Photograph of Karl Marx, by John Jabez Edwin Mayall, 1875 / International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Theory of Alienation
Marx’s Early Life
Karl Marx’s house in Trier, Germany / Atlas Obscura
So now we move into the nineteenth century. It’s unclear how long this nineteenth century lasted, whether it lasted from 1789 until 1914, or 1815 until 1914. Right? But it was a relatively long century. And yeah, John Stuart Mill was already nineteenth century. But Karl Marx did get into the middle of it; he was born in 1818 and died in ’83.
And I tried to find a picture of Marx, what you may not have seen, when he was still quite a good-looking guy. All right, so a few words about his family background. His father, Karl Heinrich–no, no, Marx himself was born in 1818 in Trier, Germany, and his father was Heinrich Marx, who was actually a lawyer, quite a successful lawyer, but he was very much a man of enlightenment. He liked Voltaire and brought Marx up in the spirit of liberalism and enlightenment. Voltaire and Rousseau and John Stuart Mill, well these were the guiding lights of the time.
The paternal grandfather was Marx Levy, who was a rabbi of Trier. But he died early, before Karl was born, and in fact his father converted to Lutheranism. It did not matter much. He was not really religious. He was quite secular and Marx, Karl Marx, brought up in a secular family. So I found you a picture of Trier in the early nineteenth century. If you look hard, you’ll probably see somewhere young Karl walking around and shopping in the marketplace of Trier.
All right, his education. He attended, of course, high school in Trier. Then in ’35 he was admitted to the University of Bonn, where he studied Greek and Roman mythology and history–already became involved in student politics. But he really was bored in Bonn and was attracted to go to Berlin, which at that time was becoming a fascinating place. And he was attending the lectures of Bruno Bauer. Bruno Bauer was a disciple of Georg Hegel. Bauer belonged to a group of philosophers who called themselves “the Young Hegelians.” They were the radicals of their time, and Marx already wanted to be a radical; he just did not know what kind of radical he will be or should be. In fact, he received his degree from the University of Jena. I think I cracked already this joke in the introductory lecture, because assumedly it was easier to get a degree from Jena than Berlin, and Marx was more interested already in philosophy and radicalism than legal studies. But he got his degree.
Portrait of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, by Jakob Schlesinger, 1831 / Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin
So here is Georg Hegel, one of the most important philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. He was a German philosopher; and I will talk more when we get into Marx’s own work. He basically saw human history as the unfolding of human consciousness, and he also characterized the human condition as in the state of alienation in which subject and object were separated from each other. These are big words. You will get comfortable with it as I’m lecturing on Marx. Because this is very important for Hegelian philosophy–also for Marxism, the distinction that there is the subject, yourself, who are observing, and the object, the others or the material world upon which you are reflecting.
There is also another big word you will learn in the next two or three lectures, the word of totality; totality means when subject and object are together in one unity, that’s what is meant to be totality. Now Hegel’s idea was that subject and object became separated, and the separation of subject from object–when there is seen as worth outside of the subject as a separate object–that is the state of alienation; alien, to be a stranger, a stranger in the world, because what is around you looks like strange, as different from you. Right? That’s what he meant by alienation. But, you know, human consciousness is increasing, and as consciousness is increasing you will overcome this separation of subject and objects. Well, I’m sure it is not clear for the time being, but we’ll be laboring on this in more detail with Marx, and hopefully it will become a little more clear.
Bruno Bauer, he is this charismatic lecturer, the Young Hegelian whose lectures Marx attended. And there is no Marx and Marxism without Bruno Bauer; though most of his work is vitriolic criticism of Bruno Bauer. Well, Marx was quite a vitriolic guy. He liked to use overheated language. Occasionally it’s very beautiful, the language he’s using. Occasionally this is pretty outraging. Okay, what about Bauer and the Left Hegelians? As I said, you know, he kind of comes–he’s a Hegel disciple, but he tries to move beyond Hegel and offer a critical theory of Hegel and the Hegelian system itself.
The Critical Critic
Portrait of Bruno Bauer before 1882 / Wikimedia Commons
These guys, the Young Hegelians–Bauer and his brother and others like Feuerbach, called themselves “the critical critics.” This is a term which comes up in Marx’s work sometimes, ironically usually. Why was it so? Because Hegel is seen in modern philosophy as the Founding Father of critical theory. You may have heard the word; if you studied philosophy I’m sure you have heard the word. What is critical theory? Well the essence of critical theory is that it believes that the major task of philosophy, to subject human consciousness to critical scrutiny–that there is some discrepancy between human consciousness and the human condition. Right? Our consciousness does not reflect properly the human condition, and therefore we have to criticize consciousness and get the right consciousness. Well who is actually the first of critical theorists? There is some controversy about this.
There are some people who actually name Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, as the first of critical theorists. Kant made a very interesting distinction between Ding an sich and Ding für sich; things in themselves and things for themselves. And one important Kant idea was that all the ideas what we have in our mind are things for themselves, and they do not correspond to the world around us. The world around us is so rich that the concepts what we develop cannot completely fit. Therefore, in the act of cognition–when we try to understand something–we select from the world stuff which is important for us. This is why it’s things for themselves. Right? We select, in the process of cognition, of learning, from the world elements what is useful for us. So, I mean, in some ways already Kant suggested that there is something problematic with the human consciousness. Right? We have to subject this human consciousness to critical scrutiny, and to be aware that the unexhausted richness of the world and reality cannot be ever captured by the human mind.
Now others do see really Georg Hegel as the real critical theorist, because now the central point is alienation. Right? Here the central point is that this is a big problem, and unlike Kant, who was an agnostic, he did not think we ever can develop concepts which capture the world. Right? Hegel believed that if you guys, you learn my philosophy, you will be all right. Right? Then you will overcome alienation. You will get the appropriate consciousness. Read my work. That was–you know, to simplify it a great deal. So anyway, he was seen as a kind of critical theorist.
Now, the Young Hegelians were the critics of the critique. Right? They wanted to apply Hegel’s critical method on Hegel’s theory. They said, “Why on earth Georg, Uncle Georg, believes that his theory is the right one? Why don’t we subject this system itself to the same critical scrutiny what Hegel suggests everything should be subjected to: critical scrutiny?” That is really the fundamental line of argument that greatly influenced Marx. Marx is, in many respects, a critical critic.
Portrait engraving of Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, from Die Gartenlaube, 1872 / Wikimedia Commons
Now this is another Young Hegelian, Ludwig Feuerbach, who had another very important impact on Marx. Feuerbach called his approach “naturalism.” This is a term what Marx, the young Marx, also used for a while to describe himself. I think most of you in this room would think that Marx was a materialist, and eventually Marx used the term materialism, and even more specifically, historical materialism, to describe what he was doing. But in his early work he was shying away from materialism and he used the term naturalism. And naturalism really meant that you do not underestimate the importance of consciousness in spirit, just in the interaction with consciousness and spirit, and the nature itself,–you pay more attention to nature.
Now Feuerbach’s most important book–I don’t think it is in English–Das Wesen des Christentums, The Essence of Christianity, he also suggested that rather than God creating man, man created the idea of God, and they created the idea of God–this is actually not all that far from Bruno Bauer, just a more radical position. Right? Because it wanted to project the desperation of alienation into the idea of God. So, I mean, while so to say Bauer was not ready to draw the, if I may use this term, the ontological conclusions of his criticism of Hegel. Feuerbach went into ontology. Right? Ontology means the origins of things, and he believed that in fact the spiritual world is a reflection of humans as such. That’s why he called this naturalism, as distinct from idealism.
And we will talk about the distinction between idealism and materialism, or idealism as naturalism, which is very important for Marxism, and has been an important distinction in philosophy in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I don’t think in the last, you know, fifty or a hundred years that, you know, in philosophy there is too much discussion of idealism and materialism, though I don’t think it is quite a useless discussion, who are idealist and who are materialist. And well, we will talk very briefly about this. Let me just foreshadow. Right? You know, you are an idealist when you think that the material world is coming from an idea. Right?
If you believe that there was a transcendental being like God, and this transcendental being, by its act of will, created the world and created humans, then you are an idealist. If you believe that the ideas are explaining human behavior, then you are an idealist. Materialists are the ones who start from the material conditions and try to explain the ideas from the material conditions. Right? Feuerbach made this provocative statement that we invented God, rather than God creating us. Marx goes further and he will say, “Well you have ideas in your head. I can tell you why you have these ideas when I look at your material conditions.” And he will later on say that, “When I understand your position in the class structure, and I understand your economic interests, then I will be able to tell you why you think the way you think.” Right? This is the materialist’s approach, when you explain ideas from the material conditions, versus the other way around. And this comes from Feuerbach. It is Feuerbach’s inspiration. Right? So you bring together the critical theory of Hegel and the Young Hegelians, radical critical theory, and naturalism of Feuerbach, eventually pushing it further and to say, “Let’s not fool around it. It is materialism all right.” Okay?
Marriage and Early Career
Portrait of Jenny von Westphalen Marx, c.1830 / From Karl Marx; eine Biographie. In Zusammenarbeit mit Oskar Hoffmann
Now what about–let’s continue with the life. ’42, he moves to Cologne, the city of Cologne, and becomes a journalist for Rheinische Zeitung; eventually even becomes the editor of this journal. And what he’s writing is just liberal journalism. He’s not a radical yet. He’s a bourgeois liberal. He is writing articles about, you know, the freedom of the press and civil liberties. He’s writing stuff what John Stuart Mill would not object to at all. Right?
Then ’43, he marrie Jenny von Westphalen, who comes from, you know, a noble family, a very high class family– not a Jewish family, a high class family. Here is a picture of them too. Well he was graying fast. Right? Well he was running into some political troubles very soon.
Now we will very quickly see some extraordinary years in Marx’s intellectual development. 1843, ’44, ’45, just three years, it’s quite extraordinary what is happening in Marx’s mind and how far he goes. Already in ’43 he is beginning to write some very important pieces of work. I will talk about them in a minute, when we will get to Marx’s work. One is called A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the State, or Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, or Rights; it’s translated differently. And then he’s writing a very provocative essay, “On the Jewish Question” in which he’s beginning to distinguish himself from the Young Hegelians.
Both of these pieces, especially “On the Jewish Question,” are unacceptable to the German police and political establishment. So he had to leave Germany, and he escapes and he moves to Paris. And here it is, 38 Rue Vaneau. That’s where he lived, and that’s where Marx wrote his extraordinary unpublished manuscript, what is called The Paris Manuscript of 1844, but from which you have read something, and some of them are the jewel pieces of social science literature. Some of them are impenetrable, but some of them is quite penetrable and still blows people’s minds.
Okay, 1844 in Paris, he abandons this book, The Critique of Hegel but he wrote an Introduction, and I will talk about this later. This, in many ways, is quite an extraordinary piece of work. It’s a wonderful piece of poetry, and he’s sort of beginning to lay out his philosophy. And then in the summer of ’44 he completes–no, doesn’t complete, he abandons The Paris Manuscripts; and for good reasons. And we will talk about this, why he never published it and never finished it; though, I mean, it is quite a brilliant piece.
Photograph of Friedrich Engles, 1891 / Wikimedia Commons
And he meets a young man, Friedrich Engels, just twenty-four years of age, and became lifelong friends, and they’re beginning to work together. They are writing this book, The Holy Family. I strongly recommend you do not read it. I have read it a number of times and suffered a lot. So I want to save you from suffering. But there are some very important things in The Holy Family; just the price you have to pay to find the jewel is very high.
Okay, and then they write many other things together. The Communist Manifesto they write together. The German Ideology they write together; and many other things. Engels was a brilliant mind. In fact, he was a much more clearer analytic mind than Karl Marx, and he had a much better sense of empirical reality than Marx. Marx was a bit of an abstract guy. But Marx was really the genius. Right? Friedrich Engels was just a kind of Yale professor; you know, that Karl Marx was a sort of a genius really.
’45, well even in Paris it is unbearable what they are doing, so they’re kicked out from Paris, and then they go to Brussels. And here is Engels when they met. Well there is–to continue the work–a big change in Marx in 1945 [correction: 1845]–as some people say, the epistemological break. Until ’45, until The Paris Manuscript, Marx is still in some ways a Hegelian. Now he’s changing and he’s becoming a materialist, and he coins the term historical materialism to describe his position. One important piece is The Theses on Feuerbach. I make you to read that. I think it is a fantastic piece of work. He again did not publish it, and I will explain to you why, though it is brilliant, why he shied away and did not publish it; it is in tension with the main message what he tries to get through. And then ’45, ’46, together with Engels, they write again another unfinished manuscript, which was published only in 1904–and even in 1904 only partially–The German Ideology. Again, there are some extraordinary pieces in these incomplete manuscripts.
Then comes the year of revolutions. February 22- 24 in ’48, a violent revolution in France. They sit down with Engels and within a week they write The Manifesto of the Communist Party. They just tell what the revolution should be doing. Well this is in a pamphlet–a pamphlet with a lot of disturbing statements, but a pamphlet with some very insightful, very important social analysis as well. A piece of work which cannot be ignored. It can be hated. It was loved by many but usually now it is hated. But even if you hate it or love it, you better read it, and you pay attention to some of the very important statements. And what is extraordinary–this is a pretty long manuscript. They were writing like crazy. I mean, I think I’m a fast writer, but I could not do it in a week. And a reasonably polished piece, especially in comparison with his other work.
Now he’s expelled from Brussels, but he moves to revolutionary Paris, on March 5th already. But the revolution continues. March 13th, Vienna is on fire. Right? But you have to wait only two days and Buda and Pest in Hungary is on fire. The revolution is spreading all over in Europe. March 18th, it’s already in Berlin. Paris, Vienna, Buda and Pest, Berlin, whole Europe is on fire. This is exactly what Marx was saying will be happening. Right there, it is happening indeed.
Only surviving page from the first draft of the Manifesto, handwritten by Marx / Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam, Netherlands
So Marx and Engels return to Germany. Now they will carry out the torch of the revolution. Well it doesn’t last for–that’s a picture, a bad picture of some of the revolution in Paris. It was quite a bloody event. And here is The Communist Manifesto, the First Edition–end of February 1848, when it was printed fast and distributed widely. Well, you know, revolution doesn’t last too long. In October ’48, Austria carries out a counter-revolution. They oppress the revolution in Hungary. November the 8th there is a counter-revolutionary coup in Prussia. The revolution is repressed.
And then December 1848–well this is not a violent counter-revolution, but the French go and vote on elections, and they elect a guy whose name is Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as president of France. It was a very stupid way to vote. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was the nephew of Napoleon. His father was Napoleon’s brother, younger brother, and he was the king–he was made king of the Netherlands until, of course, Napoleon fell and he was ousted, and Louis Napoleon Bonaparte grew up in Switzerland, in exile. Was not a particularly smart person and caused a lot of trouble in France. Well here he is when he was president. Later on he became an emperor of France; Napoleon III, he renamed himself, and kept causing trouble. Yeah.
Well Marx returned to Paris briefly and was hoping, you know, the French eventually will come to their senses and overthrow this jerk. Well the French did not come to their senses. Right? It looks like the French occasionally do silly political things, like the Jacobins did. Electing Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was not a smart thing.
But, you know, therefore they have to move to London, and that’s where he spends the rest of his life. This is where he has another go at the big book he wants to write. It is called Grundrisse, and I will ask you–it will be a little sweating to read it, but I promise I ask you to read the most readable part of the Grundrisse. So if you will have troubles reading what I ask you to read, remember the rest would be much, much worse. Right? So you have to enjoy reading it. But I think it’s–what I ask you to read is extremely important to understand who the real Marx is. Right? There are many faces of Karl Marx, and one of–one outcome most clearly in the Grundrisse. Then he writes finally the book what he always wanted to do, Das Kapital, in 1867.
The Paris Commune and Its Aftermath
A barricade on Rue Voltaire, after its capture by the regular army during the Bloody Week, photo by Bruno Braquehais, 1871 / Wikimedia Commons
Then there is another revolution in France, the Commune, and this is a real proletarian revolution–very much following what Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto. There are few instances in history when two people can claim, “We wrote it down, and here the masses put it into action.” They did it in France. And then already in ’64 Marx created a political organization, what he called International–International, The Workers’ Organization; eventually we refer to this as the First International–with a Russian anarchist, whose name is Bakunin. ’71, there is this proletarian revolution inspired by The Communist Manifesto. They proclaim a Commune in Paris. It’s not all that different from Soviet Russia or Maoist China–the same ideas. Does not last too long. Right? In two weeks it is suppressed and overthrown. And Marx dissolves the International.
There is a big fight between Bakunin and Marx. I think in this big fight Bakunin, who is actually not very smart, but in the–I think in the debate Bakunin is quite right about Marx’s state-ism–too much belief in Marx what the government should do, and Bakunin is bottom-up, right? Bakunin is an anarchist. He believes in the ordinary people and he wants to get rid of the state, rather than doing stuff by the state. Anyway, they dissolved the First International. Well the defeat of the Paris Commune was a very ugly affair. People were mass murdered without trial. Not very nice stuff. Though, I mean, the Paris Commune–of course, you know, if you, as the anarchists are saying, “Well, if you want to have scrambled eggs, you have to break a couple of eggs.” Right? So if you have a revolution, occasionally you shoot. Right? Well, there was shooting during the Commune–there was a lot of shooting after the Commune. Right?
Well after the Commune, we have a conservative epoch in Europe. Bismarck in Germany–right?–the Iron Chancellor. Queen Victoria–right?–ethical conservativism. Kaiser Franz Joseph, the Blue Danube. Right? The Operetta. Right? But a very conservative guy. I have so many nice anecdotes about him. Too bad the course doesn’t last two semesters because I could entertain you with great stories about Kaiser Franz Joseph. Big trouble the guy. He primarily caused the First World War, out of a completely stupid action, and caused the deaths of millions of people in a bloody, terrible, stupid war.
Well but there is no room in this conservative time for revolution. Right? Revolutionary Marxism. Marx dies in desperation. Actually if you read the later work, his mind is gradually disintegrating. And he’s buried together with Jenny in London Highgate Cemetery. There was just a piece in New York Review of Books on Highgate Cemetery–also names the Tomb of Karl Marx, which stands there, and Marxists go. Now a postscript well they create a Second International, after his death. Engels created it. It eventually became what we call a Social Democratic International. It still exists. Social Democratic parties occasionally meet on an international meeting. For awhile, when the Democratic Party was a kind of JFK liberal party, even the American Democratic Party sent observers to the Second International meetings. Right? Bobby Kennedy was kind of very sympathetic to the Second International–were kind of considering should not the Democratic Party join the Social Democratic International Movement?
1917, there is a Communist revolution in Russia. In 1919, they say, “Second International, this really sucks. This is not about revolution. This is about reform. We need a real revolutionary organization.” They create the Third International or Communist International, which lasts until the Second World War, when Russia, Soviet Russia, needs the help of the United States to defeat militarily Germany, and the U.S. said, “All right, but you dissolve the International.” So they did dissolve the International. There is actually a Fourth International–I don’t have time really to talk about this–created by Leon Trotsky. All right, so that’s about the life of one of our major authors, Karl Marx.
The Paris Manuscripts and the Theory of Alienation
Draft of the Paris Manuscripts, a crucial landmark in the evolution of Marxist thought, 1844 / Louvre Museum
And let me go on and talk about his theory of alienation. And I have, my goodness, twelve minutes to do that, though I could spend in fact a semester on this. Well but let me try to economize with my time, and I’ll just very briefly rush through what is leading to The Paris Manuscript and the theory of alienation. And I really have to talk about alienation, so I will skip a lot of stuff leading to the alienation. As I said, Hegel is the point of departure for Marx’s theory of alienation. But there is a kind of intellectual project for the young Marx. As I said, he writes–tries to write this book, a critique of Hegel’s philosophy of right. In this book Hegel suggested that there is a–the civil servants constitute a universal class. It is a critique of the French Revolution and the bourgeois society in which Hegel felt the workers and the capitalists are representing particularistic interests, and order can be brought into this only by civil servants, by the government, who represents the universal point of view. And Marx criticizes this book. Then he writes “On the Jewish Question”, where he said, “Well the state bureaucrats are not universal, but we need a universal standpoint, we need universal emancipation, as such.” That’s the point of view.
Then he writes this wonderful piece, Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, and he said, “But who will carry out this universal point of view?” And it is the introduction for the first time in ’44, January, and he said, “The proletariat.” But people say, “Why the proletariat? Goodness gracious.” That’s when The Paris Manuscript comes in. He said, “The proletariat, because the proletariat is the ultimate of alienation, and because they are alienated, they have the interest to overcome alienation.” Well I think I just have to rush through. I will put this stuff on the internet, but I really don’t have time to get into any detail. I want to get, in the last few minutes, into The Paris Manuscripts.
And this is the structure of The Paris Manuscript of 1844. You can see the line of argument, how he’s developing his argument. What is really interesting from The Paris Manuscripts is the first manuscript, which is twenty-seven pages. It is on wages, profits and rent, and culminates with the idea of alienation. Again, unfortunately I don’t have more time to work more on it. Especially Section IV is crucially important. And the second and the third manuscripts are of lesser important.
Now the major themes: wage, profit and rent, and private ownership, they all culminate in alienation. This is a re-interpretation of Hegel. Alienation does not come from ideas, it comes out of material conditions of the nature of capitalist economy. As I said, he does not have the notion of capitalism. It comes out of the nature of commodity producing commercial society. Right? That’s where alienation is coming from, rather than ideas, and the problem can only be solved if you fix the problems of commodity producing societies.
And then he identifies four characteristics of alienation. And I will talk to this. Alienation is from the object of production. The second is alienation from the act of production. Then alienation from species being; again, a very big word–Gattungswesen, in German. What makes us human, what makes us distinct from animals, that’s what the notion species being refers to. And finally alienation from fellow man. Well I have seven minutes to labor on this, so let me do that.
Okay, as I said he reinterprets Hegel’s alienation. Hegel wanted to overcome alienation in thought. Alienation was a problem of the state of consciousness. Marx wants to ground the theory in material practices. Right? And when emerges alienation? When labor is becoming a commodity and when profit drives the economy; that’s when we enter the stage of alienation and private property emerges.
Well I’ll just leave this section out, and let me speak to the four dimensions of alienation in the next six or seven minutes. So the first point is there is in–you know, we are talking about commodity producing commercial societies, to put it with Adam Smith. Right? Or Marx will call it later on–it will take him one more year to figure out what is really the nature of the society he’s talking about. But already in The German Ideology, he coins the term the capitalist mode of production. So in the capitalist mode of production, in a commodity producing society, the object which labor produces, labor’s product, confronts the workers as something alien from him, as a power alien of the producer. Right? Under these conditions, this realization of labor appears as the loss of realization of the worker.
In sharp contrast with petty commodity production, the work of the artisan where the work what you produce is part of your own life; you identify with the part what you produce. Right? You are a shoe-maker, you are producing a beautiful shoe. Right? You are proud of the shoe. You go to the church Sunday and you saw a nice lady walking in these beautiful shoes, and you proudly say, “This is my shoe.” Right? Then you are not alienated. Right? When you are working on the production line and you are mass producing, you know, Toyota Camry, you don’t know what you produce. Right? It’s an alien object from you. You put a little bit of work into the product, and the product is not you any longer; it is something which is alien from you. Well, of course, not all work is necessarily alienated. You know if you are an artist, if you are a scholar, you identify the work and you have copyright for the work what you produce. But ordinary workers usually do not have a copyright; you know they cannot license the work what they produce. It becomes alien from them. That’s the point. Right? The product.
Image of page from The German Ideology / Marx/Engels Internet Archive
Well then you are also becoming alien in the act of production. He said because labor is external to the worker–there are different points in this–external to the worker; it does not belong to his intrinsic nature. In his work he does not affirm himself but denies himself–does not freely develop itself. You know, you say, “Well it’s already 4:45. I have only fifteen more minutes to go and then I am free.” Right? Life begins when work ends. Right? You can see it. You go to the supermarket and the cashier can hardly wait, you know, to get out of here. I was trying to buy last night a little beer, and it was 8:45 and the cashier said, “Sorry, I cannot sell it to you.” I said, “Why not? Until 9:00.” She said, “It’s not nine yet?” She wanted to get out of there. Right? So it’s alienated from the process of production. Right? And labor is not voluntary but forced. Right? Well forced, not legally. You can starve. Right? But if you don’t want to starve and you want to have a place, a roof over your head, you have to work. So it is forced economically. And so it is not–it is, here is the–and your activity belongs to somebody else. It’s somebody else, you know, who commands you, who is the boss, who tells you what to do, and then you shut up. Right? And this is why, you know, in the act of production you have alienation.
The third one is that you are alienated from your species being, of your human being. And now Marx has a theory of man in nature. Right? What is man in natural conditions? What makes us man as distinct from animal? There are very different answers you can give. Well Schiller, the German poet said, “What makes us humans? That we know how to play.” Right? Play makes us human. Marx said what makes us human, that we work. Labor, that we transform the material world to meet our human needs, with a plan in our head, that’s what makes us human. There are animals which kind of work, like bees, but they don’t work with a plan. There are only humans who have an idea about my house we’ll build, and then you build the house as you had the idea about it. That is the essence of human beings. And he said the problem is that we, in a commodity producing society, we are alienated from labor, what makes us human. So we are alienated from our very human essence. That’s the most horrifying thing for Marx, in a commodity producing society. Right?
And then finally we are alienated from our fellow man. This is probably the deepest idea in the whole theory; namely, that we’re beginning to treat each others as object. Right? As we are entering the world of commodity production, profit maximization, self-interested individuals maximizing utility and thinking instrumentally around the world. What are the most least expensive means which gets us the cheapest to this end? When we’re beginning to treat each others as instruments. Right? And he said this is the worst alienation. Which is new, right? It has–this is very important to see in Marx’s theory of alienation. It’s not a general condition of humankind, as Hegel thought it. Alienation is emerging in modernity. It does not have the term capitalism yet, or the capitalist mode of production.
This is–the characteristics of modernity and modern industrial and urban life, that we are not interacting with each other as human beings, in an all-sided personal relationships, but we tend to treat each others as objects. Right? We treat the other person as a sex object. Right? The erotic complex relationship is reduced to a brutal act of sex. Right? We treat each other as an instrument to reach an end. Right? We call the others only when we need that person for something. Right? We act out of simply self-interest in interacting with the others. We lack compassion. Right? We lack love. Right? We lack sympathy. Right? You know, he probably did not read his Adam Smith carefully enough. Right? He has not been reading much Smith until ’44. This is where he’s beginning to read Smith very carefully, around this time, in ’44. Anyway, you see the point what he is making. And I think what Marx describes in alienation, particularly alienation from fellow human beings, is something what probably some people in this room can respond to, and to say, “Well yes, I did experience that. I have been treated as an object. When I go to the admission office, occasionally an administrator treats me like a piece of paper.” Right?
That’s when you are alienated, when you’re becoming an object rather than a human being. So that’s in a nutshell the theory of alienation.
The Importance of Marx’s Theory of Alienation
And let me just make two introductory comments about this. One important point I tried to make is you have to be–I think one purpose of my lectures in Marx is to alert you that there were two Marx’s, not just one, and you are likely to know only about one Marx. Right? This is Marx, who had the theory of class struggle and the theory of exploitation–right?–and who was a theorist of Communism. But you may know very little about Marx, the idealist, the Hegelian, the humanist, whose central idea was the notion of alienation. Right? Whose major concern was about the human conditions under modernity and wanted to overcome it. And, you know, these two very different Marx’s appeal to very different audiences. In fact, the first Marx–the humanist, the Hegelian, the idealist–was almost forgotten for a very long time, and was rediscovered by the 1960s onwards, generally. So it’s very important to see that most likely that what you heard about Marx–and I suppose most of you have never read any text from Marx–is a biased view. You only know one Marx and not both. And my point is to try to introduce you to the complexity, that you meet both Karl Marx. Right?
The second point is that–what I found frustrating in the discussion section yesterday, which was one of the worst I did in the last couple of years–not ever in my life I did even worse discussion sections, but this was real bad–that, you know, the importance and the significance of Marx’s theory of alienation did not come through. And I obviously did a very bad job, because there are very few texts, written in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which are so powerful and so influential, and so broadly influential, on theories of the twentieth century, than exactly this text on alienation. You can think about literature–right?–and you can see the extraordinary impact of the idea of alienation in literature. Some of you may have read Albert Camus, the French novelist–The Stranger. This is right out of the theory of alienation. You may be familiar with Franz Kafka, right? There you go. That’s the sense of alienation. You may have watched ever the play, wonderful play, of Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt. That’s about alienation. Right? So in the twentieth century literature, we are full with the senses of alienation.
And so is twentieth century social theory. There is no twentieth century social theory without the theory of alienation. By the way, it’s interesting, because The Paris Manuscript, for the first time, was published only in 1931. Nevertheless, the idea was already beginning to creep in earlier. Smart people read the theory of alienation in Marx earlier; Georg Lukács, for instance. And then the Frankfurt School. There is no Adorno, there is no Horkheimer, there is no Marcuse, without the theory of alienation. And I can go even further. There is no cultural theory without the theory of alienation. There is no Bauman, there is no Kolakowski, without the theory of alienation. This is a very important idea.
So I have to come back to this and to try to show you how he arrives at this point, and why he abandons it–why the second Marx is emerging. And then we get, starting with the second Marx, the first step towards the second Marx is the “Theses on Feuerbach,“ what I want to talk about today. And I’ll try to economize with my time, right? Right? I have to learn from Adam Smith–right?–to be more utilitarian and to make sure that means and ends do match with each other.
Okay, let’s come back to Hegel and Hegel’s theory of alienation. Because I don’t think–from the discussion section my sense was I did not make it clear enough, what Hegel’s theory is. And well let me try to labor on this. As I said, you know, he was an idealist, and I hope I explained it to the extent it is necessary. I will come back to this when I will be talking about the “Theses on Feuerbach” and The German Ideology. But he really thought that somehow consciousness precedes material existence, and that’s what made him into an idealist. How religious he was I actually don’t know. This is not a religious, not a theological proposition. Right? The idea is that before the physical world existed, there has been an absolute spirit. Right? At the origin of the world, there is an absolute spirit existing, and that exists in the material world as such.
And then his central idea is that you can describe the history of the universe as a problem of alienation, as a problem of gradual separation, as I said, from subject and object. This is a very important idea, and we will have to deal with this in Marx. And even if you are dealing with twentieth century theories, critical theory, this is a central notion of, you know, subject and object.
Let me try to labor on this a minute. And I have to do it on the blackboard. So Hegel’s fundamental idea is that when you have the absolute spirit–right?–and this is not a personal God but just the idea. Here this is a situation of totality. The absolute spirit is at the same time subject and object, united in itself. Right? And that’s what Hegel calls totality. And there’s the term totality being used later on in critical theory. And we are saying we are searching for totality, we are searching for the unity of subject and object.
Well in Hegel’s, the second stage is that subject and object are divided from each other. <<Professor writes on blackboard>> There is the material world without consciousness, and consciousness becomes absolute consciousness because it’s kind of projected the material world out of itself. Right? And this is the–this is the situation of alienation. Object becomes separate. Then, as human beings emerge, subject and object beginning to merge. Right? Consciousness emerges. Right? Consciousness–right? These are subject–this is you–and object are the conditions of your life. Right? Another person you are interacting with is an object of your interaction. Or the conditions of your life. Right? The objective conditions. This room. At Yale University the construction which is going out there–right?–is our objective conditions. Right? And you are the subject who are reflecting on it. But because you are gaining some consciousness, you are beginning to conquer the objective conditions of your life.
And what he’s suggesting, that alienation will overcome when your subject will be able to control the objective conditions of your life. Right? Where your consciousness is adequate to your existence. Right? When you are the master of your life, you are a master of your conditions. It is not the conditions which rule you, but you are the master of the conditions. Right? That is the key idea in Hegel.
And Marx is very much following this idea. I mean, he of course eliminates the whole idea of absolute spirit. Right? He doesn’t want to deal with the idea of absolute spirit. For him this is too speculative. He’s also bothered by the idea that you can overcome the problem of alienation simply by thought. Right? Marx’s project is to bring this whole idea of alienation down to earth, to everyday experience, to your experience and your experience of, I would use the term, modernity, until 1944 [correction: 1844]. Marx does not have a concept of capitalism or capitalist mode of production. Right? He even just vaguely thinks about private ownership. He’s really trying to conceptualize modernity, modern industrial urban life, as distinct from earlier communal life–the life what we had in more intimate communities, peasants of the villages or whatever. Right? He tries to conceptualize this.
He sees this as a progress, modernity as a progress. But we have to pay a heavy price for it, and the price what we pay for this modernity is the separation of subject and object. Right? The peasant in a village was not separated from the objective conditions of his existence. It was united with the objective conditions. It was bound to the earth. Right? Even the slaves were not separated from the objective conditions of their existence. They were treated as objects. Right? There was no subject separated from the object. So the unique–this is Marx, this is not Hegel anymore–the unique feature of alienation, that you have this separation from subject and object, in modern conditions. Right?
And I think this is why Marx’s theory of alienation survived Marx’s theory of exploitation. That the young Marx survived the old Marx; the first Marx survived the second Marx. Because we can all relate more if you have a good lecturer, and who brings more effectively to you what he’s getting at. You can relate more, you can say much more, “Oh yeah, I feel alienated in this class.” Right? “That makes no sense to me.” Right? “This doesn’t make any sense to my life, and I have to sit there because I’m a sociology major and I have to take this bloody class.” Right? Then you are alienated. Right? And this is when you will–that’s what you will say. Right? “I am alienated because I have to do this nonsense because they force me to do so.” Then you are alienated. This is exactly what Marx is getting at. Right?
Well in a way it is your choice. Right? You declared a sociology major. Right? But then you are forced to do stuff what you don’t really want to do. So it doesn’t mean that you are not free. You are free, but within your freedom you are alienated because you don’t control your conditions, and it looks like that within your freedom, within your free choice, you are forced to do stuff. Right? This is what Marx is trying to get at. You think you are free, you think you are equal with others, and you are really not free. Because the objective conditions, what you created for yourself–right? You got into trouble. Right? Who forced you to be a sociology major? Nobody. And then you are in the trouble that you have to do– take certain hurdles. But you feel alienated and you don’t feel that your whole personality is being developed. Right? To put it with John Stuart Mill, you don’t feel self-development. Then you are alienated, unduly so. Right? Is that a bit coming closer to it? Makes more sense? All right.
Now let me therefore also show you how Marx gets to it. I think this is very important. And I skipped all of this stuff because I was trying to get very quickly–I was trying to get too quickly–to the notion, Marx’s theory of alienation. And now I would like to correct this. And I already foreshadowed in my last lecture that these are formidable years for Marx, 1843 and 1844. In two years his intellectual development is quite extraordinary.
Intellectual Developments towards the Theory of Alienation
A page from Marx’s manuscript Contributions to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right / Wikimedia Commons
Let me follow you through of these intellectual developments. In the summer of 1843, he writes this book, Contributions to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right; or Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Well Hegel has gone through a long development intellectually. He started out as a radical, an admirer of the French Revolution, and as he was getting older he was becoming more and more conservative and was becoming concerned about the consequences of the French Revolution. And as he became, you know, more conservative, he was–he said, “Well what is happening with the French after the French Revolution is not really what I wanted. Because now the French Revolution is actually splitting the society in two classes, capital and labor.” It’s not exactly the terminology what he means, but that’s what Hegel is getting at in The Philosophy of Right. “And who can tell who is right and who is wrong? They are in conflict with each other. The employers or the owners want something, and the workers want something else. They both represent particularistic interests.
But where is the universalistic interests?” So asked Hegel. There must be some universal justice. To put it in the terminology we used in this course before, there must be something like common good, which brings capital and labor together. Where will this common good come from? And in The Philosophy of Right he offers an interesting theory. He said it will come from the government, it comes from the state. The state should represent the universal instance. And then he said, “Well, you know, the society, modern bourgeois society which emerged as a result of the French Revolution, is divided into these particularistic classes. But we need a universal agent, a universal class, which represents the common good, and this must be the government, this must be the class of civil servants.” And in the book, Philosophy of Right–which is his kind of last major book, writes it not long before he dies–he argues these are the civil servants who constitute the universal class.
Now this is not a silly idea. We do think about it this way. And yes, I mean, he builds in many respects, in a more sophisticated way, on Locke and Rousseau and the idea of general will, particularly in Rousseau. Right? And this is the state which should represent the general will. Right? And we also occasionally think about it this way. Right? There are all these conflicts around this country, and we expect the government to express the universal interest, to innervate the general will. We expect occasionally the federal government to do that, and the federal government occasionally does it. You have read about the Civil Rights Movement. I mean, who was the agency which made sure that the states actually obey the laws and integrates the schools? It was the federal government. Right? It was Bobby Kennedy who went down and made sure that the southern states do follow the rules. Right? We expected the government to express the universal interest. Right? So it’s not silly.
But Marx, in a way, said, “Well, that’s not that simple. Hegel is naïve about the government.” And he said, “Well the government is not that non-partial as we would like it to be.” Right? If you are rich, you have more influence on what the government does, rather when you are poor. Right? There are lobbyists in Washington DC, and you probably have very little leverage on these lobbyists. Big business has a lot of leverage on these lobbyists. Right? And they, of course, have a great deal of pressure on what the legislature will do. Just follow what is happening with the healthcare legislation. Well you can call your congressman and you can send emails, you know, and can send letters, and ask them to do something. But believe me, when the pharmaceutical industry spends a lot of money and tells a senator, you know, “Unless you vote this way or that way, we probably may not be able to support your next electoral campaign”–right?–then it will make more impact than your individual email. Right? Not that you should not send individual emails. Send it. Right? Be involved. But be aware that the government is sent to be more responsible for big business.
“So”, he said, “How can it be universal class?” That’s really the point what he’s making in The Philosophy of Right. Right? The state is not universal. It pretends to be universal. It has to pretend to be universal in order to be legitimate, but really it is not universal. And the civil servants are, of course, not a universal class. Occasionally they are quite corrupt. Right? Not in the United States, of course, but in some countries I can think of civil servants are corrupt. Right? You know, and then they are offered, you know, a free seat, you know, on a private jet, they accept it. And then they accepted it, they do something for the owner of that private jet. Right? So there are some civil servants who are not all that innocent–right?–and they can be influenced. So it is not all that universal class. They are–not all civil servants are angels. Right? Some of them are, some of them are not.
In fact, he concludes the unfinished book, “that really the problem is that we don’t have universal suffrage”; writes he in 1843. And he said, “Let’s have universal suffrage, and then if we in free elections universally elect the representatives, the problem will be gone.” As we know, he was not quite right. Right? We have all equal vote but we do not have all equal voice. Right? I think that’s–but Marx here is still a bourgeois liberal; as of the summer of 1843 believes the problem will be solved.
Marx’s On the Jewish Question, 1844 / Wikimedia Commons
Now let me rush through and show you the kind of intellectual development–and I briefly pointed out to this. These are the three important steps which follows this abandoned manuscript. He now enters the road of radicalization, moves away from Hegel, and tries to carve out his own intellectual and political project. And he writes the paper “On the Jewish Question” in which he says, “Well Hegel is right. We need something universal. We should not allow society just to be the struggle of particularistic interests.” Right? This is in a way against Adam Smith’s utilitarianism. It’s not enough that individuals fight each others’ interests out, and that will end up to a universal good. We need some universal good to be achieved, and it will not simply achieved by particularistic interests followed. That is Marx’s point.
But then he writes an introduction to the Critique– Contributions to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. And in this introduction he said, “Well, we need something; universal emancipation. But who will bring universal emancipation to humankind?” Right? He’s looking for an agent who can carry this out. And in the introduction, he said, “This will be the proletariat.” Well you may say now he’s entering the wrong road–right?–and he’s entering a very–he’s basically painting himself in the corner, where he will be for the rest of his life, trying to show that indeed the proletariat will emancipate us all, and will create a good society as such. But people, when they are reading the introduction–and I will give you a few citations from it because it’s a beautiful piece of work. In many ways it is wonderful poetry. He has some extraordinary framing of the problem.
But then, you know, his critics said, “What a nonsense.” You know? “Why on earth the proletariat? As we all know, the workers are dumb. I mean, you are saying that we, the critical philosophers, we cannot emancipate humankind? But you think that these ordinary workers, with alienated consciousness, they will bring us an unalienated world? How comes? What nonsense is this?” So that’s when he writes The Paris Manuscripts, and tries to now bring the whole idea of alienation down to earth, to fill it with some economic content. That’s why now he tries to relate it to commodity production, and make the claim that though in modern society everybody’s alienated, but they are only the workers who are fully alienated, and their interest is to overcome the alienation. That’s what–this is why he tries to argue that alienation will bring the working class to emancipate humankind; that is the project.
Of course, he never publishes the book, because after he wrote it down, he said, “Well”–I suppose he said, “Well, this is quite nicely written. I have a couple of good ideas. But nobody will believe me.” Right? “The working class will not go on the barricades and die because I am telling them that they are alienated.” Right? “They don’t care about alienation. I have to come up some– some better reason, you know, why the working class will revolt.” And that’s the end of the young Marx.
And now he’s beginning to read Adam Smith and Ricardo and political economy. Right? And he’s beginning to develop his theory of exploitation. This is the young or mature Marx, and we will talk about him very briefly. Now just a couple of ideas here. Right?
On the Jewish Question: Universal Emancipation
What about “On the Jewish Question”, what is at stake? Bruno Bauer wrote a paper on the origins of anti-Semitism, and he said, “We have anti-Semitism in Germany because the state is Christian, and as long as the state is Christian it will discriminate against the Jews. So the solution is to separate the state and the church, to have political emancipation. Right? And if we have political emancipation, we abolish anti-Semitism.”
Now Marx takes his point here and he said, “Look, this guy is completely wrong. Look at the United States, the church and the state are separated, and in the nineteenth century there was quite a bit of anti-Semitism in the United States.” Not only in the nineteenth century. In this very institution, in the 1920s and ’30s, there was a lot of anti-Semitism. There’s a wonderful sociologist, Jeremy Karabel, who wrote a great book about admission policies of Ivy League universities in the 1920s, and he was able to prove that Ivy League universities, including Yale, actually applied a quota. They never admitted more Jews to Yale than the average Jewish population in the United States. Believe it or not. It was never official policy but it was practiced all the time. So, I mean, there was anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism can exist if the state and church are separated, if the state is supposed to be secular.
And Marx said, “Where does come like racism come from?” He said it comes from, what he said, civil society. He doesn’t have the notion of capitalism. He said this is rooted in people’s everyday experience and interest. Right? Anti-Semitism comes from civil society because some people feel threatened by the Jews. Why is there, you know, anti-African American feelings? Because some people feel threatened by African Americans. Right? And this is why there is racism. So you have to fix the problems in civil society. The problem is in civil society, not in the state. Therefore what you need is universal emancipation. That’s the bottom line of “On the Jewish Question.” Is that reasonably clear? Okay, then let’s go further.
Introduction to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
And this is the Introduction. Well there are some wonderful stuff in this. It’s more poetry than–it is certainly not social science. I would say more poetry, but very forcefully done. Well he said, “What we have to do is to move beyond Feuerbach, who simply sort of contemplated on the situations.” And he said, “Once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked”–that’s what Feuerbach did. Right? He did show that alienation is our–we’re projecting our alienation by creating God. Right? He said, “Now the task is to unmask self-estrangement or alienation in its unholy form.” Right? In the everyday life–in your everyday experience–especially in your economic activities. That is the point what he tries to make.
Then he goes further and he says, “Well the Young Hegelians said ‘Be a critical critic; criticize the Hegelian theory’.” And I think this is a fantastic sentence; again, it’s beautiful poetry. Very dangerous and let a lot of trouble in history. In a way I wish he would not have written it down. But I love that he did write it down, because it’s a beautiful sentence. “The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism by weapons.” Right? Well it’s not enough to be critical in thought. You have to be critical in action. Right? You have to act on it. Just do not just talk. Do something about it. That’s what it says. Well I think this is, you know, one of the strongest sentences I have read in social science literature. Right? “The weapon of criticism cannot replace the criticism by weapons.”
Well this is also a great sentence. “Theory becomes a material force as soon as it has grabbed the masses–gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem.” Woo. That’s quite something. Right? What he–right? He said, “Well the question is what is a good theory, what will help you emancipate yourself? Good, the essence of good theory, that it grabs you, it grips you.” Right? When you say, “Uh-huh, it did hit me.” This is theory. Right? But it can only be when it is ad hominem, when it addresses your problems. Right? A theory, what you are lost, you don’t know why it is relevant for your life, is no good.
I would even go as far, the theory which is boring is bad theory. What you need is fascinating theory. You have to be fascinated. You have to be shocked. Right? You have to say, “Yes, now I will live differently after I–this theory I understood.” Right? It has to move you. That’s the good theory. I think that’s a wonderful point, and very powerfully done.
And then he said, “Well, what–well we say that the theory has to grab the masses, but what kind of masses? Whom? Who is our audience?” Well, and he says, “In order to carry out a revolutionary change.” It’s not enough to have a theory, not enough to have ideas. “You may need”, he said–it’s very problematic but very crucial to understand the downside, the bad side of Marxism–“a passive element, a material base.” Right? As you see, no matter how much Marx glorifies the working class, he thinks about them as a passive element. Right? Simply as a material base. And that is–who is that? The proletariat. And why? “Because it has nothing to lose but its chains. It has a universal character, and this is why it is a universal class.”
And, you know, in 1843, it may have been quite right. The working class probably had little else to lose but its chains. Certainly in 2009 it’s usually not true. The working class has much more to lose than its chains. Right? It has probably its own nice suburban house. They probably own two cars. They probably even have some pension fund, on the stock exchange. Even ordinary workers check out what the Dow Jones did yesterday, because it affects the impact. But in his times it was probably true. So this is how he gets to the problem. It is the proletariat which will be the universal class. And now you are already familiar with The Paris Manuscript, and I will not talk about this.
That’s why he wants to show that the proletariat is the most alienated. And that makes–follows logically. I think it damages, to some extent, the theory of alienation, because it narrows it too much down. The focus is too much down on the working class, and in a way too much down on working class, working on industrial production in firms. But really, the message of alienation is much broader. It tries to convey you some general experience of modern life where we do not feel at home. This is the big framing of the problem in the early twentieth century. Homelessness, the homeless mind; that we feel homeless in this world, searching for a home. That’s the sense of alienation. That’s what Marx tried to capture here; in a way, unfortunately, mis-specified. Too much emphasis on workers, just because he’s beginning to have this political project and wants to find a revolutionary class.
And, you know, he abandons it. “This is ridiculous, you know. I have to put my show together.” And then he does; beginning to develop what he calls historical materialism. So let’s get into that one. And I have ten minutes to do it, and that’s all right. If necessary I will come back to this.
Theory of Historical Materialism
From Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach / Marxists Internet Archive
So Marx is developing what he calls historical materialism. And I will suggest it is making–it is done in two steps. First, he’s emphasizing dialectics in his criticism of Feuerbach. Feuerbach is a materialist all right, but he’s a mechanical materialist, and Marx wants to bring dynamics in his materialism. And he will argue that this has to–he historically specified material force. And this is what he will do in The German Ideology. But what is dialectical? I don’t want to waste time on this. I want to get straight into “The Theses on Feuerbach”, which is a very short text, but very deep.
So here are the eleven Theses of Feuerbach, on “Theses on Feuerbach.” He tries to carve out what his new approach will be. And these are the eleven pieces–very short. He said Feuerbach’s materialism was simply reflective. It actually meant subject and object remained separated, and the subject reflected on the object outside of the subject, dominating the actions of the subject. But it is assumed that there are objective conditions irrespective from the subject, and you only reflect on the subjective conditions. And he said, “Well in the new materialism truth is a practical question.” And I will talk about this in a minute. It means you have to bring, by human practice, subject and object together. You have to change the objective conditions of your life. That’s, you know, not a passive agent, not over-determination. Marx is always read as a determinist. No. As I will say, Marx’s philosophy is a philosophy of praxis; praxis, practical activity is a key of Marx’s theory.
Man- man changes circumstances. And how? We will elaborate on this. But, you know, we get–you know, we were born in certain conditions, but we can change it. Right? Then, but in order to change really the–we can’t act alone. We have to cooperate. That’s thesis four. He said that Hegel, he thought it can be done in thinking. No. Feuerbach thought we can do it in contemplation. Marx said, “No, it can be only done by social practices.”
V, VI. Well old materialism was looking at the individual. Right? Now I will look at the collective, social relations–relational, what I’m suggesting is relational. Well religion is also a social product; this is a kind of by the way. Social life is practical, follows from what we have said. Well contemplation implies isolated individuals in society. Well we offer a view of socialized humanity, that we all act together and there’s collective action, which brings change.
And then the most controversial and most important one. So far the philosophers have interpreted the world. Now the point is to change it. Right? Good theory is not just describes, it gives you a prescription what to do about your life. That’s the kind of theory what we want.
That’s the “Theses on Feuerbach.” Just eleven sentences basically. Great sentences. Sort of all materialism is reflective. Right? “The chief defect of Feuerbach is that things”, he said–the German term is Gegenstand–“is reality, sensuousness”–feeling through our senses, right?–“is considered only in the form of the object”; that we sense the objects outside of our contemplation. But sensuousness is not perceived as human action, activity. Right? We simply feel the stuff but we don’t do anything about that. He said, “Sensuous activity is what I emphasize.” Well new materialism.
This is, you know, one of the most important sentences Marx wrote down. “Well the question whether objective truths can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory, but it is a practical question. Man must prove truth that this worldliness of his thinking in practice.” Right? It’s not a speculative thing, whether a question of truth. “The test of the pudding is in the eating”; he says elsewhere. The Italian Marxist philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, who died in the prison of Mussolini, called Marxism “the philosophy of praxis.” That’s the essence of Marxism, that the truth is not the subject reflecting on the object, but the interaction of the subject between the object. Right? That the subject changes the object in order to meet the need of the subject. That’s the major point–the separation of subject and object.
The assumption that there are objective conditions which are outside of our possible action, is what later Marxists will call positivism. Marxism is not positivist. It believes that we can change the world, rather than just to accept the world. Right? Well I don’t have to talk– don’t have enough time to talk about Gramsci. Just one word: in fact he called Marxism as a philosophy of praxis, because he was writing his major work in the prison of Mussolini, and was smuggling this book out they called The Prison Notebooks. It was smuggled out before he died. And he knew that, you know, the prison guards will read it. So he did not want to write down the term Marxism. When he meant Marxism, he wrote it ‘the philosophy of praxis’. And of course the stupid Fascist guards did not know what on earth philosophy of praxis is. So they did not know he was writing about Marxism. But I think he got a very important point. This is indeed an important feature of Marxism. Well man changes circumstances.
Photograph of Antonio Gramsci, 1922 / Wikimedia Commons
Well circumstances are changed by man. And this is again an important sentence. “The educator must himself be educated.” And those of you in my discussion section yesterday, this is what you did: you educated the educator. I realized I did not get, you know, the theory of alienation through quite effectively. So I went back and corrected my course. Right? “The educators must be educated.” Right? I think it’s a great sentence.
Well, and one needs to discover the role of the masses. Now that’s very much Marx’s political project, coming in. But an important project. Right? That you cannot do by yourself. Right? If you want to achieve something, you have to cooperate. You know? You need cooperation with others. Right? Otherwise nothing can be achieved.
Well Hegel’s starting point was abstract thinking. Feuerbach, he’s a materialist, he thinks what is real is what we can grasp with our senses. Marx said, “No. This is sensuous practical activity.” It has to be sensuous, but it has to be practical. This is something what Jürgen Habermas loved, the German philosopher. He said, “This is the real Marx, who sees the essence of all sensuous human activity being the core.” Later Marx is a reductionist, because he reduces sensuous activity to economic activity. Here Marx perceives all sensuous activity, including human interaction between us, including sexual interaction among us, as a sensuous activity. Right? As a material reality. There is not so much conflict between Marx and Freud as it appears. Now let me go further.
VI. Old materialism looks at the individual. Right? And this is Marx’s big obsession. The problem with modernity is the isolated bourgeois individual, and we have to overcome this isolated individual, and we have to engage each other in human interaction. He is a communitarian, right? He is a communist, right? He does not want to have isolated individuals, right? He wants human interaction.
Well I’ll skip this one: religion is also a social product. Social life is practical; this is again quite obvious, and I can probably skip this one. And here again, you know, the isolated individual; that’s the problem, that you do not see that really what we can achieve is always interacting with each other, building on each other. A single individual will not change anything. Well, and therefore we stand for socialized humanity. The standpoint of old materialism is civil society, and the isolated bourgeois individual in civil society, and we are talking about a human society, where we are brothers and sisters, where we have solidarity, where we act in concert and in solidarity.
And now comes the most controversial pieces, what I hate and what I love. I love because again I think it is wonderfully done, hate because it’s desperately wrong. Right? Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it. In some ways, this follows from the earlier ideas, namely praxis. Truth is a practical question. Philosophy only makes sense if it changes your life.
Marx’s Theory of Dialectical Materialism / Wikimedia Commons
Let’s discuss The German Ideology, and Marx becoming a historical materialist. I just wanted to make a couple of more comments about “The Theses on Feuerbach,” where Marx is on the edge, moving away from naturalism to historical materialism. But the emphasis in “The Theses on Feuerbach” is not so much on materialism, but it is much more on praxis, action, change, the lack of determination. Marx, as a materialist, is usually seen as a determinist. And if you took other courses where much was–Marx was touched upon, you were probably told Marx is a determinist, economic determinist. And there’s a lot of truth to it, but half-truths, and he is struggling in “The Theses on Feuerbach”–as I said, he’s on his way from naturalism to materialism, and the central idea is, as I said, praxis, human practices.
Now Marx himself very rarely used the term ‘dialectical’. He had a clear enough mind to be suspicious about the word ‘dialectics’. Once, at an old age, he wrote a letter to Engels and he said, “You know Friedrich what? When I don’t know what something, then I say it is dialectical.” Right? And so dialectical means when you couldn’t really find out what the relationship between two phenomena is, when you say, “Well this is dialectical.” Well it’s a bit too simplistic.
The term ‘dialectical’, as I am sure you all know, go back to Greek philosophy. But even in Greek philosophy, the idea of dialectics was emphasizing change and the process. A famous Greek philosopher once said–and that tries to capture the essence of dialectics–“You cannot step in the same river twice. Because if you step in the river, five minutes later it is not quite the same river because the water is gone; this is a different water.” Right? So that dialectics means that the world is in flux, is in change. That’s, I think, one important idea of dialectics. And in “The Theses on Feuerbach”, Marx emphasizes–right?–that we are changing the world, rather just taking it. Right? In this sense he’s dialectical, and this is why he still resists materialism and determinism.
There is another, more contemporary adaptation of the word dialectics, which comes from Georg Hegel. And Marx again was shying away to use it very often. But his friend Friedrich Engels used it. He even said there is a dialectical materialism. Engels made a distinction between historical and dialectical materialism.
Now what was dialectics in Hegel? Hegel was trying to capturing the process of change. Right? Already in Greek philosophy the dialecticians emphasized that if you are looking at the world, this is not a picture, it is a movie–right?–and every minute you see something different. Now Hegel tried to come to terms with what is the essence of this change? In this essence of this change, he was looking at contradictions. Contradictions drive the change. So Hegel made a big distinction between thesis, antithesis and synthesis. So the change, what dialectics captures normally in social life, it starts with a thesis, and actual conditions, an antithesis, which is the negation of the situation, and then it leads to a synthesis, which is the negation of the negation. Right? In some ways the original condition is reconstituted, but in a different way; as Hegel put it, “preserving it by abolishing it.” Right? That’s the Hegelian insight what actually was–this kind of logic was attractive to Marx and the Marxists. Anyway, so this is dialectical.
And Marx, from dialectical, from the philosophy of praxis where praxis is crucial, eventually moves towards a more clearly deterministic, positivistic social science in which you have a very clearer idea what is the key cause and the consequences. Right? Doing very much what positivist social science is doing today; identifying the dependent variable and independent variable, to come up with a hypothesis how the dependent variable will cause variation, and the independent variable will cause variation in the dependent variable, and then to describe it. That is very much the mature Marx.
And because Marx was moving into, today we will call it normal science, he becomes a real scientist. He was becoming so much of a scientist that at one point he began to doubt there is much sense to make a distinction between social sciences and sciences. He himself began to see himself as the Darwin of social sciences. He was so much attracted with scientific reasoning–the late Marx, the second Marx we will start talking about–that he actually for awhile considered to dedicate the book, Kapital, to Charles Darwin, because he saw himself as doing for human history what Marx [correction: he meant Darwin, did to the evolution of the species. He wanted to do an evolution of human societies. Now luckily for Marx he did not do that. Right? He did not become a social Darwinist. Right? He resisted the temptation. But he was tempted.
Revisiting Two Key Theses on Feuerbach
Okay, I just want to go back very briefly to two “Theses on Feuerbach,” because they are very important. Right? And this is the idea. Right? He is now criticizing–right?–Feuerbach. And the problem with Feuerbach, he said, that Feuerbach, and other people who were materialists before him, they thought that there are things outside there, objective things, which are outside of the subject, which creates a knowledge about these objects–he called that Gegenstand, object–and the knowledge is nothing else but a reflection in human mind of the object outside there. This is a very typical theory of truth. Right? Very widely shared today, and probably a theory of truth what many of you in this room share. Right? When is your knowledge accurate? You think about your mind as a mirror. If the image of the object, or the objective world outside, is accurately reflected in the mirror of your mind, then you got it. Right? So what we try to do is to have the most perfect mirror in our mind, and capture the objective reality as precisely and as much in detail as possible.
Well Marx says this is simply, you know, reflection, and we should go beyond that. Right? He said, “What is good about what Feuerbach did, what is good what”–for instance, what Montesquieu did. These were the two people we discussed so far who were clearly, you know, materialist; though I mean Hobbes was pretty much a materialist as well, believing that this is sort of biological conditions which drive us and makes us what we are. So they all started from sensuousness. Right? That the reality is something what we can get at through our senses. Right? We smell it, we touch it, we see it, and unless we touch it, we see it, we smell it, we doubt whether it exists. Right? That’s the difference–right?–between materialist and idealist. Ideas you don’t get through your senses. Right? You get it through your mind.
But he said this is–this materialism is sensuous only in the sense of contemplation. The object is outside of the subject and you get a grasp of it through your senses. And he said, “Well, but what I am suggesting in my new approach is sensuous–all right?–but a sensuous human activity–an activity, as such.” I mentioned very briefly that this, in the last lecture–let me just make–come back to this point again. This is what Jürgen Habermas, arguably the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century–well he’s still alive but he may–you know? The twenty-first century has a long way to go to decide who will be the greatest philosopher. But many thinks that Jürgen Habermas was the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. He said, “Well yes, Marx in “The Theses on Feuerbach” is right” at one point. I mean, Habermas had his ‘culture’ turn, moved away from materialism. But in most of his life he said, “I am a materialist because I also believe that the ultimate reality has to come through sensuous experiences, through the senses.” Right? But he said, “Marx later on, the mature Marx became reductionist, because the sensuous activity he identified with the economy, with production, with economic activities.” And he said, “In “The Theses on Feuerbach” he got it right. All sensuous activity are material.” “So therefore,” he says, “let’s not simply limit our analysis to production, but let’s look at human interaction.” When we interact with each other, this is also a sensuous activity. Right?
So he creates peace between Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Many people try to do that. Right? That this is not an opposition, that it is either production or your sexual drives. You know, your sexual drives–your sexual interaction with others–is very much sensuous. Right? It’s actually more sensuous than doing a job–right?– than, you know, being in McDonald’s and serving hamburgers. That’s sensuous activity. But all right, you know, sexual interaction is very much sensuous. That’s Habermas’s point. And Marx, in “The Theses on Feuerbach”, opens this possibility up. It’s a very open argument. Okay?
This is actually one of the reasons why he does not publish it. It’s too vague. He wanted to be more precise, and then he wanted to go–he was reading Adam Smith and Ricardo, and spent all of his time in the British Library reading these economists, and he wanted to bring it back down to earth, to the economy and economic interest. And now let me start to this, because I think that’s very important the theory of truth. And I want you to think about it. I think this is very interesting.
So what is truth? And to be very simplistic–right?–you have two competing theories of truth. One theory of truth, what I think most of you have in your mind, is the kind of reflection theory of truth–that our mind is a mirror. More accurately it reflects the objective reality out there more true, the knowledge what we have in our mind is. And Marx, in “The Theses on Feuerbach”, says, “Not so. The truth is a practical question. The problem with the reflection theory of truth is that it is positivist and it is alienated.” I’ll throw in another word coined by a major Marxist philosopher of the twentieth century, Georg Lukács. He called it this is reified consciousness. Reified–you know, Lukács was writing in German, and in German he used the term Verdinglichung. Ding means a thing. I think reification is a very good translation. Only those of us who speak English but do not speak Latin don’t necessarily quite get it. Right? Rei in Latin means the thing. Reification is the process in which we turn stuff, what is not a thing, into an objective thing.
It’s a kind of–right?–Lukácsian reinterpretation of Marx’s notion of alienation. Marx’s term, in German, for reification was Entfremdung; fremd means alien. Right? So alienation is a good translation. Right? You are alienated if you feel alien, if you feel homeless in this world. Now I think but Lukács has an interesting idea–right?–that the essence of alienation is when we’re beginning to see the world, what actually we created–the world is our creation and this objective world will rule us. We do not see ourselves as the masters of the world, but we see ourselves as ruled by the world. Right? And this is reified consciousness, when we’re beginning to see the objective reality, we cannot do anything about it. Right? And the essence is the philosophy of praxis of the young Marx, ending–right?–with “The Theses on Feuerbach”, the point is to change it; the point is to change the world.
So in contemporary discourse we usually call this positivism. Right? Positivists are those social scientists who think there are objective facts out there, and the purpose of social investigation is to establish most objectively and most concretely what those objective social facts are. You are an economist, you describe the objective facts. Right? You say, “Well you have to maximize profit, because if you do not maximize profit, then you will be wiped out of business.” Right? This is almost like a force of nature.
Again, if I can recall Georg Lukács, he coined this wonderful term second nature. Right? That we’re beginning to think about social life as if it were natural, as if it would have the power of nature; the economic laws look like lightening. You know? Like, you know, this force– like earthquakes. Right? You can’t do virtually nothing about an earthquake. If we can’t predict what we can’t predict, we can just get into our car and get out of it. Right? But even we cannot really predict earthquakes. That’s one of the problems. Right? Well now we can predict when a hurricane is coming. What can we do? You get in the car and get out of there, where the hurricane will come. Now, you know, the point is that positivism does posits social phenomena as if they had the force of nature. And that’s what Lukács called we create the social world as if it were second nature, as if it had the force of nature. He said this is all wrong because this is the world what we created. We should rule it. Right? That’s the idea, to overcome alienation; to become the master of your fate. Right? To be able–right?–to change the objective conditions.
And we will–you know, in The German Ideology, Marx puts it very powerfully. I would say it’s almost the last word what in this debate he said– was said. I don’t think anybody really improved on it. He said, “Well, humans change the conditions. But we were born under certain conditions, and we can only change the conditions we were born into.” Right? So it’s an interesting interaction between yes, I mean we can’t do anything–right?–because we were born into conditions, but within some limits we can change those conditions. By the way, it’s not all that different from Hobbes–right?–and voluntary action, the theory of voluntary action. There is a similarity here.
Now I’ll finish this and get onto The German Ideology. But there is one thing what I cannot leave out, too–I think too insightful and important to leave it out. So let me come back to this subject and object issue. Right? What I’ve suggested, it is so extremely important, not only for Marx but for the whole critical theory, and, in fact, for anti-positivism of all sorts in the twentieth and twenty-first century. I mentioned, for instance, cultural theory, which is very strongly anti-positivist–right?–and rejects social science as normal science.
Draft pages form The German Ideology / Marxists Internet Archive
So what we have is subject. And that is you–right?–the person who has a consciousness and is a cognitive subject–is involved in cognitive activity, creating knowledge. And then there are objects about which we create knowledge. Reflection theory of truth said that this is a mirror and if the objects are accurately described in the mirror of our mind, that is truth. This is the whole test of having verification of hypotheses. Right? I develop a hypothesis. Then I go there and test it on the social reality, and if it is matches, then it is verified, I got truth. Right?
Now the philosophy of praxis says that truth is not simply a reflection, it’s an interaction between subject and object; that’s where truth is. And there is this wonderful philosopher– not a very easy read, but still I think a wonderful mind. His name is Adorno. Adorno belonged to the Frankfurt School and was active mainly in the 1940s and ’60s–’30s and ’60s. And well he formulated this so powerfully. He said, “What is truth?” He said, “The truth is the force-field between subject and object.” Right? “Not simply a reflection of the object, but it is between the tension of subject and object.” Right? I think this is beautifully done. Right? It is in the force-field of subject and object.
So let me also add one more point, and then we can move away the theory of truth. But I want you guys to think about what is truth? Right? When can you say an idea is true? In fact, Adorno at one point said about Nazism. You know? He said–experiencing, he was Jewish and many of his family were killed–right?–by the Nazis. And he said, “The reality, Nazi reality, is so miserable that it does not deserve to be called true.” You see the point? You also say that occasionally, when you see something horrible and you can say, “No, that cannot be true.” Right? This is exactly Adorno’s point. This can be so miserable that you say it cannot be true. And the idea is that they are so miserable that you are completely powerlessness about these nature-like forces though it is unacceptable–right? You should be able to do something about it. Right? We should have been able to do something about Auschwitz, and they could not do anything about it. And that’s what Adorno said. This reality was such that it should not be called true; it cannot be truth. You see what it is getting at?
A very final point about this theory of truth, and this is through another guy, Karl Mannheim. This is very much along this line. He was very much not a Marxist. He was a conservative philosopher. His major work was done in England. Mannheim once said, “The truth is not being. The truth is becoming.” Bingo. Right? Wonderfully put. Right? The truth is not simply that you describe how things are. You really know what the truth is when you know what it can be, and what you can do about it. The real purpose of cognition is not simply to describe the world but to change it–right?–to make it a better world. That’s when you have real truth, when you know how to make the world better. Right? So the truth is not being but becoming. And that’s the philosophy of praxis. But I think that’s where Marx is in writing “The Theses on Feuerbach”, and that’s what he is moving away from when he’s beginning to write The German Ideology.
But he is writing together with Friedrich Engels. And now you see he has to abandon–he cannot publish the book– “The Theses on Feuerbach” because it is too voluntaristic. Right? He abandoned The Paris Manuscript because it was fluffy. Right? “Nobody will believe me that the revolution will come because the proletariat is alienated.” And then when he finished–I think this–I mean, not all eleven sentences are great, but some of those sentences are really great sentences. He wrote it down and he never published it because he said, “Well, this is too voluntaristic.” Right? “I have to come up with a more- with a theory which will prove to people that the revolution will come. Capitalism has to fall. It is not only a question whether we decide to change it or we don’t have to change it.” Right? “I have to come up with a theory which will prove that capitalism will have to fall.” Right? That’s what puts him into the deterministic mode.
He actually becomes never really deterministic. It’s a very simplistic reading of Marx. You know, after all this guy is a theorist of the revolution. He thought that revolutionary ideas should be put into people’s head. This idea did not think that ideas do not matter. If he would have believed ideas do not matter, he would not have spent, you know, all of his time, eight in the morning, nine– until nine p.m. in the British library, and writing books. Right? If ideas do not matter, why do you write down ideas? Because he believed that ideas will change the world. Right? So he was never completely a deterministic. But in the nature of the work he’s moving towards economic determinism.
And the reason is that now he wants to prove that capitalism–yes, it had great achievement. During the time of capitalism society developed more than ever before capitalism. But nevertheless it will have to come an end. Capitalism will not last forever. And now he has to prove that thesis, that it must come to an end. So that puts him on a deterministic trajectory. That’s what makes him–he has to become–he has to accept materialism; that material conditions determine human action and consciousness. So that’s what he–they are beginning to develop in The German Ideology.
The German Ideology: Major Themes
And this is the structure of the book. The first chapter is a critique on Feuerbach; takes on from “The Theses on Feuerbach” but tightens the argument and becomes strictly materialist, and gets out of this voluntaristic element. He has some introductory remarks about critique of idealism and the premises of the new materialism he is proposing now, what he’s beginning to call now historical materialism–stays away from the word ‘dialectical’. And then he develops–right?–a materialist conception of history and historical development. He replaces Adam Smith’s categorization of societies as hunting, gathering, grazing, agricultural or commercial with a new typology. This new typology will be the typology of the modes of production. Not–in fact, in The German Ideology he stays pretty close to Adam Smith. I will point this out. And this is one of his problems. This is one of the reasons why The German Ideology was also left unfinished and unpublished. Right? As I indicated, it was first published–and not the complete text–only in 1903, well after the deaths of Marx and Engels.
Then he writes about the origins of idealist conception of history, where it is coming from. He’s writing about the development of productive forces, and eventually this covers the notion of relations of production. I will make a big deal out of this, because I think that’s one of the reasons that The German Ideology fails, that until the very end he does not know the term of relations of production, and he runs into some very big problems.
And then he writes on Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. These are Young Hegelians. People usually don’t read these chapters. And Volume II, I mean you must be a Marx expert to read this. This is really basically irrelevant, not very interesting.
Okay, what are the major themes in The German Ideology? First, he offers a materialist view of history. Then he offers a theory of modes of production. Then he’s beginning to develop forces of production and initially division of labor; and this is a problem. This is very much Adam Smith. He’s still very strongly under Adam Smith and understands the evolution of society as the evolution of division of labor. And then he describes– tries to describe the forces of production and division of labor–modes of production and describes a subsection and modes of production and give a very about human history. And then he develops what I would call–he’s the first who creates a sociology of knowledge–how to study sociologically, socially how you can understand conscience, human consciousness.
The Materialist View of History
Okay, so the materialist view of history. And now here you can see Marx the positivist social scientist speaking. And Marx is the first of positivist social scientists–rigorous positivist scientist. And what he describes here will be subscribed and accepted most of the positivist types in your political science or sociology or economics or psychology departments. Right? He said, “The premises from which we begin with are not arbitrary ones; not dogmas but real premises, from which abstractions can only be made in the imagination.” So you start from the objective conditions and then you speculate from this. So what we start are real individuals, and the activities of these individual; actual activities of these individuals. And then he moves a little further. Their conditions of life, both what they find already existing and those what they produce by their activities. Right? So, he said, “German philosophers descended from the heaven to earth. Now we are ascending from earth to heaven.” Right? “We do not deduction, we do induction. This is the inductive method what we use.” And if you are a positivist, you will love it. You see, this is real serious science–right?–looking at facts.
And then he said, “Well ideas have no history, no development. Man developing the material conditions, and then material intercourse, altered their thinking. So it is really our material existence which has a history, and ideas reflect those material conditions.”
Theory of Modes of Production
And then he’s beginning to develop the theory of modes of production. He said, “Well, man can distinguish from animals in different ways. But most important is that we produce, that we change the environment in a purposeful manner. Right? That we have an image how to change the physical environment for us. “And what actually matters is not simply what we produce–and this is a very important idea–“but the mode of production, how we produce, how we engage each other. Because this will change in history,not simply what we produce.” Well this is a revolutionary idea. Again, this is completely new in Marx.
Before Marx, you went into a museum and the museum was about great people. Right? These were kings and queens and generals and popes whose pictures were presented there, and this was the way how history was described. Now you go into a history, and now you can see this is a living room, how people lived in Roman times, and this is the way how they ate, this is the way how they cooked, and these are the instruments by which they produced the stuff what they cooked in their kitchen. Right? This is how a modern historical museum looks like, and this comes–this is really a revolution from Marx. History is not the history of great ideas and great men, or great women. History is the idea of the actual way how people lived and produced and reproduced their ideas.
Forces/Relations of Production and Division of Labor
Well he said, “Well, we can distinguish therefore differences between nature, how the productive forces”–he means by technology–“is developing and how”–he uses initially the term the inter–“the intercourse, internal intercourse is changing.” And by this he refers to division of labor. A very Smithsian idea, Adam Smith’s idea. Right? That history evolves a greater division of labor–we will see in Emile Durkheim also this central idea–you can see the evolution of society by increasing division of labor.
Human History: Subsequent Modes of Production
And then he tries to come up with subsequent modes of production. Now he said, “Now I actually can describe the history as different types of mode of production, moving from elementary forms. The most elementary form is tribal society. In tribal society where the technology is very simple and there is very little division of labor”–he is sexist enough to say–“there is a natural division of labor between men and women. Men go hunting and women go collecting woods in the forest.” And that he calls natural. This is, of course, a sexist proposition. But, you know, he was writing it in 1845–was not the only man who was sexist.
“Well the second form is,” he said, “ancient communal or state property; antiquity.” Now you have development of forces of production, and in fact you have a separation of ownership and greater division of labor, where now people can produce more than necessary for their survival. Therefore there will be slaves who will be working day and night, and there will be philosophers who sit in Athens and Rome and have great ideas. Right? Because the slaves produce the stuff, what they can eat and they can enjoy. So the division of labor evolves.
And then the third, now we have the evolution of feudalism. Well slaves were great, producing cheap, but the problems with slaves were that they did not have much incentive to use very complicated technology. You had to supervise them very closely because they really hated your guts and if they could they did break–right?–the instruments if t. So you did want to give them complex technologies. So you invent serfdom.
You say, “You know, why don’t you become a serf rather than a slave? You can have your house and I’ll give you a piece of land. And if you behave yourself, two days you work on my estate and you produce stuff for me, and I’ll let you to spend the rest of the week producing for yourself.” But the big problem is that with the evolution of feudalism, the fall of Rome and Greece and, you know, rise of Charlemagne and, you know, the Dark Middle Ages, the division of labor did not develop. There was less division of labor in the eleventh and twelfth century than it was in the first and second century. So the methodology breaks down. Marx is in deep trouble.
And as you can see, you can read the text, he leaves after this the page blank. He said, <<laughs>>, “I’m in trouble.” Right? “I have to start this all over again.” And he starts all over again and tries to come up with something better.
Sociology of Knowledge
Well sociology of knowledge, a very important contribution. This is unfortunately completely wrong, what he’s saying, but the methodology is extremely important, and informed people who were studying cognition and knowledge ever since. And he makes this very important suggestion. “Well life determines consciousness” rather than the other way around. And the other argument, which I think is desperately wrong, but very insightful: “Ruling class always determines the ruling ideas of each people.”
Now life determines consciousness. And this is kind of the essence–right?–of materialism. Right? “Definite individuals, who are productively active in a definite way, enter into definite social and political relationships. The production of ideas is at first directly interwoven with material activity and the material intercourse of man.” Tell me, you know, how much money you have in your pocket and I will tell you what your ideas are, to put it very simplistically. Right? Tell me which class you belong to and I will be able to tell you what your ideas are. Right? Well indeed, you know, there is a strong class component, for instance, in voting behavior; not so much in the United States, because in the United States if you are poor, you usually do not vote. Right? And therefore, you know, the Democratic Party is kind of scrambling to get a little working class vote; more than that, without scaring the middle class away for voting them. Right? That’s the big traditional trouble of the Democratic Party. But if you look at Europe or you look at Australia–the Australian Labor Party was getting a solid, you know, working class vote. So tell me what your class position is and I will tell you how you will vote in the next elections. As I said, in the U.S. it doesn’t work. But it does work in Sweden. It did work in England for a long time. It, by and large, worked in Australia. Right? If you are–to some extent it even works in the United States. Well there are some very rich people who are Democrats. But typically those guys who are very rich, don’t they tend to be Republican? Right? I think they probably do. Right? So, I mean, there is–this is what Marxists are getting at. Right? “Tell me, you know, what your materialist interests are and then I’ll tell you what is on your mind.”
Reductionist. Again we will read Sigmund Freud. He said, “Well true.” But this is not only economic interest. “Tell me the history of your sex life and I’ll tell you what is on your mind.” Right? You know, it’s an analogous argument. Right? It is existence which determines consciousness. Right? Both of them said, “Well, it’s not necessarily true, that what is in your mind true. But I know where it is coming from.” Right? “You were in love with your mother–right?–if you were a man–“and you suppressed all your desire for your mother, and that’s why you have your–these false ideas in your mind.” Right? “Or you were a–you are a girl and you were loving father. You could not fulfill this love. Suppress your desire and you have all these strange ideas there. That’s why you are neurotic. Right? And I can tell you.” Right? That’s the way how Marx [correction: he meant Freud, will argue it.
Sort of, you know–this is also reductionist, by the way. But there is a common interesting idea: who we are biologically, class-wise, race-wise, gender-wise, that makes a difference. I see in the discussion sections. Very often–right?–if we have a real hot topic–you know, do you want to have universal healthcare, for instance, well there is usually a gender division in the class. Right? Sort of, you know, gender has an impact. Right? Well speaking about it, I get into affirmative action. Right? Well of course we are in a liberal university. Few people dare to speak up against affirmative action. But, you know, among white males well there is usually less articulation–right?–to defend the idea of affirmative action. Woman and minorities are more likely to defend it. Okay? So I know who you are, I know what your ideas will be. Right? Your interests form your ideas. That’s the idea. I think this is a very important idea. Right? Put in a simplistic way. And that comes to the idea that the ruling class is really producing the ruling ideas. Well not quite true, but there is an element of truth to it. Right? There is an ideological hegemony in the world.
Theory of History
The Many Facets of Karl Marx
Marx is cited that once he said, “I am not a Marxist.” And I think there is a lot of truth to it. The reason why I carry on and on and on with Marx, in this course, because my experience is that many of us do have very simplistic stereotypes, in our mind, who Karl Marx was and what his theory is all about. Well he was a creative scholar, a vibrant mind, who was ready to change his mind when confronted with new arguments or confronted with new evidence. And there were many, many facets, many faces of Karl Marx.
We have seen some of those. Right? We have seen Marx, starting as a Hegelian idealist, being obsessed with the idea of alienation, disappointed with Hegel’s fluffy idea of alienation, bringing it closer to home, bringing it more down to earth, making probably some reductionist mistake in the process, then abandoning it and turning into a materialist somewhat hesitantly and reluctantly. When he starts his turn towards historical materialism in “The Theses on Feuerbach,” he says: “The point is to change the world. Truth is a practical question.”
Within six months, in The German Ideology, he is a positivist social scientist. Right? The point where we start with our real individual and our real actual social circumstances. He offers testable hypotheses, to put it this way, in modern social science language. And in some ways he remains a positivist social scientist, in his major works.
So he was changing his mind, and indeed he was less doctrinaire than usually Marxists are. And easy to be less doctrinaire–right?–if you are one of the persons who created the doctrine. Today we will be talking about one important component of Marx’s theory, his theory of history. And this is also contradictory, full with tensions and contradictions. But it is a formidable body of propositions; absolutely formidable. There is actually not a single theorist I can recall who, like Karl Marx, not only has a very specific set of ideas in what stages human evolution, from the very elementary societies to the most complex one evolved. There are many who offer typologies like this. We have seen in Montesquieu, we have seen in Adam Smith; there were many who did that. But what is unique about Marx, that he has a genuine theory of history. He has a very powerful argument what is the exact causal mechanism which leads the transition from one form of society to another one; what drives historical evolution.
Marx is genuinely the Darwin of social scientists, in this respect. What Darwin could do with The Evolution of Species, Marx was capable to do in the theory of history. It’s a genuine theory. Right? A theory, when you have an idea what are really the causal mechanisms, what links cause to an effect. And Marx has such a theory.
We will see when we will be discussing Weber, whom I admire a great deal, that Weber really does not have such a theory. And as far I can, nobody else does. Well the only downside of Marx’s theory of history is that history proved him to be wrong. Well theories are not necessarily to be supported by the facts. Theories are there, you know, to have a tight enough proposition and to be tested. But what exactly the theory is will vary in Marx’s own writings, and there are some versions of this theory which fit better the empirical reality than the original one, and the one which became kind of carved into stone in the literature on Marx. And this is why I do a little comparison between The German Ideology–we touched upon The German Ideology already–and another manuscript that he also left incomplete and unfinished. He was working on it in 1857 and ’58, and was never properly translated, the title into English.
We always refer it to Grundrisse, the ‘eh’ at the end, the sounds. Right? English speakers like to call it “Grundriss”. No, it is Grundrisse. And Grundrisse means a sketch, an outline. And that’s what it is. One-thousand pages, handwritten pages, written in a big hurry between ’57 and ’58. Like the earlier attempts to write a big book, The Paris Manuscript and The German Ideology, when Marx approaches the end of his title he argued, theory–he said, “My goodness gracious, I got it all wrong. I have to start it all over again.” And he will start all over again, just in ten years’ time, and he will write Das Kapital.
Did he get it wrong in the Grundrisse? That’s what I will try to pose today. And I was merciful enough that I did not ask you to read too much from the Grundrisse. What you read has been published as a separate little book, under the title Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations. And this is probably the most accessible text in the whole one-thousand pages. It was put together and translated by the wonderful British social historian, Eric Hobsbawm. Fortunately he’s still with us. He’s ninety-one-years-old, and thanks God he’s strong; and he’s still traveling, if you pay him business class. But we could get him to this class if Yale would be willing to pay business class ticket, but Yale would not do it. Anyway, he’s sharp, good, and he was the major social historian of the twentieth century in Britain–not a trivial matter because the best social history was in Britain in the twentieth century. Anyway, he translated it, and you read his translation. Was it difficult? Yes. But try the rest of the Grundrisse, and then you will see how easy this text is.
Grundrisse: Major Themes
Okay, and the point what I’m trying to make today is to show what a fundamental shift there is in Marx’s thinking from The German Ideology to the Grundrisse. So we will start with the initial formulation in the Grundrisse, how he’s beginning to conceive what historical evolution is. And this is something we did cover, so I can rush through of it very quickly. Right? The idea is–what he introduces for the first time in The German Ideology, 1845–is the concept of the mode of production. And you already have seen this citation. Right? “Man can distinguish from animals by consciousness, by religion, or anything you like. They, themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce, as soon as they’re beginning to change the world to fit their human needs.” That is the fundamental insight. And you may dismiss it but, you know, that’s clearly a very serious proposition. Right? That if you look at history over time, you will become very interested how these people survived. What did they eat? How did they produce what they did eat? What kind of housing did they live in? How they did build their housing? Right? How they did move around? Did they invent the wheel, or did they already know the wheel? Right? These are the questions you will be asking when you are studying a society. Did they–could they lit a fire or they couldn’t? Right? So you were interested in this stuff. How did they kill the deer? Right? What kind of weapons they had. What kind of instruments they used when they planted their plants. Right? These are obvious questions to ask, and he said, “That’s it, that’s what we want to see.”
And he said, “This mode of production must be considered not simply as reproduction.” Right? And I think this is a very powerful argument, what he makes it here. Right? This is a definite mode of life. Right? When I’m suggesting mode of production, I’m not narrowly focusing on the economy. I am basically talking about differences in ways of life. And differences in ways of life, as he elsewhere puts it, well first you have to drink and eat and find shelter. And once you are not hungry any longer, and you are not wet when it is raining, then you start thinking. Right? But first you have to fill your stomach–right?–and make sure that you are safe from the rainfall. That’s a reasonable argument.
Well there are some very important key differences, as we proceed from The German Ideology to the Grundrisse. Well in The German Ideology there’s one important difference. History is driven by increasing division of labor. And I pointed to this in the earlier lecture. Here he draws directly on Adam Smith. He basically takes it over from Adam Smith. That’s what Adam Smith did. In the Grundrisse, on the other hand, he sees a movement, a gradual movement over history, towards private ownership; that’s what drives the story. “A gradual separation of the laboring subject and the objective conditions of the worker.” That’s how he describes now human history. And doing so–separation of laboring subject and the objective conditions of labor–enables him in the Grundrisse to bring back the notion of alienation. He already seemed to have forgotten and put it on the shelf. Then he will forget it again. But for this piece of work, the idea of alienation re-interpreted as the making of private ownership and the separation of worker and the objective conditions of work is very crucial, very important.
There is another big difference. In The German Ideology, Marx has a unilinear view of history; a very deterministic, uni-linear view of history. And this is what will come back in later Marx, and that dominate Marxists of various kinds. Uni-linear means–right?–that all societies start at the same starting point: tribal society. They all progress through slavery, feudalism, capitalism, with the assumption that they all will end up in communism. But this is a kind of uni-linear stage. Every society will have to go through of these stages, and there is necessity that one moves from an earlier stage to a later stage. And as I said, he will show the causal mechanism how it is happening.
The Grundrisse is different. This is a messy description of human history, a multi-linear trajectory; and I will show you what his multi-linear trajectory is. The beauty of shifting from this uni-linear trajectory to the multi-linear trajectory is that, though Marx messes completely the logic of argument up, but he produces a theoretical proposition what you can see fits already in his time, the historical development, very well, and would argue by extension–now I will extend his argument–it even fits better later historical evolution.
Centrality of Division of Labor in The German Ideology
Okay, let’s return now to The German Ideology briefly, and the centrality of division of labor in this work. Well, Marx described–right?–a mode of production between the dialectical interaction between what he saw, he called forces of production–and forces of production means basically the technology, raw materials, the labor power–and eventually he invents a term, the relations of production. But he identifies this with property relations in the later work. But he tends to use the word ‘intercourse’ or ‘division of labor’ in The German Ideology.
Now dialectical interaction. What on earth this word means? I think I also mentioned once that Marx, in a letter to Engels, once wrote: “You know, when I don’t understand something, then I say it is dialectical.” So the idea of dialectics was not much clearer to Karl Marx than it is to you. Right? But dialectics basically meant–right?–an interactive relationship. You know, in today’s social science language we would say–right?–that there is the causal arrow going in both ways. Right? It’s not simply that relations of production determine relations of production. Certain relations of production can block the development of forces of production, and when they change, the new relations of production can unleash the development of the forces of production. So that is the dialectics–right?–that the causal arrow, there is not simple determination pointing from one to the other, but there is a feedback loop. Right? That would be, I think, the modern social science language, to put this one.
As I said, in the initial formulation, he really thinks this is the division of labor, rather than property relationships. And I think we have seen it, he will–this comes straight out of Adam Smith, what you have read. Right? The relations of different nations among themselves depends to which each has developed these productive forces, the division of labor and its internal intercourse. So that’s exactly–right?–what Adam Smith said. Hunting/gathering societies, grazing societies, agricultural societies, commercial societies, they all correspond to different levels of division of labor. And that’s what Marx initially tries to do in The German Ideology. And he deals with the question of the property relations, but he said, “Look, property relations also change, but these changing property relations are simply the outcomes of the increased division of labor.” So it’s basically determined by the division of labor. “If I understand the level of division of labor, I will understand property relationships as well.” That sounds actually quite reasonable. And these sections of The German Ideology, by the way, were rediscovered by Marxists in the 1950s, especially Marxists who were living in the Soviet Empire.
There was a formidable social scientist in Poland; his name is Ossowski. And Ossowski, in 1957, re-read The German Ideology. And until then, you know, what was carved into stone, that, you know, Marxist theory suggests that this is property relations which explain everything. And that was the project–right?–of communism. You eliminate private ownership and everything will be fine. Right? No private ownership, things will be rosy. Right? There will be equality among people–right?–and dynamic economic growth. Now the Soviets eliminated private ownership. Was it an egalitarian society? No it wasn’t. Was it a dynamic society? No it wasn’t. Now Ossowski was re-reading The German Ideology and said, “Well you did not read your Marx right. Marx doesn’t say it is property relations which is crucial, but division of labor. So, of course, the division of labor exists in a Communist society, just not the appropriate division of labor, and that creates inequalities.” Anyway, that was a very interesting debate. Ossowski had a very great reception in western social science circles. Okay, anyway so this is the initial idea–right?–in The German Ideology.
Modes of Production: Tribalism, Slavery, Feudalism and Capitalism
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And then he proceeds, as again we have seen it. I’ll rush through of it. He describes various modes of production this way. Right? There is the tribal society–very primitive means of production: hunting, fishing, gathering. Division of labor is very elementary. And he uses this sexist term: “This is only a natural division of labor between men and women. Women gather and men hunts, because the men are strong and, as you know, the women are weak.” Right? And therefore this is a “natural division of labor.” Well probably he can be forgiven; I mean, he wrote this in 1845.
And then he moves on to slavery. He said, “Well now the forces of production are beginning to develop. In a tribal society people just had enough capacity to gather, hunt, and fish enough food to survive, and therefore everybody had to go out gathering, hunting, and fishing. But now we have new technologies, which are more productive, and therefore it becomes possible that some people say, ‘Well I am not going out hunting. I will get slaves, and slaves will do the work for me. They will be able to produce what is necessary for their survival. I’ll give them only as much that they do not die from hunger. I eat the rest, and drink the rest, and then I’ll just sit at home and I am writing philosophy.'” So ancient philosophy is born. Right? You’re Plato, sitting at home, and thinking, and you are writing drama and poetry, and you create art, because the slaves are working the fields, producing a surplus that can be appropriated from them.
Division of labor increases as technology increased. Well as a result, some change in property relationships. Right? Now this is not a communal relationship, we are not members of the same community, but a pretty oppressive relationship between slave and slave owner. And he goes on. And then comes feudalism, and what happens with feudalism? Well what is the problem with the slaves? The problem with the slaves, that they have absolutely no interest in producing. They were simply physically coursed to produce. Therefore they can be pretty negligent in operating the means of instrument. You have to supervise them. You beat them–right?–to make them work. Right? You keep killing them, you know, if they disobey. There’s struggle; you know, you have to conduct wars all the time–right?–to get new slaves. Therefore as technology develops, you need a labor force which is more motivated to work harder. So slaves are being replaced by serfs, by peasants.
And what is the big change? The big change is that now the peasants will get a plot they can cultivate themselves. They actually have to work only for two or three days on the large estate of the feudal lord, and the rest of the time they can stay at home, cultivate their land. They can build a house. They can have their family. They can marry, and their children will belong to them, rather than to the lord. Right? A big change. Right? In classical states of slavery, the children–there are no marriage, no home. Right? Slaves lives in barracks. Right? The institution of family does not exist. I mean, you know, slavery in the south of the United States was not quite classical slavery, in Greece and Rome or in Egypt, but had some similarities. Right? Slave owners certainly had claim on the children of slaves, and in many instances marriage was really–not really an existing institution, even in nineteenth century U.S. Now the serfs are very different. They have their family, they have their home. They do not have a title of the land and the home, but they have possession of the land and the home. And therefore they have an interest. If they don’t work hard on those two days, on the land of the landlords, they are kicked off their land. Right? So therefore they will have to pay more attention. That’s the idea.
But then he looks at–you know, compares–the Dark Middle Ages in Europe–right?–the peaks of feudalism with Rome and Greece and Athens. And he said, “Did the division of labor increase?” He said, “No they, the division of labor decreased.” I mean antiquity, that was discovered in the Renaissance, was far superior to the Middle Ages. The big cities, like Rome, were abandoned. Many of you were in Rome. Even now you see ruins. Right? The glorious Rome–right?–was left as a grazing land for the sheep. Right? Those lands–you know, they could bring water into your homes. Right? The Greeks. They had high levels of technologies. They had highly developed industries. This was all forgotten in the Middle Ages. Right? So what is the Middle Ages? Some people said this was a step backward historically. Right? Inquisition, the Dark Middle Ages, the decay of the cities; it’s a step backward. Well Marx doesn’t know what to do with it. Right? And as I said– pointed out, he abandons the manuscript here. He said, “Well the theory doesn’t work. I cannot explain this all with increasing division of labor.”
Then, of course, would be– the fourth mode should be capitalism. And as he’s beginning to develop the form of capitalism, he’s beginning to develop now the notion of relations of production. Really feudalism is superior–this idea comes up in The German Ideology–superior to the Middle Ages [correction: antiquity] because it had more developed relations of production, more developed property relations. It was a further step towards private ownership. It was a further step because now the laborer had possessions of the land, what they cultivated.
Well and here it comes, the classical Marxist view, what he will change in the Grundrisse, about historical change. And this is, I think, a provocative, important statement; that he said, “If I’m looking at a mode of production, we can characterize them by the correspondence of the forces and relations of production. A certain level of forces of production require a certain type of relations of production, a certain type of relationship between individuals.” This is, in Marx, what a hundred years later in social sciences were called structuralism. This is a typical structuralist statement. Right? That you have correspondences of the different elements of the system you are analyzing–a correspondence of the forces and the relations of production.
And then he goes further. And now we will begin to see how he develops the causal mechanism of change. He says, “There is the development of forces of production.” To use the term of contemporary Marxist Eric Olin Wright, is “sticky down.” Sticky down means that the forces of production can only become more complex. You don’t forget–actually it’s not true, but that’s the theory–you don’t forget more advanced technologies. Technology is always advancing. But the growing, evolving technology eventually gets into conflict with the relations of production, between the property relationships and social relationships in society. They become outdated. So outdated because, as I pointed out, the slaves were not sufficiently attentive to technology, and the serfs were more attentive but not sufficiently attentive. The serfs were not– did not have such high incentives to work very hard with complex technologies than you guys will be when you will be in a job. Right? Because you will be highly paid and highly skilled. You will have fringe benefits, and you don’t want to be fired. Right? And you will put your skills to use, and therefore you will be able to use very–with great care, that the computers you use are not being damaged, as you are using them. Right? So therefore you have to become a wage laborer to have these very high incentives to work very hard, and to be very careful with the instruments what you are using.
And then he says therefore what happens that eventually these outmoded social relationships become in a conflict with the forces of production, and we want to have more. We want to have development. Right? And therefore at one point there will become a tension between the outmoded, outlived, old relations of production and the need to create new spaces for the development of forces of production. And this is the revolutionary movement [correction: moment], as Marx defines it. This is the time when the revolution will come because this is when we will rise against the old social relationships and replace them with new social relationships–right?–which will create new space for further growth after development of forces of production.
Again, you know, just to make clear, a way one of the misunderstood ideas of Marx: Marx never said that capitalism is not effective. On the contrary, Marx said capitalism was the most productive system in human history. He said, “In the last hundred years of capitalism we achieved more progress than in the whole human history.” Or what Marx said–he wrongly said so, he proved to be false–that it will never– not will go on forever. At one point capitalism, like any other previous modes of production, will get in conflict with its relations of production, and that’s when the revolution will have to come. Right? And so far we know that Marx proved to be wrong. He underestimated the extraordinary capacity of capitalism to adapt to major challenges. Right? We just have seen it in the last eighteen months. Right? Well, you know, capitalists was grumbling, “All right.” You know, just think about the Lehman Brothers. Right? Think back in March. Well, you know, this was very shaky. Did it work? It looks like it probably does. Right? It learned how to recover. Anyway, Marx’s point was capitalism was really a big revolution, and unleashed the development of forces of production.
New Contributions in Grundrisse
Now move onto the Grundrisse, and what are the major contributions, ten years later. Well first of all now the evolution of modes of production is described to be changes in property relations. This is basically where The German Ideology ends. He started at the wrong point, division of labor, and now property relations is a central idea. And private ownership is now defined in a new way. He said, “What is private ownership? When the subjective– laboring subject–is completely separated from the objective conditions of labor.” Right? You can see this is a big step forward from The Paris Manuscript–right?–where the essence of alienation was commodity relationships. Now it is not commodity relationships. He captures the essence–right?–of alienation in the nature of private ownership. And we will talk about what that exactly means.
The transition, therefore, to capitalism, is a separation of workers and the conditions of labor. And Marx puts it very powerfully. This is an idea which then comes back and haunts us all the time. This is an idea we will be able to read in Max Weber as well. The big progress, what is happening, that the worker becomes free, in a double sense of the term. That is what capitalism is producing, in contrast to traditional or feudal society. He became free. I was slave and now there is a civil war and it is declared ‘no more slavery’. I am legally free. But, Marx said, yes, capitalism produced legal freedom and legal equality, but it also kicks you off the land, forces you go to the city, and forces you to sell your labor.
So you are also freed from your possessions. Right? So you don’t have the means of [correction: substance] what a farmer had. To some extent even a slave had some. But certainly the peasants did have that means of subsistence. Now capitalism requires that people do not have the means of subsistence–that you have to go to the supermarket to buy your egg. Right? The system would not work very well if in your backyard you could grow everything what you need. Right? The incentive for you to work will be substantially reduced. Fortunately we cannot grow our vegetables what we need. And we have to drive to get to work when–we have to drive to get anywhere, and we have to buy gasoline. And we are also therefore forced to sell our labor force. This means–right?–free in the dual sense of the term. Right? Legally free, and freed from the means of subsistence. Right? The notion of freedom, of course, said with some irony.
Okay, and then the fourth proposition, multi-linearity. Right? There are various ways societies can take from a tribal society. And he writes about antiquity. He invents the notion of the Asiatic mode, what he never used before, or labor. He’s talking about the Slavic form, and the Germanic form. And rather than talking about modes of production, Marx, in the Grundrisse, is writing about social formations, or economic formations. A very interesting change. It’s not just a change of terms, it’s a very important change in the theory.
Okay, just very briefly about the evolution of the modes of production and changing property relations. Well he said, “In old pre-capitalist formations, well there is an appropriation of natural conditions of labor, of the earth as an original instrument of labor, and the individual simply regards the objective conditions as his own. There is no separation really of the objective conditions and the laborer.” Slavery is the clearest example. Right? The Greeks said, “The slave is a working animal.” Right? The slave was treated as an object–was not really seen as a subject. The slave did not have the rights of an individual subject. There were no individual liberties for the subject. I mean, it varied from slavery to slavery–right?–in antiquity. Right? That was the idea.
Well the serfs, a little step further away. Right? They actually do not have ownership, but have possession of the means of production. They are not treated as legally free individuals and subjects. Think about the right to the first night. Right? The feudal lord had the right to spend the first night with the bride in the case of a wedding. You have seen the opera, Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro. Right? You remember what the story is. Figaro is deeply in love with Susanna, and wants to marry her, and he is scared that the landlord wants to live with the right of the first night. He does not want the lord to spend the first night with his bride. Okay? That’s the story. Right? An important eighteenth-century story. Anyway, so he’s not quite a subject. The worker, free worker, is a subject.
All right, let me just move on to private ownership. He said under capitalism the work, the object, are completely separated from the worker. And here is–right?–the idea that we have this double separation. Right? We are separated from the means of our existence, but we are also legally free. And more citations of this kind. It’s also very important–right?–that the transition to market economy happens by pushing people off the land and forcing them into the cities to become laborers who will depend only on the wage what they earn on the labor market.
Multiple Trajectories in Grundrisse
And now comes–a few more minutes–an intriguing idea, these multiple trajectories he described. Right? So the initial idea was a uni-linear trajectory. And let me just do it this way. That this was the idea. <<Professor writes on blackboard>> Tribal society leads to slave society. That leads to feudal society, and that leads to capitalism. Right? And dialectics. Right? Relations, forces of production. This drives the process. Right? It happens through breaks. Right? These are revolutions, which lead from one to the next, when these dialectal interactions leads for people to throw up the old system.
Now we have a very different view presented here. He describes–right?–the various forms, with different individual forms of ownership, and points out that in fact the uniqueness of what he called the Germanic form, Germanic tribal form, that it became individual possession. This is indeed, as far as even now we know from historiography, a unique feature of Germanic tribes that they allocated the land by lottery, before each season, to individual families, and then families cultivated the land. They did not have individual property rights in the land, but they had individual possession allocated. That was–the common land was divided up by individuals or individual families. And that is the unique feature of this. And here it is, and I hope you see it quite well: the multi-trajectory development, what he describes in the Grundrisse.
Well, he said, “It’s not true that tribalism all led to antiquity of slave societies.” He spent, you know, from eight in the morning until ten in the evening, was sitting in the British library and reading like crazy. And he said, “Well something wrong. When I am looking at Asia, there is no universalized slavery. Well there are slaves in China but, you know, they are kind of family slaves. There are no great plantations which are cultivated by slaves, like in Egypt or Ancient Rome.” He excessively generalized about Rome, Greece, and Egypt the whole notion of slave mode of production. This is unique antiquity. “But when I’m looking at Asia–and in fact I’m looking at Pre-Columbian America–right?–there is no universalized slavery.” So he uses the term Asiatic form. He did not know much about Pre-Columbian Americas. He knew a little more about India and China–did not know much. He knew as much as usually people could in the 1850s–was reading heavily. But he understood that this was a different form. Right?
And the uniqueness of the Asiatic form, as he puts it, was these were hydraulic societies. They were big empires, all organized around irrigation and flood protection works. And in order to have these irrigation and flood protection works, you needed big empires. And what the big emperors in China did, that they left the village communes alone, as long as they did deliver those taxes from which the imperial power was able to build flood protection and irrigation networks. Right? So the village commune was left alone as a commune itself, and was not transformed into serfs or slaves. China never really had a classical case of feudalism; feudalism the way how we know it from England or France–right?–or Spain, it never existed in China. Therefore it was the Asiatic form. Right? A centralized imperial bureaucracy, and the hydraulic economy, driven by water problems.
And then he said, “Well there was the Germanic form.” And I briefly talked about the Germanic form–right?–where you had family possession. And he said, “Well, where does feudalism come from?” The original theories said, you know, transition from one mode of production to the next happens because of internal class struggle. Right? The theories should predict that feudalism fell because the serfs had enough. They went uprising, hanged the slave owners, and created a new society. Well Marx said, “I was a jerk. This is not how it worked. Look at how Rome fell. It was invaded by the Germanic tribes.” And what is interesting, these Germanic tribe actually had much less advanced military technology and technology generally. But they had a superior social relationship system. They had a more developed idea of private ownership than Rome had. So, in fact, the Roman Empire fell because it was invaded by the Germanic tribes, and they transformed the Roman Empire into a feudal society; they transformed slaves into serfs.
And there is also the Slavic form. Well there is the Russian obshchina. Well it’s a kind of feudalism, but the feudal lord actually treats the obshchina, the village commune, as a unit. Again, it is not the central authority in Russia who collects the rents, but the feudal lord; but leaves to a large extent the village commune to operate in a communal way. And therefore he said, “Therefore I was wrong. It was not the internal class struggle which led to the evolution. Very often this is an external force which leads to a change into another mode of production”–right?–“into another social formation.” And therefore he said, “Well, shall I say that the Asiatic form necessarily will have to go through feudalism before it can be capitalism? No way.
China is in a way already have some signs to move towards capitalism, without creating feudalism.” But he did not know that a gentleman called Mao Zedong come a little later, and he said, “And do we have to become capitalists first?” And Mao Zedong said, “But we hate capitalism. Why don’t we create communism straight out of the Asiatic form?” And that’s what he was trying to do. And therefore, you know, he had the–this is sort of my addition, this arrow; of course, it did not exist in Marx–right?–from the Asiatic form to communism. But that’s what Mao Zedong did. Did it work? No. Well one say probably it did. The only point is that Communism is not at the end, Communism is before capitalism. Right? I think Mao Zedong successfully converted Asiatic form into Communism, in order then to move Communism into capitalism. That’s what Marx did not quite consider, but will be completely consistent with the type of analysis he offers–right?–in the Grundrisse.
And finally about the Slavic form, and I am out of time. The same argument. He gets a letter from a Russian anarchist, Vera Zasulich. And Vera Zasulich was a great admirer of Marx, but she was a kind of populist anarchist left-winger. And she said, “But Mr. Marx, do you really want us to destroy this wonderful Russian obshchina village commune, where we live so intimately together as brothers and sisters, to create this hated capitalism? Why can’t we move straight into Communism? This is a Communistic form.” And Marx kind of nodded. “Well”, he said- he responded, “it’s an interesting idea.” And this is exactly what Vladimir Illyich Lenin and Stalin did. They converted the Russian obshchina into what they called kolkhoz; collective enterprise. All what happened, similar to the Mao story, it turned out not to be the road to the most advanced form of society, but a kind of side-road towards capitalism. And the question, what remains to be discussed, whether this side road was necessary, and whether this was the most effective way to move to capitalism, and what came out as capitalism from it is really the best possible capitalism at all?
Theory of Class and Exploitation
The More Familiar Karl Marx
Now we are finally at the Marx you are probably the most familiar with, or the kind of Marx you have heard the most about. The major– my major aim so far in this course was to shake a little the stereotypes which was in your head about Marx, to show you that Marx was a much more complex thinker, full with contradictions, and in a search for truth. Whether he arrived at truth, that’s another question, but he was desperately searching for it.
So we went around different epochs of Marx. Right? In The Paris Manuscripts, the first attempt to write a big work, we saw him as a Hegelian. The central concept is still alienation, a Hegelian concept. Then he breaks away. Right? He turns into a historical materialist in The German Ideology, but does not quite get it yet. Right? Too much under the influence of Adam Smith. The division of labor is still important and private property does not get the centrality of the analysis, what it’s supposed to have for the theory. Then you read the Grundrisse, in which he kind of–now private property is in the central place, but he tries to bring back the idea of alienation. And he also considers that in The German Ideology he became too deterministic; history is more open than he may have believed.
And then finally he finishes the book–at least the first volume of the book he always wanted to write–Das Kapital. And in the Kapital, only the first volume was finished by him, and it was the only first volume what he thought was ready for publication, and came out in 1867. He offers a very coherent, very cogent argument. It’s not a messy text like the Paris Manuscript or The German Ideology or the Grundrisse. Marx felt this is ready to be printed; and it was ready to be printed for sure.
And this is now his major contribution, the theory of exploitation. That is undoubtedly Marx’s major contribution to social theory. Whether it is right or wrong, this is another question. I think there are few people who would accept his theory of exploitation the way how it was formulated. But there are still quite a few theorists around here who are attracted to the idea of exploitation and try to re-conceptualize the notion of exploitation in one way or another. And it’s also something which has very much entered the public discourse. You yourself use it. Occasionally you feel I have been exploited. And it actually has quite a bit to do with what Marx thought about exploitation, when you say, “This is an exploitative relationship.” Right? So the term is with us.
Okay, then of course in order to have the theory of exploitation, this is necessary for Marx to have a tight conception of the theory of classes. And the text I asked you to read for his theory of classes is an old text, much precedes the theory of exploitation, The Communist Manifesto. It’s also only a pamphlet, it is a political pamphlet. It’s not aimed for a scholarly audience. It does not argue its case in the scholarly way, as most of the argument is put forward in the chapters I asked you to read from Kapital. Right? But it has very important theoretical insights. In fact, though Marx does not have the theory of exploitation, he still comes very close to a mature class theory.
What is interesting though, today we identify Marx as certainly one of the great theorists who created the idea of class. The other one is, by the way, Max Weber. What is also interesting about both of them, that they never wrote any coherent analysis what class is. Well in The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels write a fair deal about class, but they don’t have the conceptual apparatus yet really to do it right. And by the time he has, after he finished the first volume of Kapital, he actually makes an attempt, what eventually was published by Engels as the third volume of Kapital.
And here, in chapter 52, he said, “Now this is time to write my theory of class.” He writes a page and a half, and then he abandons it. He said, “I can’t do it; too difficult.” Right? So it leaves to you–right?–and the next text– test in this course, to figure out what the right theory of classes are, and what’s wrong about it. Right? In fact, Weber is pretty much in the same bind. He writes a little more than one-and-a-half page, but not much more. We will talk about this when we come to Max Weber. But classes certainly still do haunt us. Right? We cannot get the idea of class out of our hair. Even in the United States the notion is around us; though there is no other modern society which is so free from the idea of class and exploitation as the US of A. But even in the US of A, we still talk at least about the middle class. So the term is not completely alien from us.
Okay, so let’s jump into this, and let’s do it this time in a reverse order–that I start with the mature theory, 1867, and then informed by this theory I go back to 1848, The Communist Manifesto, and deal with this. So the major themes for the lecture today is I want to elaborate on the theory of exploitation in Marx, his idea of classes in history, and finally to ask the question, how many classes are there? Marx seems to have contradictory answers to this question. And this is certainly a question which still fascinates people who are studying society, social stratification or class structure. Of course the answer seems to be obvious probably to most of you. Yeah, in the United States there is one class, the middle class; we are all middle class. Right? That’s the typical American answer to this. But for an analyst it’s a bit dubious answer; if there are classes, how on earth there is only one? Anyway, we will talk about this a great deal.
Theory of Exploitation
So let’s move to the question of theory of exploitation. And I will have to start this with the labor theory of value, and to go back to Adam Smith and to see how Marx is proceeding. Then I want to make a step further, Marx’s distinction between commodity production and the capitalist mode of production. This is again taking his point of departure as Adam Smith’s, Adam Smith’s idea of commercial society. And what Marx does, well there are different types of commercial societies. One he calls the petty commodity production, and the other one capitalist mode of production. As we all know, he never used the term capitalism. He comes the closest to this concept by using the term capitalist mode of production. Neither Smith nor Marx had the concept of capitalism, as such.
Then in order to understand what is unique about the capitalist mode of production, we have to understand Marx’s theory of labor power as a commodity. And I will explain to you why this is so central to Marx’s theory of exploitation, and then Marx’s theory of class. Okay, so that’s about it.
And now the labor theory of value. The point of departure is John Locke and Adam Smith. Right? As you recall, already John Locke suggested that all value is created by labor; or, I mean, he’s a little more cautious, at least 90% of all value is created by labor. How on earth he comes up with this figure? He’s not very accurate about this, not very forthcoming. Right? Social scientists today would be a bit upset. “Where do you get this number from?” Right? He doesn’t tell us. But the bottom line is well taken. Right? You remember clearly–right?–his wonderful proposition. “The water in the well belongs to everybody. But who doubts that those who fetch it–the water–that water belongs to him or her? Because it is his or her product, labor product. And what is the value of that water, what you are carrying away from the well, what you did fetch from the well? Exactly the amount of labor you had to put in, in order to fetch that.” Clear, right? A nice theory of property–right?–and a nice labor theory of value, though it’s not quite called this way by John Locke. But so is by Adam Smith.
And, as you recall, Adam Smith claims at one point, “All value is created by labor.” Well but of course Adam Smith, when he comes to explaining the distribution of wealth, takes a step back from this proposition. And we discussed that when we discussed Adam Smith. Let me just remind you what the step backward. Right? The tension–right?–in Adam Smith was that on one hand he claims all value is created by labor, and then when it comes to the question but how is wealth or income distributed. He said, “Well it ought to be distributed between the three factors of production–right?–labor, capital and land; wages, profit and rent. And they have to be equally distributed in a just way, between these three factors of production.” Right? And I think you remember we clarified that this is not a contradiction in Adam Smith. Somehow when he’s claiming that all value is created by labor, he almost has a theory of human nature. Right? That in the state of nature, when there is no private property of land, and there is no accumulation of capital, then all value is created by labor. But this is just in this imagined–right?–natural conditions of existence.
In all complex societies private ownership exists and private–and capital is being accumulated. And then, you know, in order to get production going, the capitalist has to rent–give capital, advance capital, to the worker. Without the advancement of capital, the laborer would not work. And therefore the owner of capital has due claim for part of the value which is created in the process of production. Because it took risks–right?–by offering its capital, and it had to supervise the labor process, and wants to have compensated for its risk taking and its supervision. And you could not operate without land, without a site. All activities need a site, and if somebody owns that site, they’ll have to be compensated that you are on the site; and that is rent.
Well this is a little more problematic in Adam Smith. You know, for capital he makes a pretty strong case, you know, why it is fair for the capitalist to collect profit. For the owner of the land, he–they are collecting rent. That’s a little more problematic, whether rent is also something, a just income. And we all have a little unease–right?–when we are talking about rent, or when we are talking about, for instance, rent-seeking behavior. Right? That sounds a bad behavior, if somebody’s seeking rent. Right? The reason is simple; because we associate in our mind rent-seeking behavior with monopoly. Right? Rent-seeking behavior comes from monopolistic ownership, and we don’t particularly like monopolies. Right? We want competition, free competition–right? Free markets, and not monopolies. Right? Monopoly’s a bad word. Anyway, this is a little of a problem. But nevertheless I think his fundamental point, in Adam Smith, that there is some fair distribution of income between the three factors of production, because they are all necessary for the production for the production process.
I just suggested that, in fact, there are still people, scholars, who are seriously interested in the theory of exploitation today. They usually abandon the labor theory of value. I have not met yet an economist or political economist, or even a sociologist or political scientist, who still believes in the labor theory of value. Right? So now therefore when they try to construct a theory of exploitation, it is more around the theory of rent, rather than labor theory of value.
Poshumous portrait of Adam Smith / National Portrait Gallery, London
Okay, then let’s move further and let’s try to figure out how–what Marx does to Adam Smith, and how he radicalizes Adam Smith. Marx does not want to go the Adam Smithsian way, to say there is a fair distribution of wealth between the three factors of production. First of all he asks the question, okay, what is value? And he defines value with this very simple equation. C is constant capital. Right? Constant capital means the capital which is advanced by the capitalist in order to make the labor process possible. Constant capital can of course involve the improvement on the land, on the site what you are using for your production process. Right? If there is a building put up on a site, the cost of the building will have to be returned in the process of production–right?–and therefore it will also contribute to the value of the product.
V is variable capital. Variable capital means wages. And S is what he calls surplus product. This is–you produce a product, you sell it. It is not enough for you, in order to be and stay in business, if all what you collect a return of the capital you advanced for the production, and the wages what you paid to your laborers to complete the process. If you would do that, you would be done. Right? All smart entrepreneurs want to generate some surplus. They want to get a little more than they started with. Otherwise why on earth would they waste their time on this? Right? Why on earth would they take risks? Why would they spend their time supervising the process? Why would they start worrying whether this will work out or not? They need a surplus. So therefore that is the value of the product. Now, and here it is. Right? Constant capital is investment.
And here there is an agreement–right?–with Adam Smith. Right? You have–right?–factors of production. But Marx wants to be consistent–consistent in saying that all value is being created by labor. And he said, “But what is constant capital? Where does constant capital come from?” He said it is coming from labor. It is accumulated labor. It is labor which was actually performed before capital accumulation, was appropriated by the capitalist, and it is being now used as constant capital. So there is, one argument is, all capital was at one point a product of labor, and that is what is your investment. As I said, variable capital are wages. And then there is surplus product. And that surplus product, Marx argued, is also the outcome of the labor process and the product of the laborer as such.
So Marx starts to shy away from the idea that there is a kind of fair distribution between capital, land and labor. He said, “No, I mean, all value is being created by labor.” So this is his kind of reconstruction of the labor theory of value, and leads us into the idea of exploitation. Right? I will labor on this in a minute, to try to put more meat on it. But the essence of exploitation is that what the capitalist will advance is actually labor which was appropriated from the workers in an earlier cycle of the production, and then the capitalist will pocket the surplus, will not give any to the worker; a worker will be satisfied with the wages. And this is where exploitation comes from. Right? Exploitation somehow has to do with what the capitalist had to put into the production process. Right? Constant capital and variable capital, and how much he pocketed after the process was over. So there is no–nothing fair about this, in Marx’s view.
This is–right?–the big difference between social democratic trade unions who wants to keep the capitalist system going; they just want to have collective bargaining and negotiation–right?–with the employers, so to have a reasonable level of profit to the capitalist and a reasonably high level of wages for the workers. Marx said, “Well there is nothing reasonable. This is a system, an exploitative system.” Well, and this is what I said: “The rate of profit will be the surplus divided by the expenditures.”
Okay, let’s move a little further and makes–and let’s have this important contribution what Marx makes between petty commodity production and capitalist mode of production, right? It’s trying to sort of break up Adam Smith’s idea of commercial society or market economy or capitalism. Marx seemed to have a more complex notion. Well he said this is petty commodity production, and he again offers us a little equation here. He said petty commodity production begins with a commodity, and then you go to the marketplace, sell this commodity for money, in order to purchase a commodity. This itself is commercial society. This is commodity production. But it is not capitalism. Right?
This is why Marx, for instance, was a bit uncertain, and he’s rambling about this a little. Is the United States, in the early nineteenth century, really a capitalist economy? And he was puzzled by this because the overwhelming majority of Americans were actually involved in self-employment. It was a highly commercialized society, a highly developed market economy, but there was relatively little private capital accumulation. Most people were farmers or self-employed artisans or merchants. And what did they do? They did produce commodities. You were a shoemaker, you produced a shoe. But you were specializing in shoemaking, and you did not bother you try to also raise chickens and to have eggs. So you needed eggs. So you brought shoes on the market, you sold the shoe for money, and then you went to the farmer and you bought egg, so you could have your scrambled eggs. Right? Okay, that is petty commodity production. Right? And the purpose of production–this is a very important proposition by Marx–is satisfaction of needs. Right? You are operating, you are producing stuff because you have certain needs what you want to satisfy, and the production of some good, well in excess of what you need, has the purpose to satisfy other needs what you have, and money is simply a mediator to make sure that different types of needs are being properly exchanged on the marketplace. Right?
Now Marx here is way beyond Marx of the Paris Manuscripts–right?–who tried to identify markets and commodity exchange as the source of alienation. There is nothing alienating about this process. Right? Now but then he said well capitalism is a different ballgame. We are talking about a capitalist economy when the cycle starts with money. And though, I mean, the chapters you have read, Marx tries to discipline himself. He tries to really behave and to be a scholar. Right? But he can’t resist. Right? His emotions–right?–and his values are too strong. So he said, “Your moneybag,” talking about the capitalists. He should not have said so. Right? He could have done this coolly, objectively, simply to say, “Well, we have an economic system in which we have–right?–people who accumulated capital, and they are entering the marketplace. And what do they do? They produce commodities. And why do they do so? Because they want to have more money; that’s it.”
And I would say this is bingo. Right? I mean, the comparison between the two is really capturing, in a very powerful way–right?–the emergence what we understand a capitalist economy–right?–as distinct simply from a commercial society. I think this is a very, very important and very insightful, very simple, very precise, and very persuasive argument.
Now let me just say a few more words about this. Why is this so? Why does a capitalist need more money than it started the process? And I will get into it a bit later in more details. Well there are very good reasons for it. One reason we already mentioned. Why should the capitalist bother–right?–advancing capital and taking risks, unless it is compensated by more money? And that’s in itself a good enough reason.
But there is an even more important reason. We are on a competitive marketplace; in a competitive marketplace, in a capitalist economy–which in Marx’s own words is the most dynamic economy in human history–there is improvement in technologies. The capitalist will create more money because it will have to reinvest this money in the production process. It has to improve its technology; it if would stop to do so, the competition would wipe it out. So the capitalist has to collect–right?–more money than it started the production process. Even the most altruistic capitalist has to collect more money at the end of the process. Even the capitalist who said, “I’m such a good man. All what I’m doing is to creating jobs for those poor, poor people, that they can have a decent living and a nice suburban home. And I don’t want anything in exchange for it. I do it out of altruism.” Okay, let’s imagine our altruistic moneybag. Right? Still the poor guy does not have a chance. It has to collect more money because otherwise next year he will not be around any longer. He cannot be altruistic any longer because the competition will wipe him out. Right? That’s the argument.
Okay. So now here comes Marx. He said, “This is a big change, because now the purpose of production is not satisfaction of needs, but it is really a generation of profit, which is inevitable because competition among capitalists.” Now comes a big puzzle. Where on earth do more money comes from? How is it possible that the capitalist goes out with money, buys commodities, and gets more money at the end? Is the capitalist cheating us? Buys cheap and sells dear? He said, “Well this is impossible. If there would be a capitalist who would buy cheap and sell dear, and would pocket a profit this way, there will be others who will say, ‘Well I will compete and I will sell it less expensively, and I will sell more, and I will create more profit, and we’ll push these artificially high prices down. There is supply and demand which sets the prices’.” So that more money cannot come out of cheating. Right? It simply cannot come out simply for circulation. It somehow has to come out from the production.
Now how can it happen that more money is created? And this is where the idea of labor power as a commodity comes in. What the capitalist does is buys from the marketplace a specific commodity, and this specific commodity is labor power. And labor power, so Marx argues, is that commodity–the only commodity–which actually can produce a higher value when it is consumed than its own value. In every other input–right?–raw material, the amount of labor which was put into that raw material, where in a production process you consume it, that is being transferred into value of the new product. So you are producing a refrigerator, you need steel or aluminum to produce it; the value which was put into the production of steel or aluminum will be carried over, exactly the same amount, into the refrigerator you produce. So it cannot create more value. Right? What can create–the only commodity which produces more–is labor power as such.
Well, and this is also important, that Marx suggests therefore what the laborer has to sell cannot be labor, it must be labor power. Well you may be–Talmudistic stuff–right?–this twisting words. But it isn’t. I think there’s an important idea he said. He said if you would sell labor, then–and if John Locke was right and all value is created by the laborer and belongs to the laborer–then the capitalist would have to cheat you. Right? Would not be able to sell–give you the price of your labor; could not have a surplus value or a profit otherwise. Therefore the capitalist will have to buy labor power, the capacity of work. And Marx insists we have to think about a system in which the capitalist price pays the proper price–the exact price, the market price, the right market price–for labor power. The worker is not cheated; the worker is exploited, but that’s not cheating, right?
So why? What is so unique about the labor power? Right? And let me just emphasize, it’s very, very important for these chapters what you have read. That those are always equivalents which have to exchange each other at the marketplace. No cheating. The worker is not being cheated. It gets the proper price for this labor power. So but what is the price of the labor power? It’s exactly like the price of any other commodity; the price of its reproduction. Right? How much labor is necessary to reproduce that commodity. If labor power is a commodity, the price of the labor power is exactly how much is necessary to reproduce that labor power. It involves–right?–the cost of your housing, the cost of your living, and the extended reproduction of labor power. It involves that you have to raise children. It involves education; you know, human capital investment. This all will have to be compensated for the laborer. But if it is compensated, then the laborer is compensated for its laboring capacities, labor power, will work under the supervision of the capitalist, and the capitalist will make sure that the laborer, after the costs of the reproduction of labor power are covered, will work another three or four or five hours, under the supervision of the capitalist, and start producing surplus value for the capitalist, or profit for the capitalist. Right?
That is–right?–a stroke of the genius. Right? That’s the big solution what he’s offering. And this is why I said though there is a heavy–of course he hates capitalism, of course he hates exploitation. But if you look at the logic of the analysis, this is pretty cool-headed analysis and does not imply value judgments. Right? Does not imply moral judgment. You can go through of this to say, “Yes. Why? Sure. That’s it, that’s how the system works.” He does hate it, and as I said he cannot stop, and expresses it.
Classes in History
Okay, let me talk about classes very briefly. And now we are back to The Communist Manifesto. And there are really a couple of issues here. He’s talking about classes as a trans-historical category, which in a way is contradictory to the argument of Das Kapital. He’s talking about the bourgeoisie as a new class and as a progressive class. Now let’s look at this, classes as a trans-historical category. Right? This is written almost twenty years before Das Kapital, without the theory of exploitation. And he said the history of all previously existing societies is the history of class struggle. And you remember I said this idea is becoming already in The German Ideology, where he tries to develop these causal mechanisms–right?–which explains evolution in history. And this is class struggle all along. Right? The struggle of the slaves against the slave owners, the serfs against the landlord, and finally it will be the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. That’s the idea. Right? And this is being used in a trans-historical way.
The trouble is that this is obviously wrong. It’s wrong in terms of Marx’s own theory of exploitation, and actually it is also empirically a wrong statement. Right? Why it is wrong in terms of Marx? Because it doesn’t fit the theory of exploitation. Right? If exploitation is unique for a capitalist mode of production, reasonably you can talk only about classes in a capitalist mode of production where the labor power is free in the dual sense of the term–legally free and freed from the means of production and therefore has to sell its labor power. Right? If this does not exist, you should not use the term of classes. So this is a contradiction in Marx’s own analysis.
And, of course, it is empirically wrong, because it’s true there were class struggles in history, but was antiquity overthrown by the revolt of slave owners against the slaves? No, it wasn’t. As we have learned from Marx, it fell because it was invaded by Germanic tribes. Did, in the South, slavery end up because the slaves revolted against the slave owners? No. Because capitalists from the North initiated a war against the South. Right? Did the proletariat ever revolt to overthrow the bourgeoisie? Not really. In countries where we are talking about proletarian revolutions, there were hardly any proletarians. How many proletarians were there in China in 1949? It was obviously an overwhelmingly peasant economy. Right? Those were peasant masses who demanded land, who carried out the revolution under the leadership of Mao Zedong. Russia, not much different in 1917. So it’s simply not true.
It’s also not true that the classes which were subordinated earlier will become the new dominant classes. I mean, the slaves did not became the landlords, the serfs did not become the grand bourgeoisie, and the proletariat certainly did not become a dominant class in China or in the Soviet Union. Right? This is all wrong. Right? But the argument is still interesting.
Then most importantly–right?–the bourgeoisie, he said, is a new class, and probably, arguably, the first real class. The landlords were not a class because they were not constituted in economic terms. They were constituted legally–right?–and by customs, rather than simply on market exchange and market competition. And he also said, “Well, this bourgeoisie was an extremely revolutionary force.” Right? “And it actually transformed the whole society.” And here I think there is–even in The Communist Manifesto he contradicts himself. He said, “Well, you know, what it did, it transformed occupations, which were based on honor before, into class positions.” Right? It converted the position of a doctor or a lawyer or a priest into a kind of class-like position. Though their power traditionally was based on honor–they were honorable positions–now they become positions for which an income is being paid. All right.
And then he writes–it’s very important to appreciate that Marx sees that the bourgeoisie did play an extremely important progressive role in history. But it’s not only–he hates the guts of the bourgeoisie for sure, but he appreciates the contribution of the bourgeoisie for the development of modern society. Right? He said, “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionalizing the instruments of production. Right? “In a scarce one-hundred years has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than we have all preceding generations together.” Well, sounds like somebody who loves capitalism. Right? Though of course he doesn’t, because he thinks it will eventually destroy itself.
How Many Classes?
Now the last issue is about how many classes. And well what follows from the logic of Das Kapital, and I think it is also the point of Marx in The Communist Manifesto, there are two classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Right? The moneybags and the workers. And the workers are exploited by the moneybags, and that’s the reason for class struggle, and that’s what eventually will lead to revolution. But my goodness, where are the middle classes? There were not all that many proletarians in 1867. There was no society, except industrialized Soviet Union, where the majority of the population was industrial worker, but no ruling class. They were exploited and screwed, don’t worry about it. But they were in majority. But it never happened in Western societies. We never reached a point–and then, of course, the industrial working class has been declining. Now, properly speaking, the industrial working class in the United States is probably not more than 15% of the population. So where is the middle class? So well I don’t have much time. Let’s rush through of this.
Well he said there is, you know, these elemental confrontations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Well he does not have the theory of exploitation; he cannot explain it quite well. And you can do it by now, armed with Das Kapital. Right? This is a contradiction because, you know, the proletariat has no choice but sell its labor power and be exploited. And this is, of course, an irreconcilable contradiction. And what about the middle class? Well Marx said “Yeah…” Well he is–of course even in a political pamphlet–he is a good enough scientist, social scientist, that he will say, “No, there is no middle class.” He knows there is a middle class–that most people do not belong to the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat in 1848. And, as I said, they never did. But he said, “Well, but look at it historically. What we call middle class is disappearing. Look at all those peasants and small artisans and small merchants, they will all disappear, and they will all have to either–very few of them will become big capitalists, and the overwhelming majority of them will become working workers.”
Well this is not without insights. Right? For about a hundred years after The Communist Manifesto the trend was going in this direction. Right? Self-employment was shrinking, and the wage labor was increasing. Right? In big ways. Right? In the mid-nineteenth century 70 to 90% of the population was working in agriculture and was self-employed in other businesses. Right? Today in the United States the agricultural population, I don’t know the exactly the most current figure is somewhere between 1 to 2%. Right? And self-employment has been substantially reduced for a very long time.
But things happened what Marx did not foresee. Right? And what he did not foresee were–and I probably will leave it here; there are two things what he did not really foresee. One, that actually this trend turned around. There is no more reduction of self-employment; in fact, there is some increase of self-employment. It varies from countries to countries. In Japan, big way. Right? In the United States some improvement in self-employment. But self-employment is stubbornly resistant. Right? You have supermarkets, but you always do have your corner deli shops, and they don’t seem to be disappearing. Right? I even take my shoes to a shoemaker to fix them. Right? So I mean, I do not throw my shoes out, I go to a shoemaker and they fix it for $25.00 for me, and I don’t buy a shoe for 150 bucks. Right?
So, I mean, there is–mass production has its limits. Right? There is a quality production–right?–by artisans, and we want that quality production. And the more important argument: in fact, Marx conceptualized wage laborers as physical laborers. Physical laborers, as I pointed out, manual laborers, at least in advanced countries, is this minority of the society. In the globe, that’s different–right?–because manufacturing and industrial activity was kind of decentralized in the world, into the Third World. But in the United States and in Continental Europe it’s a thriving minority. But there is a big new middle class, and this new middle class are those white collar workers, like most of you will become and what I am. Right? I mean, I’m–it’s not white–right?–the collar. Right?
But so that means, in Marx’s sense, I hardly do any work. Right? What kind of value do I create? Right? What does it mean? I am exploited? Well I don’t think Rick Levin really exploits me. Am I an exploiter? No I don’t think I exploit you guys. Or do you exploit me because I have to stay up until midnight to grade your assignments? No, it’s not really. I actually occasionally have fun reading your assignments. Right? So we have a new middle class–right?–which simply does not fit the analysis, and where the notion of exploitation loses its insight.