ‘true realm of freedom’ creates a fundamentally different kind of individual as compared to the type we find in bourgeois society. In his foreword to Marx’s Grundrisse, Martin Nicolaus writes..

‘Finally, instead of ‘species-being’, the Grundrisse speaks of two very broadly and generally defined types of human individuality. The first is the ‘private individual’ , meaning the individual as private proprietor, both as owner of the means of production and as ‘owner’ of the commodity, labour power; the individual within the exchange relation. The abolition of the relations of private property is the abolition of the conditions which produce and reproduce this kind of individual. The place of this type is taken by the social individual, the individual of classless society, a personality type which is not less, but rather more, developed as an individual because of its direct social nature. As opposed to the empty, impoverished, restricted individuality of capitalist society, the new human being displays an all-sided, full, rich development of needs and capacities, and is universal in character and development.’ [5]

This all-round development and cultivation of the individual to which Nicolaus refers becomes an inner social necessity as the transition is made from the post-capitalist ‘realm of natural necessity’ towards the ‘true realm of freedom’. This ‘cultivation’ does not, of course, take the form of an oppressively coercive social imposition on the individual where the individual is ‘compelled’ to become ‘cultivated’ (Hegel’s ‘external necessity’). Rather, it springs directly from the actual nature of human relationships in the commune where all forms of oppressive coercion have been transcended and the life of the individual is not subject to the social compulsion which characterises human relations in bourgeois society. The individual becomes ‘developed’ as a ‘social individual’ in order to live a fully developed and integrated human life with his/her fellow men and women. This development of the social individual does not take place under the weight of any ‘external’ coercion or expediency. It does not take place out of an ‘external necessity’ which is internalised as a ‘compulsion’ but rather out of social relations which constitute a ‘free necessity’. This is a necessity which operates as transcended ‘natural necessity’, as a historically-created necessity which has transcended this ‘natural necessity’. The individual, under such conditions, remains the spontaneous yet ‘active’ (creating) creation of the ‘ensemble of social relations’. Born into this ‘true realm’, he becomes developed as a directly-socialised, intrinsic, ‘cultivated’ part of the life of society (Hegel’s ‘real inward necessity which is identical with freedom’).

2. Feudal and Ancient Relations

In feudal society –where the dominant mode of labour was bond labour – the serf was compelled to perform labour duties on the lord’s land. The mode of appropriation of this form of labour took a very direct, transparent form in that there was a fragmentation of labour time between the serf’s plot of land and that of the feudal lord. Essentially, labour on the lord’s land was appropriated directly as surplus labour in the form of material produce for direct consumption by the lord’s retinue. Later, the increasing encroachment of commodity production and exchange (and hence money economy) increasingly forces this appropriation in money payments so that as this stage opens up and unfolds (in England, roughly the 14th and first half of the 15th century) feudal economy is already irredeemably sinking into the quicksand of history. One of the major demands of the revolt of the English peasantry in 1381 was the abolition of serfdom. An irreversible process had commenced within which the peasantry were not only starting to work as agricultural day wage-labourers on the lands of a rising class of agricultural landowners and tenants who were were producing for exchange. But sections of the peasantry had themselves started to develop into a self-employed, commodity-selling, petty bourgeoisie (independently of the guild system in the towns) which was already hostile to feudalism. The continuation of feudal obligations merely interfered with the development of this unstoppable historical process and hence the clamour during the 1381 revolt for the abolition of feudal obligations. It was this growing petty bourgeoisie that led this revolt in the towns and countryside, especially in the more developed south-eastern region of the country.

The spatio-temporal division of labour time characterises bond labour as ‘thine’ and the time in which the serf reproduces his needs on his plot by domestic subsistence labour as ‘mine’. This in itself implies social relations of alienation as does, of course, the actual ownership of the producers in Antiquity. The political hierarchy of crown, church and nobility which evolves on the basis of these feudal relations (the triadic parasitic expression of these relations) confronts the class of serfs as divinely ordained and instituted in hostile opposition to them. Here Catholicism plays its historical ideological role. Religion as the direct ideological expression of the existence of social relationships mediated by alienation.

In the slave societies of Antiquity, the producers are themselves owned as chattels, being the property of the slave owners, differentiated from the oxen and the donkey by virtue of being ‘speaking tools’. The whole physical and social mode of being of the producer is subject to the will of the slaveowner who can sell or exchange the producer as a form of movable property. The slave (as “self”) is the property of the slaveowner (as “other”). The one is at the unconditional service and disposal of the other and belongs wholly to this other. The purpose of the existence of the slave is to be the object of use for the slaveowner. The slave is appropriated by the owner as an object for a prescribed purpose. The slave-master relation (a relationship of alienation) is maintained by the institutions of state of ancient societies in order to defend the parasitic mode of life of the slaveowning and landowning classes and thus of the existence of the state itself.

In the final centuries of the Roman empire, the bonded colonus replaced the slave as the major producer. Contrary to the assertions of some scholars (see, for example, De Ste Croix’s The Class Struggle in the Ancient World where he writes of the labour of the colonus at the beginning of the fourth century as a form of serfdom) the colonate was not a form of feudalism and the colonus was not a serf in the feudal meaning of the conception. Most of the land in feudal society was owned by the crown and by a process of investiture and subinfeudation the land was tenanted out to the king’s retinue and they, in turn, to their vassals, etc, until parcelled out to villeins and serfs. The pyramid-like social structure was propped up ideologically by the church. The crown-owned land was not alienable by its holders; it could not be sold unlike in the Roman colonate where the coloni were permanently attached to the land and so went with it when it was actually sold. The Roman Patroni could buy and sell land independently of the imperial edict and bureaucracy and in the later empire (4th and 5th century) landed estates grew to colossal proportions through conglomeration. The wealth of the patronus stood in stark contrast to the grinding poverty and desparation of his colonus.
In the later empire, land was owned by wealthy patroni and could be bought and sold along with its sharecropping producers who could also sell the products of their labour. The coloni were taxed in kind or coin.

The colonus was not a serf as a such. He was essentially a sharecropping tenant who actually paid rent either in kind or in coin from the sale of his produce and was not solely exploited by the patronus but was also taxed and intimidated by the ‘tax-farming’ bureaucracy of the Roman state of late antiquity. Unlike in feudal society, labour services to the patronus were peripheral and subsidiary. What remained after paying the patronus and the state (in kind or coin), he used to feed himself and his family. The superexploitation of the landowners and Roman bureaucracy meant that many starved or fled, often to the barbarian encampments. This superexploitation of late empire was a fundamental relation operative in its final collapse and disintegration.

The serf, on the contrary, had no powers of alienating his produce like the colonus. Rather he laboured on the demesne of the lord for part of the time and for subsistence on his ‘own’ plot for the other part. Money never passed through his hands except when feudalism started to decline and serfs were freeing themselves to become day labourers for commodity producers or self-employed hawkers, tinkers and traders in one form or another.

3. Realm of Global Capital

The development of capital itself creates the historic grounds for a higher form of human individuality….

‘Capital’s ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness [Naturbedurftigkeit], and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labour also therefore appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; because a historically created need has taken the place of the natural one. This is why capital is productive; i.e. an essential relation for the development of the social productive forces. It ceases to exist as such only where the development of these productive forces themselves encounters its barrier in capital itself.’ [6]

The ‘true realm of freedom’ emerges out of the ‘realm of necessity’ which stands as the historic presupposition and ground of this realm of freedom. This transitory period of ‘necessity’ therefore mediates the movement from the relations of bourgeois society to those of this ‘true realm’.

The fundamental distinction between this period of ‘necessity’ and that of the previous capitalist epoch lies in the associated producers holding and working the means of production in common to produce a directly social product and their labour therefore takes the form of directly socialised labour in contrast to the form it takes in capitalist commodity production. But as the ‘true realm of freedom’ unfolds, ‘labour […] appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared; because a historically created need has taken the place of the natural one’. Where labour no longer appears as labour but rather as the “full development of activity itself”, then the transition period of ‘natural necessity’ has been superseded into and replaced by the ‘true realm of freedom’

Under the rule of capital, private labour receives the stamp of social labour indirectly by its products taking the form of commodities and their values being realised on the market.

‘Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labour of private individuals who work independently of each other. The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals forms the aggregate labour of society. Since the producers do not come into social contact until they exchange the products of their labour, the specific social characteristics of their private labours appear only within this exchange. In other words, the labour of the private individual manifests itself as an element of the total labour of society only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between the products, and, through their mediation, between the producers. To the producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labours appear as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material [dinglich] relations between persons and social relations between things. It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire a socially uniform objectivity as values, which is distinct from their sensuously varied objectivity as articles of utility. This division of the product of labour into a useful thing and a thing possessing value appears in practice only when exchange has already acquired a sufficient extension and importance to allow useful things to be produced for the purpose of being exchanged, so that their character as values has already to be taken into consideration during production’ [7]

Exchange itself becomes a fundamentally inalienable relation in, and condition for, the reproduction and accumulation of capital. Exchange is a historical presupposition for the origination of capital in its first historically posited forms (commodity and money forms). It therefore precedes capital in all its forms and later develops with commodity production and capitalist commodity production.

During the transition period, there will be a growing need to develop measures to transcend exchange relations and replace them completely with a universal system of accounted production and distribution in which the identification and refinement of needs, quality, human welfare and ecological sustainability are the primary considerations. A ‘socialist accountancy’ (of labour required for production and distribution) prevails in the ‘realm of necessity’ which, in the long term, becomes transcended within the unfolding ‘realm of freedom’ in which disposable time – not value as a manifestation of labour time – becomes the measure of wealth.

Thus, in the first phase of communism (realm of natural necessity)…..

‘even after the capitalist mode of production is abolished, though social production remains, the determination of value still prevails in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among various production groups becomes more essential than ever, as well as the keeping of accounts on this’ [8]

This ‘determination of value still prevails’ within the ‘realm of natural necessity’ but becomes transcended as the ‘true realm of freedom’ emerges and unfolds out of this antecedent ‘realm of necessity’. Of course, it does not ‘prevail’ in the sense of the determination of value of products in exchange i.e. as commodities. But rather in the sense, as Marx writes, of the regulation and distribution of labour time in order to serve and meet social needs. The regulation of labour time becomes a transitory but necessary form of social accountancy. Here, therefore, labour time remains the measure of wealth and is only replaced by disposable time as the measure of wealth as the ‘true realm of freedom’ emerges and unfolds.

In the deep time of communism the distinction itself between necessary and surplus labour will actually disappear to be replaced by forms of human labour in which ‘labour […] appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself’ so that ‘activity’ will constitute a ‘vital need’ for human beings in that this ‘activity’ will be the direct, unalienated, social expression of the human freedom which prevails. This ‘true realm of freedom’ contains its own mediating necessity which is identical with human freedom i.e necessity and freedom become internal to each other and not a relation in which necessity is “external” and therefore manifest as compulsion in social relations.

In the first phase of communism, therefore, labour time remains the measure of wealth. It is the animating criterion against which the wealth of society continues to be measured. In this sense, it is a legacy of capitalist commodity production but this ‘determination of value’ in the ‘realm of necessity’ does not mediate relations in this realm in the same way as it does in the realm of capital in which value is the principal relation of exchange. In this first phase of communist development, ‘the relations of men in their social production do not manifest themselves as “values” of “things” ‘. However, at the same time, ‘the determination of value still prevails in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among various production groups becomes more essential than ever’ and thus, accordingly, the need for an accountancy of labour time. This, of course, is the complete opposite (since it is consciously planned) to the regulation of labour time which takes place anarchically under the market system of the capitalism with all its inhuman consequences….

‘As values, commodities are social magnitudes, that is to say, something absolutely different from their “properties” as “things”. As values, they constitute only relations of men in their productive activity. Value indeed “implies exchanges”, but exchanges are exchanges of things between men, exchanges which in no way affect the things as such. A thing retains the same “properties” whether it be owned by A or by B. In actual fact, the concept “value” presupposes “exchanges” of the products. Where labour is communal, the relations of men in their social production do not manifest themselves as “values” of “things”. Exchange of products as commodities is a method of exchanging labour, [it demonstrates] the dependence of the labour of each upon the labour of the others [and corresponds to] a certain mode of social labour or social production’ [9]

The process of the objectification of human labour – i.e. the specifically human form of movement, form of energy which is human labour – takes place historically under different social relations of production. The process evolves as the application of this human energy in order to transform Nature into socially useful products. Humanity objectifies this ‘essential power’ in the labour process in order to wrest its needs from Nature by transforming it in the course of its relationship with it. Labour – in the broadest sense of the word – is this transhistorically-enduring, intrinsically human, indispensable ‘mediation’ in the relation between Man and Nature. We must note at this point that labour (in the broadest sense of the term as human productive activity) was the creative ontological basis for the evolutionary transformation of ancestral animal primates (through different stages in the lineage over millions of years) into the human being.

Marx revealed that it is only under certain historically-derived social relations of production that this process of objectification takes alienated forms. This is the positive, forward-looking, moment in his analysis; namely that the process of objectification is not inherently a process of alienation but rather takes a specific alien form under capitalism as a function of the character and reproduction of capital. In the epoch of the rule of capital…

The effects of things as materialised aspects of the labour process are attributed to them in capital, in their personification, their independence in respect of labour. They would cease to have these effects if they were to cease to confront labour in this alienated form.[10]

In contradistinction, Hegel ahistorically and absolutely identifies [this is a formal moment in Hegel’s conception] the process of objectification of human labour energy with its alienation and, as a consequence, for Hegel, the realm of the ‘Absolute Idea’ and religion is the only sphere in which the problem of the transcendence of human alienation can be addressed and resolved. For Hegel, because objectification is ultimately thinking’s creation identical with alienation itself, it can only be overcome in thought which ‘returns out of this alienation into itself’ as the notion, absolute idea, etc.

Hegel’s position here is essentially the same as that of classical bourgeois political economy, which Marx noted in the Grundrisse…

The bourgeois economists are so much cooped up within the notions belonging to a specific historic stage of social development that the necessity of the objectification of the powers of social labour appears to them as inseparable from their alienation vis-a-vis living labour. But with the suspension of the immediate character of living labour, as merely individual, or as general merely internally or merely externally*, with the positing of the activity of individuals as immediately general or social activity, the objective moments of production are stripped of this form of alienation; they are thereby posited as property, as the organic social body within which the individuals reproduce themselves as individuals, but as social individuals. The conditions which allow them to exist in this way in the reproduction of their life, in their productive life’s process, have been posited only by the historic economic process itself, both the objective and the subjective conditions, which are only the two distinct forms of the same conditions.
The worker’s propertylessness, and the ownership of living labour by objectified labour, or the appropriation of alien labour by capital – both merely expressions of the same relation from opposite poles – are fundamental conditions of the bourgeois mode of production, in no way accidents irrelevant to it. [11]

*[note by SM : ‘merely internally or merely externally’ – merely potentially or merely actually. As in private labour being potentially general, abstract labour, i.e., becoming actually stamped with this character in the process of exchange and only through exchange on the market; at that moment within which the products of labour become articulated as commodities]

Hegel’s conception of human alienation flows from his idealist position which necessarily locates the supersedence of alienation in the realm of a theism rather than understanding that theistic praxis is itself a socio-historical product of the evolution of alienated humanity. Implicitly, Hegel’s conception is that alienation can only be overcome in thought itself or rather by thought somehow establishing some form of determinate relationship with social being, the disposition of the ‘Absolute Idea’, etc. Herein is posited the theistic character of Hegel’s outlook which was critiqued by Marx in The Holy Family and The German Ideology i.e in his critique of the Left Hegelians.

Marx locates the overcoming of alienation in the elaboration of a revolutionary praxis wherein the prevailing forms of alienation are grasped as integral products of the character of social relations in bourgeois society. Marx understands the determinate tendency towards the transcendence of alienation as only becoming fully and comprehensively realised in communism. The theistic roots of Hegel’s system are clearly exposed in his analysis of alienation which ultimately finds itself in the circularity of a theological cul-de-sac.

Thus, for Hegel, alienation can only be transcended in thought as the demiurgos of social relations. For Marx, it is these relations which must be transformed (revolutionised) in real practice in order to create the social conditions for the transcendence of alienation which is, by its very nature, an enduring, unfolding, historical process. Herein lies the major difference between the perspective of Hegel and that of Marx on the question of alienation. The final refuge, arising out of Hegel’s conception, is that the Christian religion is the only arena within which alienation can be transcended as a manifestation of his specific theological form of idealism.

The objectification of human labour is an absolute material relation running through the history of all previous societies. Where capitalism is the dominant mode of production, this objectification takes the form of the continual and necessary reproduction of capital which stands opposing the producers as a hostile social relation. Labour power itself becomes a commodity which the producer is forced to sell to the owners of capital in order to survive. The producers become alienated from their own activity and the results of this activity. In the capital-wage labour relation, the exercise of this ‘essential power’ (labour power) is alienated and belongs to the capitalist as part of his capital (variable capital).

In this relation of alienation, the estrangement of the wage worker from others and from self (from ‘his own essential species-being’, Marx, Paris Manuscripts of 1844) comes to its fullest, most complete realisation with the global dominance of capital. With the historical genesis, establishment and domination of the global capital relation, the producer class (the proletariat) becomes comprehensively ‘opposed by a hostile power of its own making, so that it defeats its own purpose’ in the act of continuously reproducing this relation. (Meszaros, I., Marx’s Theory of Alienation, p. 313).

The labour process ceases to take alien form once it divests itself of its historic operation within the conditions of capitalist production. Wage labour engenders its opposite in the form of capital which then necessarily enslaves the former as a pre-condition and presupposition for its own existence. Wage labour becomes the necessary presupposition for the existence of capital and thus, in so doing, mediates the perpetuation of its own historical existence as long as the capital relation continues as the dominant relationship of production and distribution.

Labour is that form of human energy which creates value but, in the epoch of capitalist commodity production, it only does so under those historical conditions created and reproduced by capital in order to serve the constant augmentation of its value (valorisation) and accumulation. Under different conditions this form of human energy can serve different ends where the labour process ceases to serve the needs of capital.

Under the conditions of the domination of capital, the human source of this labour-energy is compelled to alienate it. The potentiated form of this energy – labour power – is a commodity. It becomes a component (variable capital) in the composition of the total value of capital with all its dehumanising consequences for the labourer. The labourer is simply wage-labour personified for the capitalist who is capital personified for the labourer. The labourer is a personified source of surplus value and the capitalist is the personification of the capital relation. The wage-worker – alienated from self, from others, from his activity and its product – experiences the exercising of this ‘essential power’, and himself, merely as an object of use (objet d’emploi) for self and others. Labour is not lived as an intrinsic, meaningful part of life but merely as a painful and alienating means towards it. For the worker, “life” commences after labour, as Marx writes in Wage Labour and Capital (1847), “at table, in the tavern, in bed”. Who would dispute the enduring truth of this latter conception, today, in 2014?

During the epoch of capital, the ‘general social form of labour appears as the property of a thing’ so that ‘social relations between men…assume for them the fantastic form of a relation between things’ resulting in ‘the action of objects which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them’ (Marx, Vol. 1, Capital). In Marx’s conception, the capitalist mode of production presents itself, appears as, a ‘natural’ rather than a ‘socio-historical’ formation. The relations reproduced by capital serve as the source of notions of some nebulous eternal ‘human nature’ which must always embody the chief characteristics of bourgeois man, thereby serving to ideologically justify the existing capitalist order itself.

The world market is viewed as a ‘thing of nature’ rather than understood as a social relation created by humanity at a particular stage (epoch) in the history of human society. Likewise, capital is not a ‘thing of nature’ but a determinate social relation of production arising and developing at and during a specific historical period in the evolution of humanity’s productive forces. In the circulation of commodities, the labour time incorporated into products in the course of their production appears as a material property of the commodity, i.e. value appears as a ‘thing’ rather than as a social relation between producers. Money itself (as universal expression of value) is ‘an objectified relation between persons; …it is objectified exchange value, and exchange value is nothing more than a mutual relation between people’s productive activities.’ Money ‘can have a social property only because individuals have alienated their own social relationship from themselves so that it takes the form of a thing’ (Marx, Grundrisse, p160., see also p.161 ff., chapter on money).

Marx, in volume one of Capital, analogises the fetishism of commodities with the ‘mist-enveloped regions of the religious world’ revealing that in the world of religion ‘the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life’ which enter ‘into relation with both one another and the human race’. (Capital, Vol. 1, p 77). In this ‘religious reflex of the real world’ (p 84) ‘man is governed by the products of his own brain’ (p 582) just as in the fetishism of commodities he is governed by the productions of his own hand.

Capital confronts humanity as an alien power yet produced by humanity. The capitalist mode of production presents itself as a ‘natural’ rather than a ‘socio-historical’ formation. It is true that commodities are ‘things’ in so far as their material use-values are inseparable from their existence as commodities. However, in the age of capital a thing cannot be made available as use-value (as socially useful) without simultaneously being a commodity and as realised value as such. It is not its concrete ‘thinghood’ as a specific material use-value which is fundamental for capital. What, a priori, animates and determines the movement of capital globally is rather the character of commodities as embodiments of “socially necessary general labour, utterly indifferent to any particular content” (Marx, Results of the Immediate Process of Production, appendix to Volume 1 of Capital, Penguin Edition).

4. A Note on Human Individuality in the Epoch of Capital

The social relations of the capitalist epoch are mediated by a social division of labour which corresponds to the prevailing stage of development of its technical productive forces. The ‘enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour’ [Marx.Critique of the Gotha Programme. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p.320] creates psychosocial conditions under capitalism within which humans are prevented (circumscription) from developing an all-round, multifaceted, multi-skilled personality which enables the individual to participate in all spheres of human activity and life. Marx observes that…

If circumstances in which the individual lives allow him only the one-sided development of one quality at the expense of all the rest, if they give him the material and time to develop only that one quality, then this individual achieves only a one-sided crippled development. No moral preaching avails here. And the manner in which this one pre-eminently favoured quality develops depends again, on the one hand, on the material available for its development and, on the other hand, on the degree and manner in which the other qualities are suppressed.
Precisely because thought, for example, is the thought of a particular definite individual, it remains his definite thought, determined by his individuality and the conditions in which he lives…..In the case of an individual, for example, whose life embraces a wide circle of varied activities and practical relations to the world, and who, therefore, lives a many-sided life, thought has the same character of universality as every other manifestation in his life…..From the outset it is always a factor in the total life of the individual, one which disappears and is reproduced as required. (Marx emphasis) [Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. p.263]

The development of a many-sided human personality – which is not ‘one-sided’ and ‘crippled’ – is dependent on the actual existence of social conditions and relations which provide the social and material ground for such a development. An all-rounded, many-sided, multifaceted development of the capacities of human individuals is therefore only possible in a society which furnishes such conditions. Capitalism is not such a society. Quite the contary. It ‘cripples’ the human being and personality. Accordingly, the determinations of the human personality and interpersonal relationships in the age of capital derive from the general character of its exploitative social relations.

The development of the individual human being is located in the conditions prevailing in the given society. Whether an individual develops one-sidedly (‘crippled’) or in a many-sided and richly multifaceted way therefore..

depends not on consciousness, but on being; not on thought, but on life; it depends on the individual’s empirical development and manifestations of life, which in turn depends on the conditions obtaining in the world. [Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.262).

Likewise, whether an individual is “satisfied” or “dissatisfied” with his life – or “life” generally – “depends on the conditions obtaining in the world”. Ultimately it is rooted in the character of these conditions so that…

Dissatisfaction with oneself is either dissatisfaction with oneself within the framework of a definite condition which determines the whole personality e.g. dissatisfaction with oneself as a worker, or it is moral dissatisfaction. In the first case, therefore, it is simultaneously and mainly dissatisfaction with the existing relations; in the second case – an ideological expression of these relations themselves, which does not all go beyond them, but belongs wholly to them. [Marx. The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.378]

This “dissatisfaction” to which Marx refers finds its reflection within the realm of the “satisfaction” human needs when it takes on a reified form. A need or desire can be said to be reified if…..

it assumes an abstract, isolated character, if it confronts me as an alien power, if, therefore, the satisfaction of the individual appears as the one-sided satisfaction of a single person
(Marx, The German Ideology, Vol. 5, Collected Works, p 262).]

And, very interestingly, Marx writes further that…

our desires and pleasures spring from society; we measure them, therefore, by society and not by the objects which serve for their satisfaction. Because they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature

(Marx, Wage Labour and Capital. Marx-Engels Selected Works. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1973) p.83

The transformation of social relations by humanity simultaneously brings about the transformation of the transformer, of the human agent of and for this transformation. (“praxis”- Marx, Theses on Feuerbach). The transcendence of the capital relation is the complete transformation of humanity in Nature and therefore the total transformation of the relationships between human individuals i.e of human individuality as the “ensemble of social relations” (Marx, Thesis VI, Theses on Feuerbach).

We read in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844 that Communism is..

“……the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being – a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man – the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species. Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.” [section 3, Private Property and Communism, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844]

The development of production and distribution founded on capital creates the conditions and possibilities for the transcendence of the division of labour under communal production. Not forgetting, of course, that this same “development” of global capital (its increasingly more destructive reproduction as a social relation in structural crisis) is now actually starting to erode and destroy the required natural and cultural conditions for the future socialist society. This is what gives rise to the urgency of revolutionary change in the present epoch. All the time the capital system continues, and its crisis unfolds and deepens in the 21st century, it actually undermines the necessary conditions required to build the future human society. It makes its realisation more difficult and problematic.

Notwithstanding this…

large-scale industry, through its very catastrophes, makes the recognition of variation of labour and hence of the fitness of the worker for a maximum number of different kinds of labour into a question of life and death. This possibility of varying labour must become a general law of social production, and the existing relations must be adapted to permit its realisation in practice. That monstrosity, the disposable working population held in reserve, in misery, for the changing requirements of capitalist exploitation, must be replaced by the individual man who is absolutely available for the different kinds of labour required of him; the partially developed individual, who is merely the bearer of one specialised, social function, must be replaced by the totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are different modes of activity he takes up in turn.[Marx, Capital Vol 1, p.618 (Penguin Edn)]

However, nonetheless, large-scale industry ‘in its capitalist form reproduces the old division of labour with its ossified particularities’ (ibid, p. 617)

The requirements of capital itself increasingly turn the specialised worker into one who must be prepared and able to readily adapt and change his mode of labour in order to meet the demands of capital which, nonetheless, continuously re-posits ‘the old division of labour with its ossified particularities’. Beyond the age of capital lies the development of a rich and multifaceted human individuality in which the division of labour is becoming transcended with the emergence of a ‘totally developed individual’ (social individual) replacing the ‘partially developed individual’ (private individual, owner of capital or labour-power) of bourgeois society.

5. Realm of Natural Necessity and True Realm of Freedom

With the movement of global society beyond the realm of capital…

‘Within the cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production the producers do not exchange their products; similarly, the labour spent on the products no longer appears as the value of these products, possessed by them as a material characteristic, for now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual pieces of labour are no longer merely indirectly, but directly, a component part of the total labour.’ [12]

In this ‘cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production’ (in this ‘realm of natural necessity’)….

The communal character of production would make the product into a communal, general product from the outset. The exchange which originally takes place in production – which would not be an exchange of exchange values but of activities, determined by communal needs and communal purposes – would from the outset include the participation of the individual in the communal world of products**. On the basis of exchange values, labour is posited as general only through exchange. But on this foundation it would be posited as such before exchange; i.e. the exchange of products would in no way be the medium by which the participation of the individual in general production is mediated. Mediation must, of course, take place. In the first case, which proceeds from the independent production of individuals – no matter how much these independent productions determine and modify each other post festum through their interrelations – mediation takes place through the exchange of commodities, through exchange value and through money; all these are expressions of one and the same relation. In the second case, the presupposition is itself mediated; i.e. a communal production, communality, is presupposed as the basis of production. The labour of the individual is posited from the outset as social labour. Thus, whatever the particular material form of the product he creates or helps to create, what he has bought with his labour is not a specific and particular product, but rather a specific share of the communal production. He therefore has no particular product to exchange. His product is not an exchange value. The product does not first have to be transposed into a particular form in order to attain a general character for the individual. Instead of a division of labour, such as is necessarily created with the exchange of exchange values, there would take place an organisation of labour whose consequence would be the participation of the individual in communal production. In the first case the social character of production is posited only post festum with the elevation of products to exchange values and the exchange of these exchange values. In the second case the social character of production is presupposed, and participation in the world of products, in consumption, is not mediated by the exchange of mutually independent labours or products of labour. It is mediated, rather, by the social conditions of production within which the individual is active. Those who want to make the labour of the individual directly into money (i.e. his product as well), into realised exchange value, want therefore to determine that labour directly as general labour, i.e. to negate precisely the conditions under which it must be made into money and exchange values, and under which it depends on private exchange. This demand can be satisfied only under conditions where it can no longer be raised. Labour on the basis of exchange values presupposes, precisely, that neither the labour of the individual nor his product are directly general; that the product attains this form only by passing through an objective mediation, by means of a form of money distinct from itself.
On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains, of course, essential. The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle, etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or mental. Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development, its enjoyment and its activity depends on economisation of time. Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself. Society likewise has to distribute its time in a purposeful way, in order to achieve a production adequate to its overall needs; just as the individual has to distribute his time correctly in order to achieve knowledge in proper proportions or in order to satisfy the various demands on his activity. Thus, economy of time, along with the planned distribution of labour time among the various branches of production, remains the first economic law on the basis of communal production. It becomes law, there, to an even higher degree.’ [13]

**[Thus, even with ‘communal labour in its spontaneously evolved forms…..[ ]……the social character of labour is evidently not effected by the labour of the individual assuming the abstract form of universal labour or his product assuming the form of a universal equivalent. The communal system on which this mode of production is based prevents the labour of an individual from becoming private labour and his product the private product of a separate individual; it causes individual labour to appear rather as the direct function of a member of the social organisation. Labour which manifests itself in exchange-value appears to be the labour of an isolated individual. It becomes social labour by assuming the form of its direct opposite, of abstract universal labour.’
(Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. pp. 33-34 (Progress, 1977)]

Here Marx’s description remains within the sphere of ‘natural necessity’ – a post-capital age which has not, as yet, passed over into the ‘true realm of freedom’. Its ‘necessity’ continues to be ‘external’, an epoch where ‘labour determined by necessity and external expediency’ still dominates. As this period matures, a new dynamic sets in which points the way towards the ‘true realm’.

‘Once the mass of workers have appropriated their own surplus labour – and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.’

And then, as a matter of course….

‘The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. 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. The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific, etc, development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.’ [15]

Marx’s understanding of the relationship between necessity and freedom informs us in his understanding of the ‘true realm of freedom’.

Within this realm – beyond that realm of “natural necessity” within which labour remains under the compulsion of “external expediency” – the whole social character of human activity changes. It truly represents a social qualitative break in the history of human activity. From being a compulsive and repulsive activity, labour (“activity”) – imposed as an external, alien necessity in previous societies – becomes posited and developed simultaneously as both means and end in itself. “Activity” becomes necessarily intrinsic, “internal”, to the development of human freedom itself so that….

The realm of freedom really begins only where labour determined by necessity and external expediency ends [see Note 1]

In other words, human activity ceases to take place under a compulsive, repulsive coercion as we see under capital and, to a lesser extent, in the first phases of post-capitalist society. Labour itself is not inherently repulsive activity (and therefore always imposed or imposable as coercive) but only so when performed within the context of specific social relations and under the historical conditions corresponding thereto. To ideologically assert this character of labour as an “eternal” is itself an ideological manifestation of its repulsive and coercive character in the epoch of capital.

Within the “realm of natural necessity”, labour (“activity”) remains subject to this “necessity and external expediency”. Work retains its character as “a means of keeping alive”. [Critique of the Gotha Programme, subsection I.3] Work as intrinsic to human “activity” only becomes “a vital need” [ibid] in the “true realm of freedom” so here it ceases to bear this compulsory character driven by an external and alien necessity in the course of the realisation of “mundane considerations”.

But within the realm of natural necessity itself, labour is posited simultaneously as labour-for-self and labour-for-others (and vice versa) and as directly social labour unmediated by the commodity-form. This communal relation therefore is a self-objectification (self-realisation) which is simultaneously the realisation of the needs of others (objectification-for-others). The activity of the individual is simultaneously posited as communal activity as this communal activity is that of the freely associated social individuals. The establishment of such relations must itself create the conditions necessary for, and mediating, the psychological transformation of humanity. The social presuppositionals for the psychological transformation of Man.

When Marx writes that within the realm of freedom the “development of human activity becomes an end in itself”, he is not formalistically excluding that such activity simultaneously and directly serves the social and material needs of humanity and therefore serves as a means for human development. He is merely asserting a “genuine resolution” of the conflict between means and ends (as of that between freedom and necessity) and that “human activity as an end in itself” is the living truth and manifestation of this “genuine resolution”. That human beings will find satisfaction in activity which contains an humanly-internalised necessity (not as an alien-imposed “external necessity” or “expediency”); a necessity which is identical to the free active mediation of the individuals in the commune. Activity as both creative self-realisation and creatively realising the needs of each and all so that self-fulfillment is simultaneously the fulfillment of others. Labour, of course, continues to obtain…

its measure from the outside, through the aim to be attained and the obstacles to be overcome in attaining it. But…[….]…this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity – and that, further, the external aims become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits – hence as self-realisation, objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labour.
[Grundrisse, Penguin, 1993. p.611]

Labour retains a coercive character in the post-capitalist transitional phase but not in the same degree or in the same coercive character as its does under capital. Under capital as “external forced labour” and in the transitional phase in a form in which labour “has not yet created the subjective and objective conditions for itself in which labour becomes attractive work, the individual’s self-realisation”. Marx asserts that the preconditions and historic presupposition for this free activity is the “social character” of production and at that stage when and where the labour process “is of a scientific character and at the same time general character, not merely human exertion as a specifically harnessed natural force, but exertion as subject, which appears in the production process not in a merely natural, spontaneous form, but as an activity regulating all the forces of nature” (p.612, ibid).

Coercion in the labour process in the intial stages is the historic motor which drives the transition beyond the realm of capital and projects humanity towards the true realm of freedom. In the process of doing this, it simultaneously supersedes this period of transition as a realm of natural necessity. Marx refers to this transitional period when he writes…

In a more advanced phase of communist society, when the enslaving subjugation of individuals to the division of labour, and thereby the antithesis between intellectual and physical labour, have disappeared; when labour is no longer just a means of keeping alive but has itself become a vital need; when the all-round development of individuals has also increased their productive powers and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can society wholly cross the narrow horizon of bourgeois right and inscribe on its banner : From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs! [Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme in The First International and After. Political Writings. Volume 3. Penguin, 1974. p 347]

Work becomes a “vital need” and intrinsic to the self-development, self-fulfilment and self-realisation of the social individual in the life of the commune. “Work” (activity) as human creativity is enjoyment of activity as the intrinsically human and the exercise and development of this essential human power stripped and divested of its alienated historical form found in the epoch of capital. The actual distinction between “work” and “not work” becomes superseded as does that between necessary and surplus labour despite the need for a surplus within the “true realm”. [Gotha Programme, Ibid]

Labour also finds a subjective (psychological) form of compulsion where the activity of the producers remains determined by external expediency. Activity as such still retains its coercive character. Therefore, in the intial post-capitalist phases – which remain a realm of natural necessity but to a lesser degree vis-a-vis the epoch of capital – the labour process continues to exhibit compulsory traits in common with labour in previous but surpassed epochs. And this despite the general character of labour being directly socialised labour.

Whilst labour remains under a compulsion, everybody who is capable must work in order to contribute to the communal fund and, in the course of this collective labour, prepare the way for the higher stages of communist society established and developed in the ‘true realm of freedom’

If everybody has to work, if the contradiction between those who have to work too much and those who are idlers disappears – and this would in any case be the result of capital ceasing to exist, of the product ceasing to provide a title to alien surplus labour – and if, in addition, the development of the productive forces brought about by capitalism is taken into account, society will produce the necessary abundance in six hours, [producing] more than it does now in twelve, and, moreover, all will have six hours of “disposable time”, that is, real wealth; time which will not be absorbed in direct productive labour, but will be available for enjoyment, for leisure, thus giving scope for free activity and development. Time is scope for the development of man’s faculties, etc.[16]

Labour itself only takes a coercive, compulsive, repulsive form when it is subject to an external, alien necessity i.e. when it remains imprisoned within its wage-form either as money in the epoch of capital or later – as transient form – as time-chit within the immediately post-capitalist “realm of natural necessity” (zwang). Within this latter realm, of course, it does not bear the same degree of compulsion as in the former capital realm since within the movement of the realm beyond the capital epoch, it is already beginning to divest itself of this compulsory alienated character as it becomes posited and developed as directly socialised labour. The positing of labour as a directly socialised process – the negation of the historical form of the labour process under capital – is a signpost of history pointing towards the new epoch of human freedom beyond compulsion. Within the realm of natural necessity, the growth in the productivity of labour will always mean an increased availability of free time. But within this realm…

Labour-time, even if exchange-value is eliminated, always remains the creative substance of wealth and the measure of the cost of its production. But free time, disposable time, is wealth itself, partly for the enjoyment of the product, partly for free activity which – unlike labour – is not dominated by the pressure of an extraneous purpose which must be fulfilled, and fulfilment of which is regarded as a natural necessity or a social duty, according to one’s inclination.
It is self-evident that if labour-time is reduced to a normal length and, furthermore, labour is no longer performed for someone else, but for myself, and, at the same time, the social contradictions between master and men, etc., being abolished, it acquires a quite different, a free character, it becomes real social labour, and finally the basis of disposable time – the labour of a man who has also disposable time, must be of a much higher quality than that of the beast of burden [17]

Then, according to Marx…

Free time – which is both idle time and time for higher activity – has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject. This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming; and, at the same time, practice [Ausubung], experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulated knowledge of society. For both, in so far as labour requires practical use of the hands and free bodily movement, as in agriculture, at the same time exercise [18]

The “necessity and external expediency” to which Marx refers in Volume 3 of Capital only ends when humanity has entered what he refers to as the “true realm of freedom” where communist humanity is developing as a whole unified species, beyond class relations, on the basis of the continuously self-re-created (self-reproduced) foundations of this higher realm of freedom. Herein the condition for the development of each becomes the condition for the development of all and vice versa. Work becomes a “vital” inner need (zwanglos) of the social individual in the course of a full participation in the life of the commune. In the course of doing so, fully developing his or her capacities and the capacities of others. Within this higher realm of freedom, the creation, development and refinement of historically-posited human needs have superseded (aufhebung) natural needs. This is the freedom which “lies beyond the sphere of actual material production” i.e. beyond this sphere designated as a separate and distinct sphere of human activity bound by the operative principle of “external” and expedient compulsory need. “Production” itself ceases to divided off from communal life – ceases to operate as a sub-division of that life – and is no longer internalised by humanity as a distinction of activity from other forms of activity as it is under capital and in the realm of natural necessity. Activity becomes simultaneously productive, scientific, artistic, aesthetic, etc. This is the enrichment and cultivation of the social individual – work as a “vital need” and “end in itself” – and yet, at the same time, serves to address, meet and develop the historically-created needs of all.

“It will be seen how in place of the wealth and poverty of political economy comes 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 man in whom his own realization exists as an inner necessity, as need” [Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Third Manuscript, Private Property and Communism, section 4]

The ‘internal’ fully humanised necessity (which is identical to freedom) found in the higher realm of freedom is the direct opposite of the ‘external’ necessity operative in previous epochs, including in those of the intial stages of global post-capitalist society. The transcendence of this previously operative alien necessity – imposed and coercive in nature – posits the higher internal form which is identical to a forever expanding and developing human freedom. This form of necessity within this higher realm of human freedom is not registered in the human subject as “compulsion” as such because it ceases to be imposed ‘from without’ as external and alien. Accordingly, on a psychological level, the subject does not (and does not have to) internalise it as “a necessity which must be so and so”, etc. The subject does not internalise it as an alien demand because it becomes a fully humanised expression of his increasingly deepening, de-alienating life process as a social individual. In the epoch of capital, the producers internalise, as compulsion, the alien demands of capital. In this higher movement of the human freedom of the commune, this internalisation of alien demands becomes transcended.

Labour itself (‘dominated by the pressure of extraneous purpose which must be fulfilled’) becomes ‘free activity’ expressed in an intensely rich aggregation of human activity in the ‘true realm of freedom’. Labour becomes divested of its coercive, expedient character as ‘necessity’ is eclipsed by ‘freedom’. Labour ceases to be “labour” as such and increasingly the free, multifaceted, enriching activity of human beings living in a classless communion.

But this higher movement is also the transformation of humanity’s productive activity itself. The transformation of the subject is simultaneously the transformation of humanity’s relationship with Nature.

Man himself is the basis of his material production, as of any other production that he carries on. All circumstances, therefore, which affect man, the subject of production, more or less modify all his functions and activities, and therefore too his functions and activities as the creator of material wealth, of commodities. In this respect it can in fact be shown that all human relations and functions, however and in whatever form they may appear, influence material production and have a more or less decisive influence on it [19]

In as much as we do not feel the need to metabolise our food, humanity in this realm of freedom will not feel compelled to engage in “activity” as such in its many and varied, richly multifaceted forms. It will be as natural as a healthy body digesting its food. Such activities (objectification) – divested of their alien forms – become a “vital need”. A historically-created human need unmotivated by any external or alien necessity.

The freedom of this realm forever deepens in degree. An absolute human freedom is not a point at which to arrive in some distant future. It is always a point towards which humanity is forever tending. Humanity is always becoming ‘more free’ as a species within this realm. In this regard, this interminable process – to use a mathematical analogy – can be said to be ‘asymptotic’. And this asymptoticality is found expressed in Marcuse’s “instinctual root of freedom” in which the social relations and institutions created by man must be made specifically by man in order to accommodate themselves to this “instinctual root”, to facilitate and encourage its growth, its continuous expression and eternal onward evolution. To allow for the free and unconditional development of the higher form of human sensibility which arises out of revolution and the creation of the new life in the commune…

The Subject of a socialist society must the Subject of a new sensibility. There is such a thing as an instinctual root of freedom in the individual itself, and if this instinctual root cannot grow, the new society will not be free, no matter what institutions it will provide. [……..] The socialist society as a qualitatively different society would be the achievement of men and women who have liberated themselves from the material and intellectual culture of class society, and who are free to develop a language, art and science responding to and projecting a free society.
Let us not forget that domination and exploitation perpetuate themselves not only in the institutions of class society, but also in the instincts and drives and aspirations shaped by class society, also in that which the people, that is to say the managed and administered people, love, hate, strive for, find beautiful, pleasurable and so on. Class society is not only in the material production, it is not only in the cultural production and reproduction, it is also in the mind and body of the subjects and objects of the system.

[Herbert Marcuse. The Realm of Freedom and the Realm of Necessity – A Reconsideration]

The commune will educate the individual in all areas of human culture – in technique, science, literature, art, etc – and provide access to all its different spheres. This, in itself, will create the cultural preconditions for the flourishing of the human personality and intellect in the commune where the identification, refinement and realisation of the needs of each and every individual will be the governing principle of social relationships.

It is only within the commune that each individual has….

the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community. In previous substitutes for the community, in the state, etc, personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed under the conditions of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community in which individuals have up till now combined always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and since it was the combination of one class over against another, it was at the same time for the oppressed class not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In the real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.

[The German Ideology. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol 5. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976) p.78]

The identification, meeting, cultivation, refinement of the comprehensive needs of human beings become socially and unconditionally guaranteed. This unconditional guarantee of the meeting of human needs arises out of the nature of human relationships within commune itself. The state forms and systems of exploitative social control of class societies become unnecessary and disappear and therefore, consequentially, do those forms of human behaviour and forms of thinking and ideology which are the outcome of, and correspond to, the exploitative relations of class society. The social exploitation of man by man disappears. Accordingly, those characteristics of interpersonal relationships – inclusive of the psychological – which grow out of the various forms of exploitation in class society must also perish. And the disappearance of old and emergence of new characteristics of the evolving human personality will – as in previous epochs – be related to and specific to the altering stages of the commune and the conditions therein. Marx reminds us that…

In order to examine the connection between spiritual production and material production it is above all necessary to grasp the latter itself not as a general category but in definite historical form. Thus for example different kinds of spiritual production correspond to the capitalist mode of production and to the mode of production of the Middle Ages. If material production itself is not conceived in its specific historical form, it is impossible to understand what is specific in the spiritual production corresponding to it and the reciprocal influence of one on the other [20]

The exploitative forms of social control and coercion which are a necessary feature of class society find their consummate expression in the form of the state embodying a definite class nature.
The state – in whatever form – always represents the interests of a ruling caste or class. It is the product of the developing antagonisms of class society. With the dissolution of class society in communism, the state begins to wither away. The state is a product of socio-historical development which becomes necessary as the ‘primitive communism’ of tribal societies is abolished with the differentiation of society into opposed classes. It becomes socially unnecessary as the transition to global classless society takes place since there are no class interests to defend in this society. The character of social relations no longer gives rise to or necessitates the existence of the state.

Lenin, for example, uses the existence or non-existence of the state as a criterion for the existence or non-existence of a free human society; a society of free human beings. Thus, he says, somewhat formally, that…

so long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.

[Lenin. State and Revolution. (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1969) p.87]

We say ‘formally’ because ‘freedom’ is not, as such, an absolute state to be reached once and for all but rather more a state of being for humanity to continuously expand and deepen to wider and more profound states of existence once the fundamental pre-conditions for such a development have been established in a classless, stateless, global human life.

The very notion of freedom can no longer have social grounds for existence in such a society. When the state perishes, notions of freedom vanish with it. The hankering after ‘freedom’ being the product of enslavement. Accordingly, a truly free human being can have no concept of freedom since such notions are the products of the human relations of class societies. Thus, neither does a truly free human being have any awareness of being ‘free’. Humanity in the commune will see itself as “free” no more than it will see itself as “communist”.

In the transition to a global, stateless, classless society, the forms of human consciousness corresponding to this period of transition will continue to reflect a disappearing connection to and with class society showing that society – in this transitional phase – has not completely disentangled itself from the various legacies of class societies. As long as the historical umbilical cord connecting society to the social legacies of class societies – and the human memory of them – has not been completely severed, then human society will not have re-founded and re-developed itself as an association of free human beings. At such a stage, the legacies of the relations of class society would continue to exert their influence, binding humanity (psychologically at least) to the forms of social antagonism of the past. Accordingly, under these conditions, the thinking, feeling, behaviour and interpersonal relationships of people would continue to be conditioned by the legacies of the exploitative relations of the class societies of the past until the new society firmly and irreversibly establishes itself and starts to evolve on the basis of its own self-created foundations.

The tendency towards the transcendence of alienation only becomes fully and comprehensively realised and operative in the commune when the objectification which is the labour process itself ceases to take alienated form and expression. That is, when the “process of objectification appearing as a process of alienation from the standpoint of labour and as appropriation of alien labour from the standpoint of capital” (Marx, Grundrisse) comes to an end. Necessarily, the true unfolding of this tendency must lie beyond the realm of capital. The elimination of capital from the whole social metabolism is only the historical introduction to the real, determinate positing of this tendency towards the transcendence of alienation.

In a certain sense, the whole of previous human history has been a process of the perfection of human alienation. From the very dawn of human existence, the alienated character of religious thinking represents “from the outset consciousness of the transcendental arising from actually existing forces” (Marx). The global transition to communist life represents a reversal of that tendency wherein an antithetical process of ‘de-alienation’ commences and tends, similarly and asymptotically, towards the highest possible, absolute degree of unalienated human perfection. As Marx notes..

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, for the interests of the species in the human kingdom, as in the animal and plant kingdoms, always assert themselves at the cost of the interests of individuals, because these interests of the species coincide only with the interests of certain individuals, and it is this coincidence which constitutes the strength of these privileged individuals [21]

The onward evolution of human life in the commune necessarily implies a complete transformation in interpersonal relations and, accordingly, in the very nature and psychological structure and forms within the human personality itself. This development within the human personality will represent a qualitative break with the antecedent forms of the human personality types of bourgeois society.


[1] Capital, Volume 3, The Trinity Formula. pp 958-59. Penguin Classics Edn, (translated by David Fernbach) 1991.

(A comparison of this passage in the Penguin edfition with the Lawrence & Wishart version may be appropriate since it reveals differences and nuances in translation, etc. For example….

It is one of the civilizing aspects of capital that it extorts this surplus labour in a manner and in conditions that are more advantageous to social relations and to the creation of elements for a new and higher formation than was the case under the earlier forms of slavery, serfdom, etc.

is translated in the L&W edition as…..

It is one of the civilising aspects of capital that it enforces this surplus-labour in a manner and under conditions which are more advantageous to the development of the productive forces, social relations, and the creation of the elements for a new and higher form than under the preceding forms of slavery, serfdom, etc. (p 819, Lawrence & Wishart Edn, Fifth Printing, 1974)

As we can see, ‘the development of the productive forces’ is missing in the Penguin edition or has been inserted in the L&W edition.

Generally speaking, if we compare the volumes of the two editions, we find all manner of omissions, errors, insertions, inconsistencies, divergences and disagreements, etc, on translations, meaning, etc, and even the simple insertion or omission of words which changes, or at least significantly modifies, the whole meaning of the original. In one section, in Volume 2, the word ‘buyer’ is given where only ‘vendor’ or ‘seller’ gives sense and meaning to the sentence. The editions are replete with such examples. A reading of Capital must therefore also mean watching out for the mistakes in translation, typography, etc, in one or other or both editions. You have to ‘dodge’ the editors and translators before you get to Marx. And, of course, in the Penguin edition, you have to ‘dodge’ Ernest Mandel who ‘introduces’ it all. The art of moving through the various ‘editions’, ‘introductions’ ‘typographies’ and ‘translations’ necessarily involves a cultivation of the art of artful dodging.

[2] Hegel. Logic. Part 1 of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Zusatz, pp 55-56. Clarendon, Oxford, 1975

[3] Ibid, Zusatz, p 79.

[4] Ibid, §§ 157-158 and Zusatz, pp 219-220

[5] Nicolaus, Martin. Foreword. p. 51. Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993

[6] Marx, Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993 p. 325

[7] Marx. Vol 1 Capital. Penguin, 1982. pp. 165-66

[8] Marx. Vol 3 Capital. Penguin, 1991. p 991

[9] Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 3. Lawrence & Wishart, 1972. (p 129, Disintegration of the Ricardian School)

[10] Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 3. Lawrence & Wishart, 1972. (p 296, Opposition to the Economists)

[11] Marx, Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. p.832

[12] Marx. Critique of the Gotha Programme in The First International and After. Political Writings. Volume 3. Penguin, 1974. p.345

[13] Marx. Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. pp. 171-173

[14] Ibid., p.708

[15] Ibid., pp.705-06

[16] Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 3. Lawrence & Wishart, 1972. p.256, Opposition to the Economists

[17] Ibid., p.257, Opposition to the Economists

[18] Marx, Grundrisse. Penguin, 1993. p.712

[19] Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 1. Lawrence & Wishart, 1969. p 288, Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labour.

[20] Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 1. Lawrence & Wishart, 1969. p. 285, Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labour, subsection on Storch.

[21] Theories of Surplus Value, Vol 2. Lawrence & Wishart, 1969. p.118, History of the Ricardian Law of Rent.

Shaun May

November 2014

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