From a Notebook on Psychology (Part 1)

From a Notebook on Psychology (Part 1)


It is very clear that social relationships and the psychology of people are related. The areas of Social Psychology and Critical Psychology have plenty to say about this relationship. For example, if whole populations are subjected to oppression and terror in one form or another, this profoundly affects the psychology of the present adult and younger generation growing up under such conditions. We only have to look at what is happening to children in Syria at the moment as the civil war continues. If coercion and compulsion on threat of sanction are the order of the day, then this must have psychological effects such as anxiety, fear, depression, etc. If a person’s employment enables him or her to feed family and keep home, body and soul together, then the lurking threat of redundancy or dismissal must engender fear in the life of that person because the realisation of such a threat must mean the destruction of the structure of that person’s life or, at least, its complete alteration and disruption. It introduces conditions which carry the possibility of personal catastophe and the overturn of a previously stable and relatively secure personal existence. This is the same with domesticated animals such as pets, for example. A pet which is constantly abused and subject to cruelty will develop different behavioural patterns to the same pet which is fed, watered, medicated when sick and generally shown human care and affection. A child growing up in an abusive household will undergo a markedly different psychological development to one reared in a caring and nurturing environment involving a focus on the child’s individual human interests. The examples are too numerous to mention.

The “psychological” is a legitimate historical category but only in its relationship to the category of the “social”. It is not legitimate in isolation from this latter category.For example, the “psychopathic” personality is not the creation of the biological malfunctioning of the brain in the way a diabetic is the creation of a dysfunctional pancreas or a blind person of a defunct retina. The “psychopath” or child killer is an individualised creation of the society into which he is born and has developed. He has been created on the ground and within the social conditions of his own personal experience in this society.

The character of the prevailing and dominant social relations constitutes the foundation upon which the human psychologies of a given culture develops. However, the human mind has and must have – in its discreteness – its own laws of development which do not simply ‘reflect’ social development and also are not absolutely identical with this development Within their unity – the interrelation between society and mind (their interdependence) – subsists the discreteness of each.

In the sense that thought itself cannot take place without the organ of the brain, matter itself must be a material pre-condition for thought. And production itself furnishes the nutrients to feed the body and its various organs. Of course, the human brain itself is also, partly, a product of socio-historical development i.e. the brain itself has developed materially (plasticity) in the course of, and as a product of, the historical development of human society. However, in that it is the conceptual content of thought that ‘constitutes’ the ‘substance’ of the mind, it is the character of social relations that forms the basis and conditions for its origination and development:

socio-historical shifts not only introduce new content into the mental world of human beings; they also create new forms of activity and new structures of cognitive functioning. They advance human consciousness to new levels.

[Luria, A.R. Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations.(Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1976) p.163]


The awareness of the animal primates ancestors of humanity was a non-conscious awareness in contrast to the awareness of humanity which is a conscious awareness. This conscious awareness incorporates (supersedes) within itself the awareness of the animal ancestor as a unity of instinctual and learning capacities. This unity is raised (ascends to a higher stage) to the level of consciousness in humanity, with the emergence of beings possessing a conscious awareness.

If I state that I am conscious of this object in front of me, this conscious awareness of this object also involves the psychic mediation (psychological, neuropsychological, etc) of processes of which I am not conscious, of which I am unconscious. Therefore, conscious awareness simultaneously involves the mediation of these processes which are my unconscious. If I look at the object in front of me, its shape, colour, its texture, temperature, when I handle it, etc, I am drawing on mental powers which are a unity of the conscious and the unconscious. I am using my mind (which involves the physiology of the brain) and therefore this active process must necessarily involve indispensably contributing unconscious aspects.

The unconscious is expressed within and mediated by the conscious (otherwise it would not be the unconscious as such) but does not, in itself, originate entirely within the field of consciousness. In the dialectical moments of mediation of each by the other (intermediation) is expressed their mutual identity and distinction. The origination of human conscious awareness itself simultaneously gives rise to the human unconscious itself. It creates it and in the course of this creation establishes a relation with it so that they intermediate each other. But this human unconscious is created out of the instinctual material furnished by humanity’s primate ancestors and, therefore, cannot be simply the child of human conscious awareness. It contains elements of the pre-human sublated within itself but elevated into the human mind as a totality.

The human mind, accordingly, must have arisen and evolved, as a whole and as a unity of the unconscious and the conscious. This is what “consciousness” is in the complete sense and meaning of the word. It is a fully integrated form of awareness in the life of the human being. But, paradoxically, “consciousness”, as this integrated totality, is ontologically more complex than that of the “conscious” alone as the phenomenological expression of “consciousness” in the totality of its life-process. [“Consciousness” with an upper case ‘C’ and the “conscious” with a lower case ‘c’. We may also use the term “Mind” interchangeably for “Consciousness”]

The different aspects of Mind must be considered in their relation to each other i.e. they must be considered dialectically. In this way, the nature and function of each aspect is understood as being a part of, and intrinsic to, the life of the whole. Each aspect, function and facility affects and mediates the activities of all the others, constituting a unified whole which is higher than a mere aggregation of parts.

The origination of humanity is the process of an aware yet non-conscious primate becoming conscious of itself and of Nature. This process – which we may refer to as sapienisation – is a transition between the mode of life of the non-consciously aware animal primate and that of the earliest modes of human existence as a consciously aware existence. This transition brings with it – in sublated form – this form of awareness of the animal primate ancestry. It transcends this “animal awareness” only by preserving and re-positing aspects of it in a higher conscious form. For example, the hunger, thirst, energy, sex drive, etc, of the animal are transformed in this transition process of becoming human. They become human drives but they maintain a relationship with their animal ancestry in the course of their supersedence (sublation) i.e. insofar as aspects of these human drives which resemble those in our animal ancestors are carried over and preserved in the negation. An operative example of this is the ‘fight or flight mechanism’ inherited from our animal ancestors which, taken in its isolated abstraction, is many millions of years old, passed from generation to generation, from species to species and so preserved as advantageous for succeeding species in the course of evolution. Today passed down and operative in the various forms of human fear and anxiety.

Consciousness itself, as distinguished from the simple awareness of animals, is a social product of the human brain embracing and incorporating within itself an awareness of the ‘self’ involving the capacity to reflect. Reflection – i.e. thought consciously monitoring the progress of its own conceptual content – is an exclusive property of the human mind which is not found in animals or in higher primates. Animals are aware but non-conscious natural beings and do not possess this capacity to reflect. When an animal encounters its image in a mirror by chance it merely sees the image of its own physicality, itself as an object which it does recognise as ‘itself’. When a human being looks into a mirror it observes not only a physicality but also the ‘me’ or ‘I’. For the animal there is no ‘I’ to which this physicality is intrinsic. ‘I-ness’ is a function of the reflective capacities of human beings. This, of course, is not to assert that all animals do not possess sensitivity or awareness of their surroundings and that they orientate their behaviour according to their changing relationship to their surrounding conditions of life.


The mind is a complex synthesis of the social and the biological. Human thinking is a social product of the brain. If the neurology of the brain becomes diseased, degenerated or disordered, this can affect the capacity to think (e.g. Alzheimer’s Disorder). But the actual animating conceptual content of human thought is social in its origin. The brain does not produce political conceptions, for example, by a process of neurochemical secretion in an analogous way to the stomach producing acid or the liver producing bile. In a analogous way, to adopt a mechanistic example, the mirror does not produce the image by generating it out of its own materiality. Without the mirror there is no image, of course, but the the actual image in the mirror is dependent on the existence of the object reflected external to it. If the mirror is concave or convex, the image in the mirror will be a distorted reflection of the object.

Again, there is no emotion or feeling without its registration by the brain and body. ‘I’ ‘feel’ my anger or joy only insofar as I am a living material being with brain, nervous sytem, blood, organs, etc. But anger, pain (unlust), joy, etc, are not simply neurological products. They involve the mediation of thought, either conscious or sub-conscious. If I am elated because x and not y has happened, this involves and implicates the rumination of thinking, anticipation, even worry within my thinking. Examples are too numerous to give.

But does this link human emotion to the history of social relations? An obvious example of this is the feelings of jealousy and resentment in the interrelations between the sexes. This man ‘steals’ the wife of another man who is so enraged with jealousy, etc, and plans to kill them both? But in a different society where these monogamous relationships are transcended and the human mind has become accommodated to unconditional polygamy and the open character of sexual relations, what becomes of such emotions as jealousy? Are such emotions the passing attributes of a historically-conditioned human psyche? Are they subject to alteration and negation as these social relations change? So the woman takes different men (or women) to her bed and there is no jealousy, resentment or hostility mediating the changing relations?

It appears, therefore, that certain human emotions only arise with the emergence of definite social relationships and institutions. Thus, the emotion of envy/jealousy only comes into being with and accompanies the psychological interdependencies and acquisitiveness (‘possession’) of interpersonal relationships which are a social product of the rise of private property and the changing forms of the family corresponding to the evolution of private property.
Human behaviour – mediated by mental life – can only be comprehensively and scientifically understood on a socio-historical basis, within a socio-historical perspective. Implicitly, the conception that there is some nebulous, eternal psychological ‘human nature’ destined to characterise human beings in, at and for all places and all times must be considered untenable.

Moreover, we need to consider whether or not, at a physiological level in the brain, emotional states are correlated with definite neurological states. That rage and joy are associated with different neurological states of the brain. [I dare say that this has already been observed or even studied by the neuroscientists]. The subject individually registers anger or joy, for example, as a state of feeling. I “feel” angry, I “feel” happy, etc. The most fundamental question that radical psychology must address concerns the nature and quality of the emotional life of the human individual i.e. humans as ‘feeling’ beings. Feeling as the eternal focal point around which the nature and quality of the subjective life of the individual revolves. If I am suffering a terminal, malignant sadness, what does this say about the character of the social relations through and within which I am living my life? And this psychological state comes into relation with, and becomes manifest in, my behaviour, in my interpersonal relationships, in my perception and evaluation of self and others. Engels writes that..

How real people behave and did behave depends and always did depend on the historical conditions under which they lived

[Engels. From the Preparatory Writings for Anti-Duhring. Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 25. (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1987) p. 605.]

The implication here is one of altering forms of human behaviour as ‘historical conditions under which people live’ change and become transformed. And hence the alteration of their psychology in the course of human beings altering their lives and creating new modes of living, higher ‘historical conditions’ more worthy of their humanity? So that the different forms of human behaviour and psychologies can only be understood relative to established and evolving socio-historical conditions and therefore not conceived as fixed and unalterable. The forms of human behaviour and psychology in any society therefore reflecting the prevailing socio-historical conditions and their dominance in the life of the individual.


Vygotsky proposes that in the psychological development of children…

Any function in the child’s cultural development appears on the stage twice, on two planes, first on the social plane and then on the psychological; first between people as an interpsychological category, and then inside the child, as an intrapsychological. This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory and to the formation of concepts. The actual relations between human individuals underlie all the higher functions.

[Vygotsky, L.S. Development of Higher Mental Functions. Psychological Research in the U.S.S.R. (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966) pp. 44-45]

The psychological development of the individual involves the psychological assimilation of the actual social relationships and modes of behaviour ‘between human individuals’. These ‘actual relations….underlie all the higher functions’.

However, the mind is not simply a passive reflection of social relations but is a most active element in the development of these relations. Vygotsky’s proposal implies that the ‘inner dialogues’ of thinking are intrapsychological transpositions and transformations of the dialogues and social interactions between individuals. These interactions are psychologically internalised in the form of ‘inner dialogues’ thereby reflecting the social structure and content of the actual relations between human individuals.

Shaun May

December 2014

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Filed under Crtical Psychology, Luria, Marx, Marxist Philosophy of Mind, Origins and Evolution of Consciousness, Radical Psychology, Vygotsky

Fragments From a Notebook on Marx’s Political Economy

Fragments From a Notebook on Marx’s Political Economy

Volume 1 of Marx’s Capital

Marx. Capital, Volume 1. Penguin Edition, 1976. (Translated by Ben Fowkes)

[Readers must study the full quote relating to each comment. [………………] indicates missing middle part of quotation]

1. “Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the private labour of individuals who work independently of each other. […………………………………] ; so that their character as values has already to be taken into consideration during production”

(pp.165-166, Chapter 1, section 4, The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret)

Exchange is absolutely fundamental to the continued existence of commodity production. We must move as quickly as possible to the elimination of exchange and its replacement with a universal system of accounted distribution founded upon the socialist principles of need, quality, human welfare, ecological considerations and sustainability, etc. A socialist accountancy of labour time directed towards the realisation of these needs. The uncoupling of production and distribution from exchange will serve to undermine commodity production itself. From free-market zones to market-free zones.

The abolition, or rather phasing out, of exchange which involves “opposing the products of different forms of labour with each other on the basis of equality” necessarily means the phasing out of the market system. Under capitalist commodity production, the products of private labour only become commodities at that point when they enter circulation and receive the stamp of social general labour in their exchange relations with other commodities. This is the point at which “the equalisation of the most different kinds of labour can be the result only of an abstraction from their inequalities, or reducing them to their common denomination, viz., the expenditure of human labour-power or human labour in the abstract….only exchange brings about this reduction”. [Marx, Value : Studies by Karl Marx, New Park Publications, 1976, pp.5-6]. This human labour as specific quantum of labour in the abstract must manifest its quantity in the “objective form” of a given equivalent of use-values. For example, 5 cars for 50 sheets of machine-compressible steel sheets, mediated by money, etc. Hence a social relation appearing as a relationship between things. etc.

2. “The question why money does not itself directly represent labour-time, so that a piece of paper may represent, for instance, x hours labour, comes down simply to the question why, on the basis of commodity production, the products of labour must take the form of commodities. [……………………………………] But Owen never made the mistake of presupposing the production of commodities, while, at the same time, by juggling with money, trying to circumvent the necessary conditions of that form of production”

(pp. 188-189, Chapter 3, Money, or the Circulation of Commodities, footnote 1)

The establishment of generalised production based on directly socialised labour in order to move away as rapidly as possible from commodity production. To undermine commodity production and exchange. And the social acknowledgement and ‘normalisation’ of this system of production through the issuing of “certificates of labour”. Computer technology (e.g. electronic card systems and transfers, etc) will now make this process easier to establish and develop.
Capitalist commodity production is based on private labour becoming abstract, general, social labour through exchange of the products of private labour. Labour receives the stamp of social labour only through exchange and thereby is indirectly socialised labour. But this exchange is an essential, inalienable mediation in capitalist commodity production as a whole. This indirectly socialised character of labour under capital necessitates the dichotomy between money and commodities. Private labour can only be stamped and recognised as social labour through the mediation of exchange at which point the products of private labour assert their character as commodities and the realisation of their values in the form of money as universal equivalent (the market system).
Socialism is based on directly socialised labour which is the antithesis of its indirect form under capitalist commodity production. Implicit here is the negation of the commodity as historic form and therefore of money itself. A system of developed and directly socialised labour has no need for money in order to mediate its reproduction because the commodity-form has been extinguished. This was the case in the communes of prehistory before the rise of exchange and can be so again (return to the old but at a higher stage of development). Stripping the product of labour of its commodity-form, on the one hand, and the initiation and development of directly socialised productive labour in the period of transition, on the other hand, are inseparable moments of the same historical process.

Hence [1] the need to rapidly establish – conditions permitting – a system of production and distribution arising out of directly socialised labour and [2] the creation of a universal system of accountancy of labour-time through the issuing of certificates using electronic and computer technologies, etc.

Marx writes of the point of metamorphosis of the commodity into money (C – M) as the “salto mortale of the commodity“. A point of high vulnerability (a “weak link in the chain” or “Achilles Heel”) for capital in the process of its circulation. The point at which the product of private labour receives the stamp of acceptability of general social labour. At this point, capital is not only susceptible to the fluctuations and vicissitudes of the market but also to actions such as mass consumer boycotts. Severing the nexus here serves to disrupt capital in circulation.

It severs the link between the production of use-values and the realisation of value in circulation i.e. it dis-assembles the necessary relation between the production of use values and the market realisation of value and therefore facilitates the disruption of the capital relation itself.

Sever the nexus which serves to integrate and maintain the two sides (production and circulation) of the process of reproduction of capital as a whole, and the process as a totality starts to break up and disintegrate. Deprive capital of the essential transformation step of commodities into the money-form and the cyclical process of the reproduction of capital starts to break down and perish.

To do this, we must develop social practices and corresponding forms of organisation which dis-establish (strip) the product of labour of its commodity-capital form and disrupts the process of the circulation and accumulation of capital. This would serve to undermine dependency on the global market and facilitate its dissolution.

The transition to a system of immediately (directly) socialised labour is the fundamental, mediating ground for eliminating the process of capitalist commodity production. “On the basis of commodity production, labour becomes social labour only as a result of the universal alienation of individual kinds of labour” (Marx). The establishment of production based on directly socialised labour means the end of capitalist commodity production and therefore its mediation by the money form because “it would be impossible for a specific commodity… confront other commodities as the incarnation of universal labour and exchange-value would not be turned into price; but neither would use-value be turned into exchange value and the product into a commodity, and thus the very basis of bourgeois production would be abolished” [Marx. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress, 1977, pp.84-86]. Private labour only becomes social labour indirectly (taking the money form) through commodity exchange. Directly socialised labour circumvents (“short-circuits”) this mediation and by doing so represents the negation of capitalist commodity production. The creation of social relations founded on directly socialised labour must therefore eliminate those relations founded on the “universal alienation of individual kinds of labour”.

The associated producers themselves are in control of the products of their own labour and not any class, bureaucracy or external (alien) body or organisation. They make the “democratic decisions from below” as to the distribution of the surplus according to the need to accumulate (technical development and innovation), transfer to a collective fund for public provision, workers education/training, private consumption, etc. Once the surplus is taken out of the hands of the producers themselves and appropriated by an alien body/organisation then all the old “muck of ages” has an even greater potential to re-establish itself (the Soviet Union, etc). Those who appropriate and control the distribution of the surplus invariably generate and/or consolidate power structures for self-serving interest and privilege which stand in hostile opposition to those whose labour has produced the surplus unless, of course, appropriation and control over production and distribution is by the associated producers themselves.

A direct accountancy and calculation of labour-time remains in the intial post-capitalist stages. But it takes place as an accountancy of directly socialised labour in order to plan and extend production, distribution and the development of human culture in general. This accountancy and allocation of labour-time ceases to present itself disguised in fetishistic commodity and money forms. Labour-time is calculated as a means to producing a definite quantity of use-values and for catering for the social needs of people generally. Human beings organise themselves in their activities and alter these activities according to their developing needs without the presence of alien bodies and structures confronting them and directing their activities over and against their human interests. These measures, of course, characterise the early phases of the transition. Beyond these phases is the actual transcendence of account keeping itself on the basis of the expenditure of labour time. Then free time (not labour time) becomes the real measure of wealth.

3. “If we proceed further, and compare the process of creating value with the labour process, we find that the latter consists in the useful labour which produces use-values. […………………………………….] Whether it was already contained in the means of production, or has just been added by the action of labour-power, that labour counts only according to its duration. It amounts to so many hours, or days, etc”

(pp 302-303, The Labour Process and the Valorisation Process)

The division of the commodity into use value and value is the mirror replication of the antithetical character of the labour which produces it, i.e. labour which is simultaneously “useful labour” and “value creating”.

The different forms of “useful labour” constitute the panorama which is the division of labour. The exchange of labour activities will serve, in the initial phases of the directly socialised labour process, to facilitate the breakdown of this division of labour and to enrich the skills and life of the human individual. The development of these labour-exchange activities which become mutual, reciprocal accommodations of socially useful, directly socialised productive labour. The evolution of these exchanges creates the medium for the interrelationships and enrichment of human culture in its diverse forms and aspects – technical, scientific, artistic, aesthetic, etc. This will serve to initiate the transcendence of the division of labour within the places of production and within society as a whole.

The division of labour created by the origination and evolution of capitalism engenders the “crippled” human generations of the capital order. From this basis we proceed to transcend the division of labour and hence the highly problematic nature of this movement. It is these “crippled” generations which must commence the historic process of “undoing” all this “crippling” of the individual and in the process create new generations free of all of it. Humanity can only start to transform itself by starting to transform its conditions of life and it can only commence this momentous and enduring process from where it really stands at the prevailing stage of development. Humanity can only use itself as the material which it itself finds available and at hand. From the human being of the 21st century global capital order to that of the “true realm of freedom”.

4. “the extraordinary increase in the productivity of large-scale industry, accompanied as it is by both a more intensive and more extensive exploitation of labour-power in all other spheres of production, permits a larger and larger part of the working class to be employed unproductively”

(p.574, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 6)

How much more true is this today at the opening of the 21st century with capitalist exploitation on a globally integrated scale, with computerisation, robotics, automation, etc. And specifically with the global polarisation between “productive labour” in Asia and Latin America, etc, and the “unproductive labour” of Europe and North America, etc. The creation of most of the surplus value in the former and its conveyance in stupendous quantities to the latter indicative of the inhuman and destructive superexploitation in the former. Marx refers to the personifications of this “unproductive labour” as the “servant class”. Today we could locate millions in the so-called “service sector”. Marx adds “What an elevating consequence of the capitalist exploitation of machinery!” (p.575) with this reproduction of “the ancient domestic slaves, on a constantly extending scale” (p.574)

5. “……..every advance in the use of machinery entails an increase in the constant component of capital [………] and a decrease in the variable component [……….] We also know that in no other system of production is improvement so continuous and the composition of capital employed so subject to variation as in the factory system. This constant variation is however equally constantly interrupted by periods of rest, during which there is a merely quantitative extension of factories on the existing technical basis. During such periods the number of workers employed increases”

(p.578, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 7)

A relative decrease in variable capital (to constant capital) is accompanied by an absolute increase in variable capital with the extension of capitalist production. More workers are employed globally but less relative to the value of machinery as productive technique advances. The growth in the mass of surplus value takes place side by side with the growth in mass structural unemployment. Marx noted this trend in the middle of the nineteenth century and it now replicates itself on a world scale with capitalist globalisation. This must have the most profound implications for the whole global capitalist system as its structural crisis unfolds in the coming century. One of the most tangible symptoms of this crisis is the irredeemably persistent and growing mass global unemployment.

This contradictory movement is an underlying motor in the unfolding of this crisis and drives capital-in-crisis increasingly and ever towards a more “destructive reproduction” with all the inhuman and barbarous consequences for humanity and Nature. If the organic composition has a historic tendency to increase, then ultimately it is only the unplanned extension of production which can serve as a medium for the realisation of value and the source of revenue for consumption. Capital now enters its global phase of development (degeneration) which is simultaneously one of crisis and increasingly difficult-to-realise destructive self-reproduction.

Mass unemployment in the epoch of capital’s global crisis must include all sections of the wage-labouring workforce whether they are highly skilled and “professionalised” or “unskilled”. Capitalist globalisation inevitably signifies mass unemployment in the presence of a phenomenal increase in the productivity of labour, starvation and malnutrition in the presence of the overproduction of food, mass homelessness in cities full of empty habitable buildings, the deprivation and destruction of public healthcare and education facilities where humanity now has the knowledge and potential to eliminate both, mass overwork at one end of a polarity and mass, destitute idleness at the other with all the social consequences and ramifications necessarily implied by that contradiction.

Global capital-in-crisis is driving the human species and the natural conditions necessary for a higher form of human life towards a black hole of history. An abyss into which it will draw and destroy the whole of human culture unless humanity prosecutes an ultimately successful global struggle against the capitalist system itself and for the elimination of capital from the social metabolism as a whole.

6. “……large-scale industry, through its very catastrophes, makes the recognition of the 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. [………………………] ; 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.”

(p.618, Machinery and Large-Scale Industry, section 9)

The development of capitalist industry itself – “through its very catastrophes” – creates the technical and social conditions which point towards the transcendence of the division of labour. This development turns the “specialised” worker into one who must adapt and alter his mode of labour to satisfy the requirements of capital. This, taken in its its fullest significance and potential in socialist society, points towards the activation of the tendency towards the transcendence of the social division of labour in which the “partially developed individual” will becoem replaced by the “totally developed individual”.

Part 3 of Marx’s Theories of Surplus Value

Marx. Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3. Lawrence and Wishart Edition, 1972. (Translated by Jack Cohen and S.W. Ryazanskaya)

[Readers must study the full quote relating to each comment. [………………] indicates middle part of quotation]

1. “If the labouring producer pays himself his own wages and if his product does not at first assume the “shape” of other people’s revenue from which savings are made and then paid back by these people to the labourer, it is necessary that the labourer be in posession of his conditions of production [………..] In order that his wages and consequently the labour fund can confront him as alien capital, these conditions of production must have been lost to him and have assumed the shape of alien property. [……………] Once this separation exists, this process (the process of the real generation of capital – SM) does indeed take place and it continues and extends, since the surplus labour of the worker always confronts him as the revenue of others, through the saving of which alone wealth can be accumulated and the scale of production extended”

(pp. 421-22, Chapter 24 on Richard Jones)

“accumulated stock becomes capital only because of this personification”

(p.427, ibid)

When accumulated wealth ceases to confront the producers as the alien property of others (capitalist class, state property, etc) and is appropriated, developed and controlled by the producers themselves, then the presentation of wealth in personified forms will cease. Capital itself must be eliminated but also property as “state property” and positively replaced by the self-managing and self-directing activity of the associated producers.

2. “The main difference between productive and unproductive labour noted by Adam Smith is that the former is exchanged directly for capital and the latter for revenue….”

(p.426, ibid)

Marx later writes in relation to the work of Richard Jones that….

“Jones quite correctly reduces Smith’s productive and non-productive labour to its essence – capitalist and non-capitalist labour – by correctly applying the distinction made by Smith between labourers paid by capital and those paid out of revenue”

(p.432, ibid)

Capital-in-crisis constantly invades and drives to appropriate the different spheres of public provision for the purpose of its self-valorisation i.e. to take over public provision and social services provided by the state in order to invest for profit. The PFI (Private Finance Initiative) in Britain is an example of this predation by capital. The labour performed by workers in these areas is non-productive in the above sense. Capital now drives towards transforming this labour into productive labour i.e. labour which is exchanged directly for capital in order to return the value advanced with an increment. All public provision – once appropriated by capital – is now provision on condition of profit. No profit means no provision. This capital offensive against public provision spells catastrophe for millions. Capital must transform non-productive into productive labour in its predatory drive to counter the effects of its own global structural crisis on itself as a social relation of production and distribution. To strive to continue with the accumulation of capital. Nothing must stand in its way in this, its untransgressable logic. This crisis is the historic driving force behind capital’s need to appropriate and run public services on the strict basis of profit. It is the fundamental ground mediating the “privatisation” of public provision since Thatcher came to power in 1979 and continued by New Labour.

Shaun May

November 2014

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Filed under Capital, Directly Socialised Labour, Marx, Political Economy

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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Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism (Part 2)

Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism (Part 2)

Dialectic of Whole and Parts

The whole as the totality (the “exponent”) of its interacting and intermediating parts. Each part is mediated by the whole. The whole is mediated by each part and the intermediation of the parts. The whole is the “summation” of the parts and yet it is qualitatively more than this. The life and development of the object arises from the conflict of opposites within itself. Each object is the ‘exponent’ of this “summated” opposition. It is an identity that is a product of this opposition and yet, as a whole, it is qualitatively different and distinct from it. This is an example of what Hegel refers to as the ‘Identity of identity and difference’ in the Doctrine of Essence.

If we consider the object as a whole, each part of the whole develops only in relation to the movement of the whole and is connected to every other part through this whole movement. The parts are distinct from each other and from the whole only by virtue of their inseparable relation to it and to each other. Therefore, in the identity of the whole and the parts, each is distinct from the other. The movement of the whole conditions the relative movement of the parts which, in their turn, influence the whole movement. Each part has its own distinct characteristics whilst, at the same time, being continuous with and intrinsic to the life and development of the whole. In their interrelations, each part asserts its independence whilst reflecting and determining the whole movement i.e. it reveals its dependence simultaneously. Whole and parts mutually condition each other’s movement. Their relation….

contains the independence of the sides and equally their transcendedness, and it contains both in one relation. The whole is the independent and the parts are only moments of this unity; but equally they too are the independent and their reflected unity is only a moment; and each is its independence just something relative to the other. Thus, this relation is itself immediate contradiction and cancels itself (Hegel. Science of Logic Vol. 2., p.144., Unwin & Allen, 1929).

Elaborating further, Hegel concludes that…

The whole and the parts therefore condition each other; (…….) the whole is the condition of the parts, but also (…..) is only in so far as it has the parts for presupposition (Ibid p.145)

The whole is qualitatively distinct from the parts. In the totality of its movement, the whole displays dependence upon, and yet its distinct independence from and conditioning of, the movement of the parts. The relationship between the whole and the parts is such that…

Whole and parts are indifferent to each other and have independent persistence, but also they are essentially related and constitute only one identity. The relation therefore is the antinomy that the one moment, in freeing itself from the other, immediately introduces the other (Ibid p.148)

Each side – the whole taken in opposition to the parts and vice versa – in repelling the other side from itself simultaneously relates itself to it in a process of identity with it. Each side, in asserting its independence, reveals its dependence and necessary connection to the other side. Each side can only exist in a state of unity with the other because they are in relation to each other as discrete moments in the continuity of their relation.The whole is a complex dialectical totality. Not a “one-way street”, no matter how “heavy the traffic is”.

The whole is a totality of intermediating contradictions. In the life of the whole, these contradictions are simultaneously “external” and “internal” to each other. Their relationship is organic; a unity in which the whole develops as the “exponent” of their dialectical interrelations. Within the movement of the whole, each part is continuous with the others but within this continuity each part maintains its determining and determined discreteness. The whole is a complex of discrete yet continuous parts so that what is determined is simultaneously determining. The autonomy of each part is simultaneously its negation and therefore the positing of its opposite. What is autonomous is also determined and determining as the product of relation and being in relation. The autonomous is “infected” with dependency and this dependency imparts a relative autonomy to its related parts and determinations

When we study Marx’s Capital, for example, he starts with the commodity and the contradiction between use-value and value. We can see that the commodity is the “cell of capitalist economy”, the “cell of bourgeois society” (Lenin, Volume 38, Collected Works). Henceforth, in his exposition, the word ‘commodity’ is mentioned on nearly every page of all three volumes. It subsists as an essential moment in the reproduction of capital. But the category of ‘capital’ remains a more concrete category than ‘commodity’. Marx shows that the principal, more concrete category is ‘capital’. Capital cannot be grasped simply within the nature of the category of ‘commodity’. In this undeveloped form, capital cannot be understood as category and therefore as real social relation. The whole is more concrete than the part because it is the unity of the many and diverse parts and determinations which historically have served to constitute it as the whole per se.

Feudal Relations

When Marx writes that “the Middle Ages could not live on Catholicism” he was merely articulating his materialist conception of history in relation to feudalism. Under feudalism, social relations were more directly and transparently “political” because of the transparent character of these social relations. Both serf and lord knew exactly how much necessary and surplus labour time was accruing to each. The Church – itself in fief and subinfeudated to the Crown – served as a directly ideological and political mechanism for maintaining and perpeuating these 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 landowning commodity producers but sections of the peasantry had themselves started to develop into a self-employed, opposing petty bourgeoisie independently of the guild system in the towns. 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 nascent petit bourgeoisie that led this revolt in the towns and countryside, especially in the more developed south-eastern region of the country at the end of the 14th century. The revolt of 1381 was not the attempt to overthrow firmly established feudal relations – despite the demand for the end of serfdom – but was rather a clarion call to proclaim that these feudal relations were already dead and that the age of capital and wage labour was beckoning.

The spatio-temporal division of labour time characterises bond labour on the lord’s land as ‘thine’ and the time in which the serf reproduces his needs on his plot by domestic subsistence labour as ‘mine’. The political hierarchy of crown, church and nobility which evolves on the basis of these feudal relations (the triadic parasitic excrescence and 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.

Labour is that form of human energy which creates value but it only does so – as a generalised and dominant social process – under those historical conditions created by capital; conditions which it has created and reproduces daily in order to serve the constant augmentation of its value (valorisation) and accumulation. Labour creates value but itself as a form of human energy has no value. Under different conditions this form of human energy can serve different ends where objectification ceases to take alienated form.

Under the conditions of the domination of capital, the human source of this energy is compelled to alienate it. The potentiated form of this energy – labour power – is a commodity. It becomes reified as a material component in the composition of the total value of capital with all its dehumanising consequences for the labourer. The social relation between wage labour and capital is reified as ‘a relationship between things’, material components which enter into the process of the production of material ‘goods’ which are simply ‘sold’ on the market ‘place’ for that ‘thing’ money, hopefully at a profit. These historically-determinate, social relations become buried under a dungheap of reification and take on the appearance of being laws of Nature. This is a source of the opaqueness of these relations under capitalism and a reason why their political manifestations do not have the same degree of immediate clarity as they did under the feudal mode of production.

Hegel’s “Universal Permanent Capital”

Hegel writes of the “universal permanent capital” in the Rechtsphilosophie. Hegel’s “End of History”. Here we have a direct expression of the conflict between Hegel’s method and the product of that same method. The conflict between a revolutionary method, on the one hand, and the erected edifice of a conservative system, on the other. This concept of the “universal permanent capital” finds its fullest correlation and expression in the system of globalised capital today. In this sense, Hegel is the ideologist par excellence of this system of globalising capital of the 21st century. This “universal permanent capital” as the Weltgeist of the 21st century

The Specificity of the Natural and Social Forms of Contradiction.

Contradiction is not an irrational foible of mind. It is real. The world is – taken as a totality – a paradox of countless, innumerable paradoxes. The world (Nature) is immanently dialectical in its infinite variety and multiplicity of forms and relations. Dialectical thinking merely reflects this in thought itself.
Dialectic is not simply a “logical shadow” or “ghost” of Nature’s forms. But these forms are the real instantiations of dialectic itself expressing the absolute identity of natural form and dialectic independently of their scientific reflection in thought.

Every phenomenon, formation, thing, relation, etc, is a paradox of countless paradoxes. The infinitude of the finite. Things as being “infinitely complex and inexhaustible in their actual content” (Lenin). Our conceptions can only appropriate the thing approximately, relatively, historically. There is always more to know. Knowledge as an abyss into which we forever, eternally sink. The contradictions in the physical, chemical, biological, etc, are interrelated and mediate each other. But we cannot reduce one to the other. Each has its own distinct contradictions. We are dealing with different levels of complexity. Dialectics opposes reductionism in all its forms. It would be absurd to reduce the social to the natural, for example, or the biological to the chemical.

Contradiction animates its own development and disappearance. Its very dynamic is this unfolding and resolution. To be alive is itself a living contradiction. At any given moment, one is both extending one’s life whilst at the same time approaching closer to death. Anabolism and Catabolism involve each other simultaneously. Metabolism is the unity of these two opposed cellular processes. Death is the transcendence of this contradiction which animates life itself. Whilst alive, one is both living and dying at the same time. But death is the extinguishing of this contradiction and is beyond its dynamic.

The contradictions in any individual formation are its particular instantiated contradictions which are specific to it and expressed in its own individualised forms. For example, the contradictions of US capitalism are related to those of British capitalism (they are both contradictions of capitalism) and yet they are different because they are specifically the contradictions of US and British capitalism. If we state that “France is capitalist”, this identifies the individual with the universal. The individual is the universal and yet the distinction between “France” and “capitalist” is maintained. This is why every mathematical equation and every sentence contains dialectics. The specific character of the object determines our approach to it in practice. Each sphere (and aspects of the given sphere) require different approaches or variations and modulations in approach, etc.

What Hegel revealed to us – in abstracto – is the internal structure and dynamic of all forms of contradiction. In this regard, Hegel is important in Method. But, of course, contradiction takes specific historical form. Because Hegel develops his dialectic in the form of the exposition of the “Idea”, starting with Being, it presents itself as an unfolding process, a progression from the abstract to the increasingly concrete. Each succeeding category embodies and expresses the total antecedent exposition sublated within itself.

Contradiction drives the life and vitality of the object and its continual return into itself. Negated negation is found in the study of the determinate character of things. In their continual movement beyond (negation) themselves and return into themselves in re-affirmation (negated negation) of their positive existence as “this particular thing”, etc. A return to the old which is an irreversible advance beyond it. I wake up this morning. I go through the day. I wake up the following morning. I have returned to “myself” but I am not “myself” since I have also moved beyond that “self” of the previous morning, etc. So this return is also an advance. The seasons come and go and return the following year. But the Summer of this year is distinct from the Summer of last year, etc.

Each side of any contradiction mediates each other (intermediation). It is this intermediation which constitutes ground [the identity and unity] of the contradiction and the mutually determining and negating conflicting sides of the contradiction. In this unity, each side is what it is only in so far as each side mediates the existence of each other. The world exists as a unified, unfolding process of development animated by contradiction in its different social and natural forms. The world is precisely these contradictory determinate forms animated by their immanently contradictory character.

The Twentieth Century

“In the twentieth century the objective conditions for the social revolution had in fact not matured; and this is contrary to what many of us – not without cause – believed. They were coming to maturity only over (say) the last quarter of the century – in today’s conditions of the onset of capitalism’s structural crisis and globalisation”

[C. Slaughter., Not Without A Storm, Chpt 8, Index Books, p.286]

It is within this context that we can locate and understand the whole nature of capitalist development within the twentieth century. And, more importantly, our response to it and our activities as communists in the course of this past century’s development. Moreover, we can proceed – with a more concrete degree of adequacy – to seek to grasp the underlying conditions which led to defeats and betrayals of one kind or another in which millions of people perished under the rule of capital. We can also fully grasp why Social Democracy and Stalinism were capable of delivering millions into the hands of Fascism and the Gulags. Today, as capital’s structural crisis broadens and deepens, the roadblock of Stalinism to the emergence of new forms of revolutionary agency has vanished with the fall of its historical basis since 1989. Stalinism has done significant damage to the struggle for socialism but its fall has removed an obstacle – to that same struggle – the significance of which cannot be overestimated. Those forces which led the “anti-imperialist struggle” in the 20th century have now become transformed into the agents of globalising capital at the start of the 21st century. Only now – as the global crisis of capital deepens and unfolds in the course of the 21st century – does Luxemburg’s dictum of “Socialism or Barbarism” (Junius Pamphlet, 1916) truly and fully come into its own. The deepening and sharpening of the contradictions of the global capital system in crisis starts to comprehensively destroy the social and natural conditions for the new society. But in this unfolding crisis it also drives the necessity for the movement towards socialism (as the dominant historical tendency which is implicit in this development). It heightens the possibilities of the growth of this socialist movement against capital. But, as we can see, it is a contradictory development. Socialism is not the inevitable outcome of the present stage. It only becomes an inevitability when all the conditions for the elimination of capital and its state powers have been assembled to be replaced by socialist society. The further descent into barbarism is equally posible without the positing of these necessary conditions. The turn is to the global proletarait. We cannot wait for the apple to ripen and simply fall from the tree. The tree must be shaken with all our might and power, audacity, ruthlessness, energy, through the requisite agencies of global social revolution. Only then will the apples fall in order to be harvested.

Shaun May

September 2014



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Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism [Part 1]

Marginalia on Marx, Dialectics and Socialism [Part 1]
Criterion of Truth

Lenin refers to practice (Marx : “activity”) as the ultimate criterion of truth. He writes that this criterion is sufficiently definite to give us a relatively truthful conception of Nature but sufficiently indefinite to prevent us falling into dogmatism. The conditions of what is or is not possible for human beings to know are not fixed but historically mobile and a function of the theoretical-technical stage at which scientific research has arrived. For example, we could not have elucidated the structure of DNA in the nineteenth century because our techniques and theory in the Natural Sciences had not sufficently advanced to the required stage. Engels writes of human knowledge being limited in its actuality but unlimited in its potential and disposition. Here Engels is referring, implicitly, to the fact that the conditions for the possibility of knowledge are historically posited and negatable in their specificity to higher stages of human scientific praxis.

The Conception and the “Thing-in-itself”

Lenin and Trotsky criticised Kant’s idealism. That the synthesis of the “Categories” creates the world we perceive is what Lenin critiqued Mach for in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. He wrote that Mach converged to Berkeley’s subjective idealism in such a conception. Mach was asserting that the electron was only “our idea of the electron”. Lenin (in Volume 38) wrote that the logical categories are the “shadows of the real world” but are not this world per se. But our scientifically verifiable (in practice) conceptions of the electron, for example, correspond to its real character but are not and never can be fully exhaustive of the reality of this aspect of Nature. For example, we can predict its approximate behaviour under specified conditions on the basis of our scientific conception of it. But the correspondence of its behaviour to our prediction is only approximate.

Category of Appearance

Marx wrote that if “appearance” always corresponded to the “essence of things” there would be no need for science. Appearance is a contradictory presentiment because it can serve simultaneously as both “veil” of essence and “gateway” to essence. The function of science is to go through the gateway beyond the veil and descend down into a never ending abyss of human knowledge. The asymptotic character of human knowledge is determined by the ontological nature of its objects of investigation in Nature itself. Nature is a bottomless pit as far as knowledge is concerned. Our conceptions of Nature can only appropriate it relatively with a historically alterable degree of concreteness. This must mean that these scientific conceptions are subject to their own abstract-concrete dialectic in the actual development of their conceptual content.

Hegel’s “Transition” from “Being” to “Nothing”

Hegel begins with the “logical” category of Being. This is why the beginning of the ‘Logic’ is highly problematic. He begins with Being indeterminate which is Being without any determinate content and hence pure being as the most abstract of categories which is equal to “isness”. By starting with the Being of the “Idea”, Being and Nothing are posited as absolutely identical. This means that Being is posited without any determinate content (and therefore necessary mediation) in order to take us from Being to Nothing. To make the transition from Being to Nothing. How can we move from one category to another without mediation of content? Mediation implies distinction between the posited category and the derived category in terms of animating content. But since both are absolutely identical – with no differentiating content to mediate in the first part of the ‘Logic’ – this implies that Hegel actually imports ‘Nothing’ rather than deriving it. The “mediation” between Being and Nothing is strictly formal and hence is no real mediation at all. The dialectical logic of Hegel commences with a formal logic. Studying the relevant sections of the first part of the ‘Logic’, we see that the so-called transition from Being to Nothing is simply a formalised identification which immediately posits “Becoming” (Werden) without any mediation. In a certain sense, Hegel simply starts with the whole complex because he cannot derive pure Nothing from pure Being. There is no mediating content which enables him to do so. This, of course, is because he is working within the realm of the abstract “Idea”. In other words, Hegel is with God ab initio. The god of Parmenides (Eleaticism) (Being) + the god of Buddha (Nothing) = the god of Heraclitus (Becoming). And the consummation of this indeterminate formal beginning is the realised “Absolute Idea” which is the revelation and immanence of God.

Hegel’s Doctrine of Essence

The summa summarum of the Doctrine of Essence is the concept of dialectical relation. All things are only self-related insofar as they are in relation-to-other and vice versa. Self-relatedness is simultaneously relation-to-other and vice versa but in this identity each relatedness is distinct from the other. Spinoza was influential here. For example, capital and wage labour, particle physics “symmetry”, etc. The class struggle. Opposites, each of which can only be what they are as a result of their mutual relation and negative relation to each other. In this negative relation, they posit and reaffirm each other. Reciprocality in relation is the central conception in the Doctrine of Essence. Hence relation can only be dialectical. Never formal. Interpenetration and mutually conditioning and determining opposites. i.e., the unity of conflicting opposites.

Actual and Possible

The mediated totality is the unity of the possible and the actual in which each is continuously becoming transformed into the other. Actuality (its conditions) is the ground of possibility and possibility consumes these conditions in its becoming actual and therefore positing a higher actuality. A higher actuality becomes posited out of the consumption of the conditions of actuality. This is the transformation of the possibility into actuality on the consumption of the conditioning grounds of its own existence as the possible. Thus Hegel : “when all the necessary conditions are actually present, the thing enters into existence”. i.e. the possible becomes actual.

Mediation, Contradiction and Return

The posited passes beyond itself into its other (absolute negativity) and in this other abides in itself and this other is contained within itself i.e. abides within the originally posited (intermediation). But this relation is contradiction per se in which one is simultaneously other and not other and other is simultaneously the posited one and not the posited one. In their contradictory relation each is simultaneously posited and the negative of the posited other (+/- = -/+). But as determinate point of departure, the aboriginally posited returns into itself out of negation (negated negation) as return to the old yet irreversible advance beyond the old at the same time. Accordingly, the contradiction is resolved at a higher stage of existence whilst aspects of what is resolved are preserved (sublated) into this higher form of determinate being. Determinate things always return into themselves as long as the conditions are operative for this return. Their internal contradictions operate and unfold within the constraining conditions of the actual existence of the thing. This is why “things” appear not to fundamentally alter because they are always in process of returning into themselves. When these conditions alter beyond certain limits, dissolution sets in and the thing starts to perish. To enter its period of decay and transformation.
“The power of the negative” is the contradictory source of the posited always returning to itself and reasserting itself. However, this same power mediates as “portent” (Hegel : “The portentous power of the negative”) i.e. as announcing beforehand the imminent dissolution of the seemingly eternal positive. The negative never sleeps and must, sooner or later, ominously presage (foreshadows) the downfall of its ground and therefore of itself as “negative” of this determinate ground. (Latin : portendere = to stretch beyond oneself, itself, etc). Beyond a certain point or limit, the negative creates the conditions within the formation for its dissolution and transformation. [Hegel’s category of Measure : quantity and quality, transformation.] Why does the bubble burst? Why does the bridge suddenly collapse? Why does the elastic band snap when stretched beyond a certain point or tension? Transgression of the conditions for its existence as bubble, bridge or band. Beyond the “nodal point”.

Hegel’s ‘Logic’ and Development as Concentration of History (Enrichment)

In Hegel’s ‘Logic’, each succeeding category is more concrete than the preceding one because it contains the wealth of all the antecedent development sublated within itself. There is always abolition but the resulting positive content is always richer because it contains this entire history dialectically superseded within itself. The river at its mouth is always richer than the river at its source. Development ‘concentrates’ its own history so all development is a process of self-enrichment.

The Significance of the “Concept” in Hegel for Dialectics in General

The Concept (Begriff) in Hegel as Being which, in process of passing beyond itself into its opposite, is only passing into itself. In the positing of this its opposite, the aboriginally posited does not become anything distinctly different in isolation from it but rather remains, in this opposition, completely identical with itself. This is a return of this Being to itself. The one, in engendering and determining its other, is simultaneously self-determining. And the other likewise in its reciprocal relation to the one. They mutually interpenetrate. But since the one has given rise to its other out of itself, it is in identity with this other and returns into itself out of the otherness of this negation with the negation of this otherness. It reaffirms itself as the aboriginally posited. This posited ab initio abides within itself whilst simultaneously going beyond itself. It returns to itself as rejuvenated old which is therefore yet an advance beyond this old. Accordingly, the “concept” is the forever recurring and forever animating structure (relationship) of all forms of development in Nature, society or thought, etc. For Marx, it is not a pantheistically posited ghost or “spirit” (Geist) but rather absolutely identical to the real, given, specific forms of development. This is Marx’s dialectical monism. In Hegel, this takes the idealist form of the concept unfolding itself in the multiplicity of its otherness in order to concentrate itself by returning into itself as unity out of this multiplicity and knowing itself to be so in Self-Consciousness. But in Hegel – because the “Concept” is identical to Nature in its difference from it – a theological teleology animates his whole doctrine.

Shaun May

September 2014

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The Historical and the Transhistorical in the Conception of Class.

The Historical and the Transhistorical in the Conception of Class.

“Classes are large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it. Classes are groups of people one of which can appropriate the labour of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy”.

[Lenin, June 28,1919. Collected Works, Volume 29. p.421]

Lenin’s conception of class here is transhistorical. It could be used to describe the character of class relations in all societies divided into classes. Societies in which a surplus is produced by labour which affords a ruling section or stratum of society the means of avoiding the performance of this labour.

The first great human civilisations of the world’s mighty river valleys – Nile, Euphrates, Indus, Ganges, Yangtze, etc – were societies based on the production of an agricultural surplus and the rule of a priesthood which managed and controlled the extraction of this surplus and lived off it parasitically.

But to appropriate a more concrete grasp of class relations in the different, particular class societies, we need to identify the parameters and criteria which differentiate class in these specific societies. For example, class relations in the society of the late Roman Republic, of Feudal England in the 12th century, of America at the start of the 21st century, etc.

It is sometimes thought that ownership and non-ownership are the fundamental criteria in all class societies which differentiate classes from each other. Under capitalism, of course, this is the base criterion. The capitalist class owns the means of production and distribution in the form of capital and the proletariat only owns the commodity of labour power which it must sell to the capitalist class in order to survive. In the aforementioned river valley civilisations, neither the land nor the infrastructure of state was privately owned. The animating criterion determining the relationship between populus and priesthood in these societies was control of land and production; not ownership. Control does not necessarily imply ownership. And even onwnership does not necessarily imply absolute control when the state itself can lay down conditions and regulations in regard to the use and operation of the means of production and distribution, etc.

Historically, in different epochs and under widely differing conditions, the intrinsic, endogenous socio-historically posited paradigm against which class relations are determined and measured will always vary but sometimes be repeated in different social forms throughout human history. For example, in the Roman Republic, this paradigm mediating the determination and relationship of classes was ownership, and specifically of land. The mediating criterion of ownership recurs, of course, under capitalism. We have already mentioned this.

But in the high period of English feudalism, ownership – not even of land – was not the mediating criterion. The Crown owned all land but land was not alienable – could not be bought and sold generally and only by the Crown if required and if a buyer could be found – because feudal society was not a society of buying and selling owners but a society of subinfeudated tenants. Land was parcelled out from the Crown at the apex in a process of investiture and subinfeudation down to the villeins and serfs at the base of the feudal pyramid.

Hence, in English feudal society, the class relations within the body of the feudal structure were not determined by the criterion of ownership. They were determined by the control of production for use on tenanted land (fief). The relationship between Lords and Vassals gravitated around this fief in which the grant of land was conditional on labour obligations and other forms of service. The relationship between Crown and Nobility took the form of the granting of land in exchange for military obligations and political support, etc.

When we describe the class relations of any class society we are incorporating Lenin’s transhistorical conception within our historical conception of the specifically animating criteria (ownership, control, etc) which determine the character of different classes and their interrelations and conflicts within a given society in a particular epoch.

Shaun May

September 2014

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Marx and Engels in the 1840s

Marx and Engels in the 1840s

The 1840s was a revolutionary decade for both Marx and Engels in terms of the elaboration of their whole conception. An incredibly rich and contradictory period for them which gave impulse and vitality to their developing outlook. It was a period of conflict and turmoil for both Marx and Engels in terms of their theoretical and political development. We can see this from a survey of the transition from the Doctoral Dissertation on Democritus and Epicurus to the Manifesto. Their conception did not emerge ready-made and fully-formed from their heads in 1841. Marx and Engels had to constantly grapple with all manner of conflicts within their conception in this decade before arriving at the more ‘mature’ conception found in the Manifesto. Their struggles in this decade moved them on to their conception articulated in the Manifesto.

For the rest of his life, Marx was constantly reviewing and re-assessing his own work. Leaving this behind. Taking that onboard. Overthrowing here. Returning to this there, etc. Marx’s conceptions were also subject to the dialectic. He moved on. For example, Marx was still referring to the “value of labour” in 1846-47 (Poverty of Philosophy) but post-Manifesto it had gone, to be replaced by the scientifically correct “value of labour-power”. Marx had moved on, arriving at the conception that “living labour” itself is the creator of value but “living labour” itself (like land) has no value. Labour-power has both value and price. But living labour and land both have price but no value. The price of land is equivalent to the capitalised rent.

In my opinion, the pivotal work in Marx’s approach in Capital is to be found in the Grundrisse. The notebooks for Capital. Everything he had done previous to this was once again re-assessed and put through a critical fire in order to re-forge it in the pages of Capital. Even the 1859 Contribution was subjected to the same revolutionary criticism. Marx wrote that revolutions constantly subject themselves to a critique as they unfold (and this becomes an intrinsic part of their dynamic). Marx did the same with all his work. The Grundrisse was that critique, a critique of political economy which included all his own previous work.

Of course, there are limits in drawing contrasts between the earlier Marx of the 1844 Paris Manuscripts and the later Marx of Capital. However, it would be absurd to deny the tremendous and determinate developments and leaps which took place between the two and to imply that, in terms of overall conception, there was not a far richer and more concrete and more comprehensive conception in the later period. The development of the totality of Marx’s thinking was an entirely sublative process.

Engels wrote that The German Ideology was written for “purposes of self-clarification” submitted for publication but was in fact left unpublished to “the gnawing criticism of the mice” [1859 Preface] and not published in full until 1932. The work was an indispensable part of both Marx’s and particularly Engels’ development (mostly written in Engels’ handwriting) in the 1840s. It would be misguided, in my opinion, to approach any of their work divorced from the historical conditions under which they were thinking and writing.

This does not mean that they do not ‘carry forward and over’ today but we must also read them within context in order not to fall into the trap which the dogmatist and doctrinaire sets for us. I think we need to study the Doctoral Dissertation within this context of the historical development of Marx’s conception which was not immune to the alterations and shifts which the dialectic inevitably asserts. We do not, of course, subscribe to a “disorienting historical relativism”. However, we do not lift Marx out of determining historical conditions and simply quote him without any necessary, specific qualification which may or may not be required depending on the stage at which he had reached in his unfolding and progressively ‘concentrating’ conception.

Soon after Marx’s Doctoral Dissertation, Feuerbach published his Essence of Christianity (1841) and Principles of the Philosophy of the Future (1843). On reading Feuerbach, Engels wrote later that..

we were all momentarily Feuerbachians. How enthusiastically Marx greeted the new interpretation, and how greatly – despite all critical reservations – he was influenced by it, we can read in The Holy Family (Ludwig Feuerbach, Dietz, 1946, p. 14).

We can also see the influence of Feuerbach in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844 [Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844] which is not to assert that a critique of both Hegel and Feuerbach had not already begun. [for example, in the critiques of Hegel’s doctrine of the state and of the Rechtsphilosophie., 1843-44]. However, personally, I think to quote Marx’s doctoral dissertation now is more than idiosyncratic unless, of course, it is part of a study of the early development of Marx’s thinking.

In relation to the development of Marx’s approach to his work, I think that the Theses on Feuerbach were highly important. They are an incredibly rich, concrete and ‘concentrated’ result of Marx’s studies in the 1840s. If we evaluate the “methods” of various “Marxists” in the light of these theses, we start to gain real insight into the character, and especially the deficiencies and shortfalls, of these “Marxist methods”.

Shaun May

September 2014

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Priesthood and Bureaucracy : Modern Echoes of Ancient Relations.

Priesthood and Bureaucracy : Modern Echoes of Ancient Relations.

The rise of priesthoods – differentiated from the broader populus – in the river valley civilisations of antiquity was the first social expression of the beginnings of the differentiation of human society into antagonistic social classes or strata. The priest-caste was at first neither property-owning nor hereditary. It owned neither land nor the material infrastructure associated with its activities. Its emergence as a ruling stratum took place on the basis of the production of a surplus in agriculture which liberated a section of society from the need to labour. Land and infrastructure was owned by the whole of society. This form of land ownership was a carry over from the older tribal relations. Private ownership of land comes later with the emergence of a land-owning aristocracy.

It was, of course, no accident that the first great civilisations arose in river valleys. The high degree of fertility of the soils of their flood plains combined with the immediacy of a source of irrigation constituted the natural pre-conditions for the rise of such societies. Archaeologists have found – contrary to previously pre-conceived notions of ‘primitive tribalism’ – that even the Amazon Basin at one time hosted such a society, or perhaps its beginnings. Only its collapse ushered in a reversion to the previous modes of tribal life. In the Amazon, a process of soil enrichment was practiced which increased and maintained the fertility of the soils. Even today, these ‘black soils’ remain extremely fertile. The general thesis here is that the first great human civilisations arose within the mighty river valleys of the globe where all the natural and geographical conditions were favourable to their emergence and subsequent development.

The production of this surplus in agriculture must have resulted from innovations in technique and labour organisation and the consequent increase in the productivity of labour flowing from such changes. Such developments necessarily imply developments in human knowledge and their technical application. The fragmentation of earlier tribal societies (based on the common tribal ownership of the land) into a priesthood and populus was a prelude to their later differentiation into antagonistic social classes.

The ruling priesthoods of these societies (for example, in the ancient river valley civilisations of the Nile, Euphrates, Tigris, Indus, Ganges, Yellow River, etc) did not own the means of production as such. We still find echoes of this earliest social differentiation and arrangement in the caste system of India today. And it is still asserting its legacies. Very recently, an extremely reactionary and backward ruling of the highest court in India, in 2007, ruled that “caste” is inherited and unalterable.

From an initial position of being elected by the tribal councils, the priests gradually established themselves as a permanently ruling and privileged stratum with the transition from elected to hereditary status as the primitive communistic democracy of the early human communities was superseded. This also brought in its wake differentiation of the populus into different castes and sub-castes. The new status of this priesthood enabled them to pass on their positions of power and authority – associated with knowledge of engineering, mathematics, etc, and the processes of agriculture and material infrastructure – to their offspring. The caste system became hereditary and transfigured into justificatory forms of religious conception, practice and ritual.

The productivity of labour had risen beyond a critical point resulting in the production of a surplus over and above the immediate needs of the whole populus. The need for everyone to engage in the manual labour process became unnecessary. The priesthood gradually separated itself from manual labour and came to monopolise the management and direction of production, preoccupying itself with the mental side of labour. The further division of labour of society gave rise to different castes pre-occupied with specific tasks. For example, the different prescribed roles of the various castes and sub-castes in India and other parts of the world.

Caste organisation predated British rule in India. However, British colonialism exploited the social distinctions as a means of ‘divide and rule’. [1] The colonial regime codified and ossified the distinctions in the same manner as the Apartheid regime in South Africa did in relation to racial and ethnic differences. The British administration strictly enforced caste distinctions and regulated its hierarchy so that discrimination became more deeply entrenched. Naturally, the British colonial power used it as a lever of its rule by ‘elevating’ some castes and ‘criminalising’ others into pariah status. The old Roman tactic of ‘divide et impera’ applied to the British Empire. [2]



The priesthood could live off the surplus product created in the course of production by the labour of the populus. In ancient Egypt, the chief priest, of course, eventually became the Pharoah with his royal entourage, retinue and attendants. Even today the Christian priesthood lives off the surplus created by wage labour.

With the rise of these social relations, a whole series of practices, justifications and prohibitions were carved out and instituted in order to socially legitimise the parasitism of the priesthood and the role of other castes in society, especially that of the producers. The ideologies which had their roots in pre-class societies now became modified and transformed in both content and form in order to express the interests of this ruling priesthood which now differentiated itself from the mass of the populus.

With further social development – for example, the taking of prisoners of war to be used as labour and inroads into communal ownership of the land – the priesthood eventually becomes a slave-owning and land-owning patriciate, giving it the wealth and state power to break up the remnants of any communal ownership of the land and acquire it as land privately-owned and worked by slaves who were themselves the property of this new ruling class.

The populus did not necessarily become slaves but they did take on the new status of a subjugated and ruled class with labour duties and obligations to the new ruling class. The emergence of the priesthood therefore stands historically as a transitional form between classless tribal society and the fragmentation of it into classes, rooted in the growth in the productivity of labour with the consequent production of a surplus in agriculture. The differentiation of the egalitarianism and fraternity of tribal relations into an hereditary ruling priesthood and ruled populus was therefore the first historic expression that such a social transition was actually taking place.

Essentially, before the emergence of an hereditary aristocracy, there was no private ownership of land or infrastructure in these societies. The tribe owned the land as “its” land vis-a-vis other tribes but internally it belonged to “the tribe” as such. Its land was not privately owned. However, later, we see the actual control and direction of production and distribution in the hands of a priesthood. It was this control – and not any form of ownership – which enabled this privileged stratum to appropriate, assign and manage the distribution of the surplus produced by the agricultural labour of the populus.

Control of production affords this privileged layer the right to appropriate a disproportionate share of the socially produced surplus but it does not afford it the right to do as it pleases with the means of production if control is not simultaneously based on ownership. It was only when actual ownership of land passed to this priesthood that it later became an hereditary aristocracy and slavery itself started to emerge. Then, of course, we have the emergence of class societies proper – based on actual ownership – and the development of ideologies to help to maintain the position of the ruling classes. Then the new rights and conditions afforded to it as a class mean it can alienate property since this property is now privately owned.

Thus, control of the means of production is not necessarily ownership of them. This control affords certain privileges but not comprehensively as in the case of ownership. It is worth mentioning that even ownership does not necessarily give complete control since, later on, state regulations can limit what owners could do with their property, taxation, building and land-use statutes, etc.

There are historical parallels in the relationship between the former Soviet bureaucracy and the dominated “socialist” peoples, on the one hand, and in the relationship between the ancient priesthoods of the river valley civilisations and populus of these societies, on the other. We can also see this type of relation replicated in the relationship between the trade union bureaucracies of capitalist countries and the rank and file members of the trade unions. These bureaucratic relations [Soviet and Trade Union Bureaucracy] rest on, and are mediated by, the existence of the wider class relations in existence. They could not subsist without the latter.

Of course, the comparison and analogy is not simple. History is temporally specific. But the parasitism of both the Soviet and trade union bureaucracy and the early priesthoods contains certain striking and remarkable similarities. None own the resources which they control. Each stratum has a privileged position in relation to peoples, members and populus respectively. Bureaucracies do not have the right to alienate the resources which they control for their own personal enrichment as with property-owning classes. That is, they cannot sell these resources with a view to the full compensation of their total value. However, they hold the position where they can manipulate these resources to ‘take their cut’ of the proceeds of the management and direction of them. Such bureaucracies are – as with the ancient priesthoods – ruling strata within their own social and organisational orbit. Unlike property-owning classes, they owe their position and privileges to control and not to ownership.

It may, in passing, be interesting to note here that the feudal nobility were tenanted. They were not “owners” as such. By a process of investitute and subinfeudation, they were awarded land as tenants of the Crown and then they proceeded to subinfeudate and dole out the land until it reached the stage of the serf’s plot at the base of the feudal pyramid. Feudal society – in England at least – was a society of tenants, not owners, in which lord and tenant were bound together in a mutualised system of rights and obligations.

The securing of a ‘position’ in these bureaucracies – a ‘career move’ – is usually dependent on satisfying all the conditions laid down which serve to maintain the privileged position of the stratum as a whole. The priesthoods had conditions and rituals for the accession of others to its body. In other words, once established, priesthood and bureaucracy develop and cultivate a consciousness of their own interests (separate from, and antagonistic to, those over which they rule) and which is embodied (or rather disembodied in alienated form) in a “code” or “rule book”, etc, which is separate from, and confronts, the current members of the priesthood and bureaucracy itself. It often seems that ‘constitutions’ and ‘codes’, etc, are not representational of its interests. Rather it seems that they represent the interests of ‘the whole organisation’. The truth of such ‘constitutions’ is soon revealed when conflicts of interest develop between the top stratum and the people or members. Without exception, the ‘top’ seeks to maintain them at all costs. And points to these codes and constitutions as a means of maintaining its own distinct interests as a ruling stratum.

You embrace the code when you become part of the structure. If you do not or cannot, then you are excluded from the structure. Paradoxically, it can operate unconsciously but is operative nevertheless and arises directly out of the social character, structure and relations of priestly and bureaucratic organisation itself. People come and go, pass in and out, up and down, join and retire, go through, etc, the structure, but the structure itself, its organisation as socially congealed privileged, remains in place. Its determinate character is not fundamentally altered. The old adage that ‘it is who you know and not what you know‘ sometimes applies in climbing the ladder of the structure. The children of the priests become the next generation of priests or, at least, are provided with the ‘benefits’ of their parents’ position and experience. Leading figures in a bureaucracy “edge” their children – by hook or crook – into the bureaucracy and set them on an ascending path. Here we have resemblances to the inheritance or passing on of class privileges. Nepotism is already pre-established and arises directly out of privileged ‘position’.

The trade union leaders today manage and control strikes (if they must call them) – never forgetting their own indispensable caste interests whilst doing so – in a parallel way in which the priesthoods controlled agricultural production and infrastructure construction in ancient times and the Soviet bureaucracy controlled the state economy of nationalised property prior to its break up after 1989. The general secretary of the Trade Union Congress being the Pharaoh of organised labour and the general secretary of the CPSU being the Pharoah of the nationalised economy.

Because bureaucracy controls but does own the resources which it manages, it is not a property owning class. Likewise, the ancient river valley priesthoods were not property-owning but rather controllers of the social property. The Soviet bureaucracy controlled the nationalised property but did not own it. As a stratum, it owned nothing but controlled everything. All the resources in the old Soviet system, the land, factories, infrastructure, etc, were owned by the state as social property and could not be bought or sold by bureaucrats no matter how ‘big’ or ‘influential’ they were. In a similar way, all the resources of a trade union are owned by the trade union itself. The trade union is run by a bureaucracy but this stratum does not actually own the resources of the union. It controls them as a ruling group. It cannot sell them in order to fill its own pockets like a property-owning class could. And it is this control that affords this layer its privileged position in the same way that the position of the Soviet bureaucracy secured its privileges vis-a-vis the rest of the population. The restoration of capitalism after 1989 has essentially taken place by means of the bare-faced theft of state property dressed up as a purchase of shares. It was the bureaucracy itself that engineered and drove forward this period of appropriation with the devastating consequences on the lives of millions of people.

The Soviet system was, according to Meszaros, neither “capitalist” nor “state capitalist”. Trotsky himself (1936, Revolution Betrayed, Chapter 9) insisted that the Soviet system was not a form of “state capitalism”. In this respect, Meszaros and Trotsky coincide. Later some so-called “Trotskyists” described it as “state capitalist”. And this description was proffered not that long after Trotsky wrote Revolution Betrayed. Trotsky remarks (I paraphrase) that the characterisation of the Soviet Union as “state capitalist” was an attempt to squeeze the living reality of the historically novel and unfamiliar into the formal categories of the familiar in order for metaphysical thinking to comfortably apprehend and ‘box’ the nature of the Soviet Union. In this way, the living reality of the Soviet system eluded their conceptual grasp.

There is not a single, convincing analysis and discourse of the late Soviet system which gives us an adequate characterisation of it being a form of “state capitalism”. Moreover, there is no legitimate and ‘sound’ historical study of how it was, ab initio, or became, “state capitalist” either before or after Trotsky’s study in his 1936 Revolution Betrayed.

Capital existed in the Soviet system in a different mode to the way it exists in capitalist society. In the Soviet system, it existed as an overarching “mode of control of the whole social metabolism” which is distinct from its existence under capitalism itself as a more intrinsic, organic and more widely and deeply embracing and economically entrenched controlling “social relationship of production” which also incorporates within itself this latter function of “metabolic control”.

[See Istvan Meszaros, Beyond Capital, Political Power and Dissent in Post-Revolutionary Societies, p.898. Merlin Press, 1985. And specifically, section 6. Breaking the Rule of Capital, pp. 911-914 where he gives a fundamental characterisation of the nature of the Soviet system.]

The emergence and consolidation of the rule of the Soviet bureaucracy expressed the resistance of capital in the struggle for socialism. The differences between priesthood and bureaucracy reflect differences in concrete historical conditions and circumstances. However, both were essentially parasitic and neither owned the means of production and therefore were not property-owning ruling classes as such. In the same way, the trade union bureaucracy is not a property-owning ruling class but a controlling bureaucratic caste.

In the Soviet system there was, as in the first stages of the river valley civilisations, no private ownership of the land, production, infrastructure, etc. But the Soviet state bureaucracy controlled and directed production and lived a privileged existence off the surplus created and extracted from the producers. The producers had no control over their product which was controlled and directed by an alien body hovering over society. The fundamental question in the Soviet system was one of control and not of ownership. And this corresponds to the conception that the controlling collective in that system was not constituted as a property-owning class but rather as a controlling caste. This bureaucracy did not own but controlled.

The bureaucratic system of control was in dissonance with the post-capitalist forms of ownership or its historic tendency of development beyond these forms of ownership. Either restoration of capitalism, on the one hand, or taking the whole system beyond the constricted form of bureaucratic control which corresponded to, or resembled, capitalist forms of control, on the other hand, was the contradictory pivot on which the whole Soviet system precariously balanced. 1989 and after gave the impetus to the process of restoration. If the forms of ownership and control do not correspond to, and compliment, each other, the whole social structure becomes animated with a structural contradiction which has to be resolved one way or the other i.e. either control has to bow to the developmental tendencies of ownership or ownership must be reversed in favour of the character of the forms of control.

The way forward for the producers in and beyond the Soviet system was to rid themselves of bureaucratic control so that it was they who not only produced but also controlled and directed production and distribution rather than an alien state bureaucracy hovering menacingly above society. A system of state management which still connected Soviet society to the age of capital, threatening restoration of capitalism. And, of course, after 1989 this is what has actually proceeded. The Russian Revolution – as a result of the impact of world capital and its state powers on it – never resolved the posited conflict between ownership and control. Under such circumstances, the possibility of capitalist restoration was always a mediating factor animating the whole social structure.

In the Soviet system, the state form of ownership of the means of production and distribution corresponded to the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and pointed beyond the age of capital. However, because these means of production and distribution were controlled and managed according to the norms and parameters of a system of capitalist production, their operation, but not there ownership, corresponded to the rule of capital. This is not to assert that the means of production and distribution in the Soviet system were capital. Only in their state management and control could they possibly be described as exhibiting the characteristics of capital. Only in their external bureaucratic mode of state management from the “outside” so to speak. The extraction of a surplus and its distribution were carried out under the concerted direction and control of the bureaucratised state structures but not, as in capitalist countries, under the private ownership and control of a distinct ruling capitalist class and its state power. The ruling echelons of the state bureaucracy were not a new ruling property-owning class but rather a ruling controlling stratum. Under capitalism, a fundamental pre-condition for the operation of the productive forces is the continual expansion and augmentation in their value, i.e. valorisation and accumulation are an actual precondition for their actual existence. This was not the case in the Soviet system.

The Cuban system, dominated as it is by a privileged bureaucracy, exhibits more or less the same structural characteristics as the old Soviet system. And now recent events in Cuba (February 2012) – especially in the ranks of the Communist Party – are indicating that restorationist trends are emerging in both party and bureaucracy. The origin of these trends, of course, are to be located in the deepening of capital’s global crisis. The opening of an offensive by the Cuban proletariat to wrest control of production and distribution from this bureaucratic caste would undoubtedly accelerate the trends towards restoration.

Of course, the capital relation (commodity capital and money capital) actually operated in pre-capitalist societies just as commodity production and exchange did. It was not, of course, capitalist commodity production in these societies. The capital relation did not (and could not) reach its ‘classical’ form until capital became the dominant relationship of production. In antiquity and in the feudal period, merchant and money capital emerged and developed in the form of trade and usury. For example, the oft-quoted example is Carthage in the Mediterranean but trading and usury were common amongst the other developed peoples such as the Greeks, Romans, etc, and in the ‘interstices’ of feudal society. In feudal society, the Jews were excluded from the feudal order itself and lived by trade and usury.

However, what distinguishes capital in antiquity and the feudal period from its existence in contemporary society is that it was not the dominant/preponderant relationship of production and distribution. It was merely a subsidiary, peripheral aspect of these societies which were essentially subsistence societies with the ruling classes living on the extraction of a surplus from the labour of serfs/villeins, slaves, coloni or conquered peoples or from the plunder, tribute and taxes in kind or coin arising out of such conquests. The parasitism of the ruling classes was founded upon their ownership and/or control of the land or the military domination of the subjugated populations. The general form of labour was not wage labour but rather slave or bond labour. And this simple truth necessarily meant that the means of production, even those utilised to produce commodities, were not forms of capital.

Extraction and distribution of the surplus in the Soviet system was controlled and managed politically. But that, in itself, does not render the means of production ‘capital’ any more than the extraction of a surplus by the priesthoods of the ancient river valley civilisations from its populus rendered the land privately owned by them as a ruling layer. Private ownership would have made them a propertied class rather than a controlling caste. Here, as in the Soviet system, the controlling relation was political and not economic. In other words, in the Soviet system, the appropriation of the surplus by the state was not based on, did not arise out of, the operation of capital as the controlling social relation of production and distribution in the same mode as it does under capitalism. Rather this appropriation of a surplus arose on the basis of the direct political domination of the state bureaucracy – backed up by military force – over the producers. The means of production and distribution were controlled and managed according to capitalist norms [“the mode of metabolic control”] but this, in itself, did not make them forms of capital. The fundamental contradiction was between the form of ownership and the form of control. In a similar fashion (not identical, of course), the ancient (non-property owning) priesthood of the ancient river valley civilisations extracted its surplus from its human hinterland. It did not need to actually own the land in order to carry this out.

The forms of appearance serve to furnish some with the conception that the Soviet system was ‘state capitalist’. As if the means of production in the Soviet system were owned and operated on the same basis as the former nationalised industries in Britain before their privatisation by the Thatcher governments. Further investigation would reveal that the relations of ownership of the nationalised industries in pre-Thatcher Britain were fundamentally different in their characterisation to the forms of ownership of the means of production in the Soviet system. In Britain, before privatisation, these were actually forms of state capital in their very nature whereas in the Soviet system the means of production were only managed according to capitalist norms but were not subject to the relations of capitalist ownership either by state or capitalist class.

Meszaros cites four basic pre-conditions by means of which “capital maintains its – by no means unrestricted – rule in post-revolutionary societies…” [p.913, Beyond Capital]. In none of them can we find any indication that what existed in the Soviet system was a new form of capitalist or state capitalist ownership but rather that capital exerted its control by means of a system of bureaucratic management and the prioritisation of ‘material imperatives’; through the continuation of the division of labour inherited from capitalism; through the ‘structure of the available production apparatus’ and the ‘restricted form of scientific knowledge’ and through the Soviet system’s ‘links….with the global system of capitalism’. It exerted its rule as a “mode of control of the social metabolism” but not as a fundamentally animating and governing social relationship of production and distribution – economically extracting surplus value – as in capitalist society.

Needless to say, the age-old division of labour will still be with us in a sublated, more fluid, form for a circumscribed period even after the capital relation and commodity production have been eliminated from society. Only the further evolution of society will see it progressively diminish and disappear. The ‘available production apparatus’ and ‘form of scientific knowledge’ will always be ‘restricted’ in the sense that both are historically conditioned and ‘limited in their actuality but unlimited in their disposition’ (Engels). To focus on these in order to provide evidential criteria for the “maintenance of capital’s rule” in the Soviet system is not fetishistic but it is somewhat departing from a characterisation of the nature of social relations in the Soviet system in order to explain capital’s continued “influence”.

Only points [1] and [4] [p.913., Beyond Capital] are really fundamental and are actually related and interconnected. If anything the ‘material imperatives which circumscribed (SM) the possibilities of the totality of life-processes’ were inextricably connected to the historical ‘links and interconnections’ which the Soviet system had ‘with the global system of capitalism’. The real “influence” of capital and the forms of state bureaucratic control and management corresponding to this “influence” arose from the daunting pressures of the world capitalist order on the Soviet system. From the very start, and before, this was the fundamental condition and reason why a technically isolated and capitalistically encircled ‘post-revolutionary’ society was degraded and degenerate in nascendi. It reinforces the overall conception that the commencement of the destruction of the global capital order and its state powers must be posited as nothing less than a continuously unfolding global process. And only temporarily halting when this is absolutely unavoidable according to conditions and expedience.

Shaun May
September 2014

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Critique and Socialist Comradeship

Critique and Socialist Comradeship

Genuine communists always welcome critique or reviews of their work as a possibility of its development into richer, more profound, theoretical and political domains. As an enrichment of the overall conception. We need to learn to re-assess and, if necessary, modify and qualify our work in the light of a genuine, legitimate revolutionary criticism regardless of the quarters from which it may arise. We need to have the courage to acknowledge that without such critique our conception may ‘ossify’ or could not ‘move on’ and be enriched in its content or even deservedly overthrown completely.

Without the critique of Hegel, Karl Marx would not have become Marx. Without the critique of Lamarck, Charles Darwin would not have become Darwin. Without the critique of one man’s work by another, there can be no scientific development. Accordingly, the absence of critique is, in rerum natura, historically impermissible and impossible. Those who call themselves “Marxists” and yet, politically and psychologically, react to criticism like priests or mullahs reacting to a ‘blasphemy’ are worse than useless as communist revolutionaries. They belong in a seminary or monastery and not in the class movement of the proletariat. This approach is characteristic of the self-important eminences of the sectarian groups and clannish grouplets and even of some leading intellectuals who sometimes deem themselves beyond critique and never ‘stoop’ to address the content of one. This attitude towards one’s own work is an affectation of the strictures of cult existence or of the hide-bound, study-bound, smug academic mentality of the university department.

If we are reluctant to critique the works of others (or we do so with trepidation), this necessarily reveals a certain relation between the ‘critic’ and the ‘critiqued’, the reviewer and the reviewed. We must never ‘guruise’ individuals, regardless of the importance of their contribution. Guruisation is the instant and painful death of revolutionary critique. The point of guruisation is also, simultaneously, the point of religious devotion.

I had first hand experience of this when I was a branch member of Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party from 1976 to 1985. I learnt my lessons well. Never again. The various sects, cults and clannish associations are typically averse to critiquing their leading figures, their gurus, because it introduces conflict and instability into such set-ups. To threaten the established dynamic of the cult is a cardinal sin, punishable by ostracisation or expulsion. Excommunication. Members are required to worship at the shrine of the cult guru. Not to subject it to a rigorous revolutionary criticism and even, divinities forbid, iconclasm. When you are a member of a Masonic Lodge, you must abide by its rules.

The focus of any critique is the historic interests of the proletarian class. We are referring to texts for social revolution. A revolutionary critique of such texts is not directed towards the stroking or beating of a writer’s ego. If writers and thinkers cannot psychologically dissociate themselves as human beings from a revolutionary critique of their work by others, then almost inevitably such a critique will bring an injured ego in its wake or a temporary glow of conceit.

Speaking personally, I think we must never allow friendship get in the way of an honest, candid, direct, open yet comradely critique. If the ties of friendship are not strong enough to withstand this, then so be it. If a man or woman cannot endure revolutionary criticism, for whatever reason, he/she must not put pen to paper or encapsulate concept in spoken word.

If we personally, psychologically, identify with what we have written down rather than seeing it as a document to be released into the class movement to critique as necessary, to investigate, for the use of this movement in its struggle to end the epoch of capital, then what sort of a way of proceeding is that? Are we writing in order to feed our own psychological needs or for the class movement regardless of these needs or our injured or petted egos? Being fondly indulged by sundry devotees must have its limits beyond which a terminal nausea must surely and irreversibly set in. Like being subjected to a neverending forced feed of something sweet and sickly.

And those who are their own best critics? : “I am my own best (or worst) critic”. How conceited is that? Forgive me for deploying this term (I think it is perhaps ‘postmodernistic’), but how ‘narcissistic’ is that? We may know what is, or what we think is, ‘wrong’ with our own work (in which case we really must modify and qualify it as soon as is possible) but those who read our work may wish to engage in a critique – or read a critique – to develop it for the inspection and possible interests of the class movement. The prophets and messiahs of the sectarian groups are very often characterised by this inordinate degree of narcissism. They crush critique. Disagreement frequently elicits intimidation. Different forms of violence have been deployed in various groups. Many are masters of various methods of control.

All this, of course, touches on the way in which communists address and relate to each other as ‘comrades’. It is, of course, a political question and not simply a personal one. What does it mean and involve, this ‘comradeship’ between communists? Is it simply a political concord? Or is it all closely associated with how we relate to each other as communist human beings? What is communism without this humanistic form of comradeship where comradeship is not simply an agreement on political perspectives? Theoretically and politically, we may have gone beyond the approach of the sects and cults, but if, in terms of ‘comradeship’, we are still with them, does this not still connect us meaningfully, humanly (or inhumanly), with this sectarianism, its methods and all its sundry baggage?

In my sincere opinion, interpersonal abuse and communist comradeship are incompatible. They are, in my book, not reconcilable. People who call themselves “communists” can mutually trade abuse but that automatically negates their comradeship.

Real comradeship is only found in struggle. Not in the ‘concord’ of the cult or sect.

Shaun May
September 2014

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‘Skill’ (Concrete Labour) and the Division of Labour as Functions of Capitalist Commodity Production.

‘Skill’ (Concrete Labour) and the Division of Labour as Functions of Capitalist Commodity Production.

‘Skill’ in the worker is a technical function of the requirements of capital insofar as the use value of commodities – which results from the application of this skill in production – is the repository of value. It is a continuously evolving, historically determined, function in terms of its development and operation in the service of capital. What required 10 workers to achieve in 10 days, 50 years ago, can now be done by one (or even none) in five minutes with automation and computer controlled production. And producing a product of considerably higher quality in terms of its use value. Capital only requires the forms of ‘skills training’ in workers which adequately fits its needs. It does not lay out capital which is wasted in the acquisition of skills which are surplus to its requirements because this is capital wasted. And capital wasted is capital not realising its notion, its raison d’etre. It is the negation its own intrinsic character as capital. This is a root of the merely utilitarian and philistine approach of capital in its relationship to labour and society as a whole.

But this approach also excludes and marginalises those who are highly qualified in specific areas. Only if a skill can be employed productively to create surplus value – either directly in production or indirectly in research, development and management – will its bearer be employed by capital. If the employment of any skill at any level cannot cannot yield surplus value for capital then it is not a skill as such for capital. Those, for example, with doctorates in Engineering can be completely wasted and under-utilised by capital if they cannot provide exploitable skills. Under socialism, of course, such people would be treasured and developed as the innovators of production and technique. They would be afforded unparalleled scope for development and teaching. In this sense, many workers are, indeed, not only often overskilled for capital’s requirements. But – in the course of being scientifically under-utilised in production – they have those more advanced skills denuded and wasted in the course of capitalist production. We may refer to this as a form of “deskilling” in which acquired skills are not put to full actual and potential use and development.

The proletariat as a whole (Marx writes about this in Volume 1, Capital, p.618, Penguin) becomes more universal and flexible in its labouring capacities as the capitalist system evolves because this is precisely what capital itself demands. This, of course, has implications for the labourer in terms of the degradation and dehumanisation of his role in production in which he becomes a ‘mere appendage of the machine’ and working monotonously in a ‘supervisory capacity’. His labour-power is dehumanised as the variable component of capital itself in the reproduction of capital. Living labour becomes reified (Verdinglichung) as a mere material element in the production of capital with all its dehumanising, alienating consequences for the labourer in his relationship with his fellow men and himself .

But this increasing degradation of labour and the labourer alongside the growth in structural unemployment becomes a function of the progressive increase in the organic composition of capital which tends to transform the ‘skilled worker’ into a mere ‘supervisor’ of production. The machine – in one form or another – replaces human labour. At the same time, the worker in this supervisory function is expected to be able to move effortlessly from one area of production to another with the breaking down of divisions and barriers in production and in society generally. Today a person can move through different occupations (if they are lucky enough to find work) in the course of life whereas in Marx’s time this was not so easy.

The division of labour is a product of the unfolding of the historical process and reaches its highest point of development in the epoch of global capital. It is only necessary for this epoch of capitalist commodity production and exchange and becomes increasingly unnecessary as this epoch is transcended. The division of labour within the workplace and in society as a whole are inseparable sides of the singularity of this division of labour within the developing historical process of capitalist production as a whole. The social division of labour under capitalism is a necessity for this system based on the reproduction of capital. As, of course, is the technical division of labour whilst capital continues to exist as the dominant social relationship of production and distribution. Exchange remains just as intrinsically necessary to this process as production and distribution under capital which, of course, does not apply in those stages of communist society far beyond the epoch of capital and beyond the initial stages of socialist society dominated by the compulsion of natural necessity.

Labour for capital is alienated labour (Marx : “the theft of alien labour time”) done for another for a wage which is used to purchase the means for reproducing and sustaining that labour-power as a commodity for re-sale to the owners of capital or its various agencies. It is labour that must produce surplus value or, if not, it ceases to be variable capital for capital as a whole and is useless labour for capital accordingly. The purchase of labour power takes place on condition that the value produced by the labourer is always greater than the actual value of the labour power itself. Otherwise, no surplus value could be produced and therefore no profit made. The negation of capitalist commodity production means that this alienated character of labour will be supplanted by the “free activity of the social individual” within a forever deepening “true realm of freedom”. (Vol 3, Capital, The Trinity Formula. pp 958-59 ff. Penguin Classics Edn, (translated by David Fernbach) 1991.)

Shaun May

August 2014





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