Karl Marx – Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844)

Marx takes issue with liberal political economists that naturalize the relationship between the worker and capitalist and the system of private property as incontrovertible facts of human economy. Liberal political economists, like theologians, “assume as a fact in the form of history what it should explain” (323). Through an analysis of the objectification of labor and the self-estrangement of man, Marx historicizes these phenomena.

The worker becomes more and more uniformly dependent on labor, and on a particular, very one-sided and machine-like type of labor…from being a man becomes and abstract activity and a stomach. (285)

Alienated man’s stomach becomes detached from his larger living apparatus, since it becomes the mere means for sustaining the production of more labor.

The worker actually receives the smallest part of the product, the absolute minimum necessary; just enough for him to exist not as a human being but as a worker and for him to propagate not humanity but the salve class of workers. (287)

In return, the reciprocity of labor is perverted, the absolute minimum of man’s productive capacity is returned to the worker. This results in the reproduction of laborers, of humans, but no individuals. Interesting connection to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, where the individual and species are divided along similar lines.

Capital is stored-up labor. (295)

Capital is unused reserve, which accrues power precisely to the degree that it is not actualized in material expression. In capital, having supersedes being.

 The object that labor produces, its product, stands opposed to it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor embodied and made material in an object, it is the objectification of labor. (324)

This is a bad objectification, because the process of externalization has been divorced from man’s objectification of himself into the sensuous external reality with which labor interacts. The worker can create nothing without external sensuous nature, but the paradox of labor under capitalism is that as the worker works (appropriating external nature to “his” ends) nature becomes less and less a means of life in a double sense: it no longer belongs to labor, and it is no longer a means of life in the immediate sense of physical nourishment and subsistence. The end of this is that only as a worker can one sustain oneself as a physical subject, rather than the reverse (325). This reduces man to an animal state:

The animal is immediately one with his life activity. It is not distinct from that activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly emerges. Conscious life activity directly distinguishes man from animal life activity. Only because of that is he a species-being. Or rather, he is a conscious being, i.e. his own life is an object for him, only because he is a species-being. Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor reverses the relationship so that man, just because he is a conscious being, makes his life activity, his being [Wesen], a mere means for his existence. (328)

Put otherwise, it reduces spontaneous and free activity to the means for mere existence. The spontaneous freedom is transformed into surplus-value appropriated by an alien man, the capitalist, a property owner:

 Private property is produced through the objectification of labor and the process of self-estrangement. (331)

This is the historical re-writing of the political economist that naturalizes private property. Marx then begins to describe the “solution” to these problems. In short, he maps out a new relationship between subject and object:

It is only when man’s object becomes a human object or objective man that man does not lose himself in that object. This is only possible when it becomes a social object, for him and when he himself becomes social being for himself, just as society becomes a being for him in this object. (352)

This is distinguished from the bad objectification of labor, because man himself can in fact see himself in the work that is made concrete through his labor. This “primacy of the object” become integral to the formation of subjective capcities, sensual existence:

Only through the objectively unfolded wealth of human nature can the wealth of subjective human sensitivity…be either cultivated or created…. The cultivation of the five senses is the work of all previous history.

The narrative of Marxist history as laid out in Cpaital, vol. 3 (the wresting of the sphere of freedom from sphere of necessity, the abolition of capitalism, emergence of communism, and the beginning of history, i.e. end of pre-history) is here given articulation within the confines of the individual human body. Marxist theory in general will lose a robust concept of the subject, but here Marx is imagining a sensory being that is product of history–where the ability to enjoy external nature is a part of the emergence of freedom:

Sense which is a prisoner of crude practical need has only a restricted sense. For a man who is starving the human form of food does not exist, only its abstract form exists; it could just as well be present in it crudest form, and it would be hard to say how this way of eating differs from that of the animals. (353)

Along with music, Marx uses the example of food take make his point. Hunger, conceived in a completely practical sense, does not merely reduce food to a source of nourishment, it also abstracts it, idealizes it. Crucially, want we might call “mere” sense is in fact a defective sense, that has not repaed the benefits of historical cultivation. The truly sensual, which depends on man’s capacity to interact with and transform the sensual object, is an educated, cultivated sense that always goes beyond the demands of the merely nutritive. [This needs to be read in relation to Hegel’s description of the animals that go out into nature and eat appearances, thus teaching philosophers a lesson. ]

Before moving on to an extended critique of Hegelian forms of abstraction (much praise for Feuerbach), Marx makes clear the division between being and having:

The less you are, the less you give expression to your life, the more you have, the greater is your alientated life and the more you store up of your estranged life. (361)


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