From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya
Marx’s Humanism Today
This essay by Raya Dunayevskaya was first published in 1965 in the anthology SOCIALIST HUMANISM, edited by Erich Fromm, which contained a number of studies on Marx’s Humanism by scholars and activists worldwide. We published the first part of this essay in our May issue; the last part will appear in our July issue. We publish this now as part of our ongoing discussions of Marx’s critique of capital in our classes on “Alternatives to Capitalism.”
Footnotes by Dunayevskaya are indicated by “RD”; all others are by the editors. The editors have provided references to quotes from Marx’s CAPITAL in the text. “MCIK” refers to Marx’s CAPITAL, Vol. I, translated by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (Chicago: Charles Kerr & Co, 1906). “MCIF” refers to the edition of CAPITAL, Vol. I, translated by Ben Fowkes (News York: Vintage Books, 1975).
Other installments in the series:Part I Conclusion
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Elsewhere(1) I have made a detailed analysis of all four volumes of CAPITAL and their relationship to [Marx's] 1844 ECONOMIC-PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCRIPTS. Here space considerations limit me to the two basic theories--the Marxian analysis of value and the fetishism of commodities--which are, in reality, the single, decisive, unified theory of alienation, or historical materialism, dialectically understood.
Marx’s discovery that “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness” [MARX-ENGELS COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 29, p. 263] was no departure from either his own theory of alienated labor or the theory of alienation as the central core of the Hegelian dialectic. But Marx’s precise analysis of the actual labor process under capitalism is more concrete, alive, shattering--and, of course, revolutionary--than any stage of alienation in Hegel’s PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND.
In true Hegelian fashion Marx focuses on creativity, but, unlike Hegel, he bases it on the actual process of production. There, facing not just an idea but a HUMAN BEING who has ideas, Marx develops his earlier concept of the worker’s “quest for universality.”(2)
The “new passions and new forces” he now sees are born not only to overthrow the old order, but to construct a new one, “a society in which the full and free development of every individual is the ruling principle” [MCIK, p. 649, MCIF, p. 739].
So organically related are the economic, political, and philosophic concepts in CAPITAL that when, in 1943,(3) the Russian theoreticians first openly broke with the Marxian analysis of value, they had to deny the dialectic structure of CAPITAL and ask that, in “teaching” it, Chapter I be omitted.
It does not speak highly of “Western” philosophy that it never saw the philosophic implications in this economic debate, and therefore also failed to discern the reason why the theoretical magazine of Soviet Marxism (UNDER THE BANNER OF MARXISM), which had carried on the tradition of Marx’s dialectic philosophy, ceased its publication. Thereafter, without further ado or any reference to any previous interpretation of Marxian economics, the revision of the Marxian analysis of value became the standard Communist analysis. The wholeness of Marxian theory has always been the bête noire of established Marxism. It took the collapse of the Second International and a break with his own philosophic past to make Lenin, at the end of 1914, fully grasp the organic connection of Marxian economics with Hegelian philosophy. And from then on he became uncompromising in his criticism of all Marxists, himself included.
In one of his “aphorisms” he wrote, “It is impossible fully to grasp Marx’s CAPITAL, and especially the first chapter, if you have not studied and understood the WHOLE of Hegel’s LOGIC. Consequently, none of the Marxists for the past half century has understood Marx!”(4)
THE FETISHISM OF COMMODITIES
There is no more remarkable piece of analysis in the annals of political economy--and no more Hegelian kind of writing in Marx’s “early Hegelian period”--than the final section of Chapter I of CAPITAL, entitled “The Fetishism of Commodities.” There philosophy and economics are connected with history as integrally as content and form are welded together in a great work of literature.
By the time Marx introduced further changes into the French edition, after the Paris Commune, those 15 pages were as tightly drawn as the strings of a violin. We must remember that Marx considered the greatest achievement of the Commune to be “its own working existence.”(5) The TOTALITY of the reorganization of society by the Communards gave Marx a new insight into the whole question of the FORM of value, not only as it was historically determined, but also as it conditioned bourgeois thought in turn.
Under capitalistic conditions of production, philosophy had been reduced to an ideology, i.e., false consciousness. The categories of thought proper to capitalistic production were uncritically accepted by all, including even Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the authors of the epoch-making discovery that labor was the source of all value. This is why, despite their discovery, they could not dissolve the fetishism of commodities. Classical political economy, concludes Marx, met its historic barrier here.
The commodity form of the products of labor became a fetish because of the perverse relationship of subject to object--of living labor to dead capital. Relations between men appear as the relation between things because in our alienated society that is all “they really are” [MCIK, p. 84, MCIF, p. 166]. Dead capital is the master of living labor. The fetishism of commodities is the opiate that, to use a Hegelian expression, passes itself off as “the very NATURE of the mind”(6) to all EXCEPT the proletariat who daily suffer from the domination of dead labor, the stranglehold of the machine.
Therefore, concludes Marx, no one can strip the fetishism from the commodities EXCEPT FREELY ASSOCIATED LABOR. Obviously the Russian theoreticians, in 1943, were determined that no one should.
THE FETISHISM OF THE PLAN
The necessary ideology to cover up the exploitation of the laborer did not change its essence when it changed its form from the private to the state capitalism that calls itself Communism. Nor has the ideological rift between China and Russia undermined the exploitative relationship in either land. Were Marx to return to earth, he would have no difficulty whatever in recognizing in its new form--the State Plan and its fetishism--the state capitalist development he predicted as the ultimate effect of the inexorable laws of capitalist development.
Our generation should understand better than any previous generation that it is not a question of nationalized vs. private property. It is a question of freedom. Wherever and whenever freedom was limited, Marx struck out against the barrier, in practice and in theory. Thus, when classical political economists spoke of “free labor,” by which they meant wage labor, Marx wrote caustically: “For them there was history, but history is no more.”(7)
It should be obvious that Marx’s primary theory of value, or “abstract,” “value-producing” labor, is a theory of alienated labor.
In the humanist essays Marx explained why he analyzed economic facts “in conceptual terms as ALIENATED LABOR....How does it happen, we may ask, that man ALIENATES HIS LABOR? How is this alienation founded in the nature of human development? We have already done much to solve the problem insofar as we have TRANSFORMED the question concerning the ORIGIN OF PRIVATE PROPERTY into a question about the relation between ALIENATED LABOR and the process of development of mankind. For in speaking of private property one believes oneself to be dealing with something external to mankind. But in speaking of labor one deals directly with mankind itself. This new formulation of the problem already contains its solution.”(8)
By the time he completed CAPITAL, however, Marx felt the need to create economic categories to analyze the alien character of labor under capitalism both as an activity in the factory and as a commodity in the market where “alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham” [MCIK, p. 195, MCIF, p. 280].
Marx created special economic categories not only to expound his theory of value and surplus-value, but also to show how degraded human relations were at the point of production itself. By splitting the category of labor into labor as activity and labor power as a commodity--as if the laborer could indeed disjoint his hands from his body and have them retain their function--Marx was able to show that, since labor power cannot be so disembodied, it is the laborer himself who enters the factory. And in the factory, continues Marx, the laborer’s ability becomes a mere appendage to a machine and his concrete labor is reduced to a mass of congealed, abstract labor.
THE PIVOT OF THE MARXIAN CRITIQUE
Now there is, of course, no such creature as an “abstract laborer”: one is a miner or a tailor or a steelworker or a baker. Nevertheless, the PERVERSE nature of capitalist production is such that man is not master of the machine; the machine is master of the man. By the instrumentality of the machine, which “expresses” itself in the ticking of a factory clock, a man’s skill becomes unimportant so long as he produces a given quantity of products in a given time. Labor time is the handmaiden of the machine which accomplishes the fantastic transformation of all concrete labors into one abstract mass.
Marx considered his analysis of concrete and abstract labor his original contribution to political economy, “the pivot on which a clear comprehension of political economy turns” [MCIK, p. 48, MCIF, p. 132]. In the process of his analysis of the capitalist’s “werewolf hunger for surplus labor” as “a live monster that is fruitful and multiplies,” [MCIK, p. 217, MCIF, p. 302] Marx creates two other new categories: constant CAPITAL (machines) and variable CAPITAL (wage labor). All labor, paid or unpaid, he insists, is FORCED labor. And this labor is so alien an activity that it has itself become a FORM OF CAPITAL.
The precision, as well as originality, of this description of alienated labor is not, of course, merely a category of the “deductive Hegelian dialectic.” It is a category of the dialectic EMPIRICISM of Marx re-creating an altogether new level of truth. Only politically motivated, self-induced blindness can, when reading Marx’s pages upon pages on the labor process under capitalism, conclude either that the mature Marx departed from his theory of alienated labor, or that alienated labor is a “leftover” from Marx’s “left Hegelian days” before he worked his way out of “Hegelian gibberish” into “scientific materialism.”
(To be continued next month)
1. MARXISM AND FREEDOM. See especially Chapters 5 through 8.--RD
2. POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr), p. 157.--RD
3. POD ZNAMENEM MARXISMA (UNDER THE BANNER OF MARXISM), Nos. 7-8/1943. The crucial article on the law of value from this issue was translated by me under the title, “Teaching of Economics in the Soviet Union.” Along with my commentary, “A New Revision of Marxian Economics,” the article was published in THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEW (September 1944). The controversy around it, in which Professors Oscar Lange, Leon Rogin, and Paul A. Baran participated in the pages of that journal, lasted for a year, at the end of which (September 1945) my rejoinder, “Revision or Reaffirmation of Marxism?” was published.--RD
4. See Lenin's "Abstract of Hegel's SCIENCE OF LOGIC," COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 38 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), p. 180.
5. See Marx's THE CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE.
6. See Hegel on “The Third Attitude to Objectivity”: “What I discover in my consciousness is thus exaggerated into a fact of the consciousness of all and even passed off for the very nature of the mind” (Hegel’s LOGIC, first Wallace translation, Oxford University Press, 1892).--RD
7. The phrase comes from Marx's POVERTY OF PHILOSOPHY.
8. See “Alienated Labor” in MARX'S CONCEPT OF MAN by Erich Fromm, pp. 103, 108. –RD
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