Capital, Labour and Primitive Accumulation
Marx died over his chapter on class in volume III of Capital. The analysis of capitalism is with necessity a class analysis (Ritsert, 1988) and generations of Marxists have sought to supply the Marxist 'definition' of class. I use the term 'definition' here with critical intent. How might it be possible to define 'class' within a critical project which emphasises that theoretical mysteries find their rational explanation in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice (cf. Marx, 1975, p. 5)? The 'definition' of the working class would require at least one additional definition, namely that of capital representing the other side of the class divide. Marx's critique of political economy showed that definitions of capital are self-contradictory and tautological. Might definitions of the working class not suffer a similar fate?
Definitional thinking seeks to render intelligible the observable 'facts' of life without conceptualising their social constitution. It concerns itself with the thing in-itself and accepts this thing as having its own mode of existence, laws of development and crisis-ridden tendencies. As a consequence, the human being is viewed as a mere structure-reproducing agency. Instead of asking how and why human beings exist as personifications of things, these personifications are assumed as a given. In this way, the 'raw sense data' of the 'sign' worker is applied to the working class. In other words, first of all a norm is abstracted from empirically observable 'signs', and then it is in the light of this norm that the significance of these same signs is assessed. This clearly tautological approach finds its raison d'tre as a mathematical number game: the traditional working class might or might not have declined. Were this research to find that there are no more workers but only 'employees', would this mean that the class antagonism between capital and labour has been transformed into a different set of relations?
It would be wrong to assume that the 'ideology of reification' (Adorno 1975, p. 60) has not entered the Marxist tradition, especially since its canonisation in the guise of so-called Marxist-Leninism, now merely appearing as a school of thought under the banner of analytical Marxism. In this tradition, 'class' is conceived in terms of the 'objective' position of human 'agency' in the production process and in relation to political structures, and class struggle is seen to unfold within the framework of the so-called objective laws of capitalist development. While favouring a vocabulary with a progressive ring, such as class position, class alliance etc., it provides merely a theory of class. It does not offer a critique of class. In contrast to a 'theory of society', 'critique' entails intransigance towards any affirmation of the thing in-itself and thus stands opposed to the ideology of reification upon which approaches of the 'theory of society sort' rest and feed (see Gunn, 1992; IFS, 2000).
The chapter argues against 'definitions' of class. The understanding of 'class' and therewith 'class struggle' can go forward only in and through the critique of 'capital' as 'the form assumed by the conditions of labour' (Marx, 1972, p. 492). 'Class' is not an affirmative category but a critical concept. Marx conceived of communism as a society where all classes are abolished. Class analysis is therefore not a flag-waving exercise on behalf of the working class. It goes forward as a critique of class and therewith as a critique of the wage relation through which the working class 'exists'. As Marx (1983, p. 447) saw it, 'to be a productive labourer is...not a piece of luck, but a misfortune'. Theory on behalf of the working class leads to the acceptance of programs and tickets whose common basis is the everyday religion of bourgeois society: commodity fetishism. In contrast, the critique of class espouses reason's 'historic role of, at any given time, provoking insubordination and destroying horrors' (Agnoli, 1992, p. 44). The attempt to humanise inhuman conditions is confronted by the paradox that it, despite its unequestionably peaceful intentions, presupposes those very inhuman conditions that provoked the humanising effort in the first place. It is well known that, in the world of philosophical convictions, unfavourable conditions need not to be changed. All that is required is to interpret them more favourably. This, I suppose, underlies the commensurability between the Marxist sociology of class positions and the much more friendly bourgeois research projects of social stratification. The critique of class, then, is not informed by the question on whose behalf conceptual understanding is advanced but, rather, on which side of the class divide one stands.
I Class an affirmative concept?
Marxist definitions of class emphasise one of the following over the other. There is the question of the 'location' of the working class in the production process, the 'position' of the working class in relation to capital on the labour market, the 'differentiation' between productive and unproductive labour in relation to the production of surplus value, the 'separation' between mental and manual labour, etc. The working class is defined by and, within itself, distinguished through, its respective position in relation to capitalist structures. The existence of these structures is not only taken for granted but they are also viewed as a force which imposes itself 'objectively' on the backs of the protagonists. Class struggle, then, must submit to the 'inescabable lines of tendency and direction established by the real world' (Hall, 1995, p. 15). Hirsch sums this up succinctly: 'within the framework of its general laws, capitalist development is determined ... by the actions of the acting subjects and classes, the resulting concrete conditions of crisis and their political consequences' (1978, pp. 74-5; author's emphasis). In other words, it is 'within the framework' of the constituted existence [Dasein] of 'capital' that class obtains; the framework itself is deemed to exist external to class struggle.
The great embarrassment for this approach is the circumstance that there are social groups that do not fit into either of the two classes, the working class and the capitalist class. Still, the embarrassment is only one of degree. All that is required is to assign a new pigeonhole for those that stand in the middle between the two opposing classes: the middle class. Again, this class is internally stratified based on income and status differentiations, ideological projections, closenessess to working class interests, backwardness in terms of historical development, etc. From within sociology dressed up as Marxism, the question of class struggle becomes, then, a question of the leadership of the working class and other 'class strata' are viewed in relation to the working class to ascertain the construction of likely class alliances (cf. Althusser, 1971). The position of the working class in the production process is seen to define its objective character as a class in-itself and it becomes class 'for-itself' when it has acquired - revolutionary - class consciousness.
Class relations cannot be derived from the hypothasised 'anatomy' of bourgeois society and its - equally hypothesised - objective laws of development. Such a derivation merely serves to transform dialectical concepts of 'human practice' (cf. Marx, 1975) into classificatory categories (cf. Adorno, 1975, Ch. 6). This transformation does not lack its sinister side: it entails, as the espousal of the so-called objective laws of capital signals, that questions of 'class', 'revolution' and 'emancipation' transform into questions of rational administration. The constitutive idea that the emancipation of the working class can only be achieved by the working class itself is not forgotten. It is only refined: its self-emancipation requires the leadership of the party so that it does not go astray. Kronstadt 1921 stands as a powerful example of what this might mean (Agnoli, Brendel, Mett, 1974; Pannekoek etal, 1991). Communism entails the end of class and not, as affirmative views on class report, a politics on behalf of the working class. The condition for the emancipation of the working class is the abolition of every class.
In Marx's work there is hardly any reference to 'class consciousness'. I would propose that Marx was not interested in the psychology of the working class. His notion of the working class, as that of capital, was 'objective' insofar as both wage labour and capital are treated as personifications of the social relations that subsist, contradictorily, as relations between things. There are of course such things as the middle class, the working class and the capitalist class. However, there are such things only by virtue of the separation of human practice from its conditions and that is the constitution of human practice in the perverted form of economic categories - better: personifications or charactermasks. Marx's critique of capital is, at the same time, a critique of the wage relation through which the working class subsists. His concept of class was not affirmative but critical: what constitutes 'class relations' and their historical movement. In this way, the notion of the working class is self-contradictory. It reports that the working class is the object, and not the subject, of capitalist social reproduction at the same time as social existence and reproduction goes forward only in and through the class divided practice of the social individual. This insight throws into relief the treatment of class as a class in-itself and, as such an 'in-itself, a thing. It does so by showing that this 'in-itself' subsists, at the same time, for-itself. Thus, it reports that class is constituted as a living contradiction. Contradictions can not be defined. Any such attempt would merely arrest the dynamic mode of social existence that the term 'contradiction' summons and it would do so in favour of those static categories on which the study of social stratification rests.
II Labour and the Wage Relation
In his short chapter on class, Marx asks: 'What constitutes a class? - and the reply to this follows naturally from the reply to another question, namely: What makes wage-labourers, capitalists and landlords constitute the three great social classes' (Marx, 1966, p. 886)? In the following he shows the difficulty to arrive at any sensible answer: each individual occupation will constitute its own class-group, a group that needs to be divided again and again to grasp the specificity of each category's functional characteristic and social role. This sort of 'classification', as any other, contradicts its very purpose: clarification is sought by classifying human beings with the result that social categories proliferate to such an extent that the classificatory project finishes up with an unmanageable and incomprehensible topology of pigeonholes. Instead of clarity, definitions encourage, in the name of accuracy (!), an infinite number of categories. This in turn leads to the creation of more general classifications, such as the level or basis of income, to provide clarity where 'accuracy' failed. The notion of, for example, 'income' as a 'tool' to indicate 'class characteristics' was of course very much criticised by Marx in his chapter 'The Trinity Formula' which precedes his short chapter on 'class'. Indeed, if class is understood as a social relationship, the definition of class according to economic positions and income resources finishes up conceptually where the critique of political economy starts (see Reichelt, 1971). The revenue of the working class is the wage and the revenue source 'wage' defines the working class. This circularity of thought proliferates into many other circularities: capital's revenue is profit, landowners' revenue is rent; and the psychoanalyst - merely, as the category of unproductive labour implies, a 'parasite' just as the social worker?. All these groups stand not so much in relation with each other but, rather, in relation to each other. They relate externally to each other. The concept of social groups does not inform, and is not in-formed by, the concept of social relations: it reports, instead, on externally related things that are seen either to be colliding with one another or capable of interpolation. Is it really possible to view a group as a social relation?
Marx's critique of capital made clear that 'capital' is not a 'thing' and he argues that the standpoint of capital and wage labour is the same. Capital is not a thing because it is a definite social relationship and the standpoint of capital and wage labour is the same because both are perverted forms of social reproduction. For Marx, each 'form', even the most simple form like, for example, the commodity, 'is already an inversion and causes relations between people to appear as attributes of things' (Marx, 1972, p. 508) or, more emphatically, each form is a 'perverted form' (Marx, 1979, p. 90). The most developed perversion, the constituted fetish of capitalist society, is the relationship of capital to itself, of a thing to itself (see Marx, 1972, p. 515). The extreme expression of this perversion is interest bearing capital: the 'most externalised and most fetish-like form' of capital (Marx, 1966, p. 391). And the 'wage' - the defining characteristic of wage labour? 'Labour - wages, or price of labour' is an expression that 'is just as irrational as a yellow logarithm' (ibid., p. 818).
Orthodox accounts elevate the notion of capital as an 'automatisches Subjekt' (Marx, 1979, p. 169) to the sine qua non of the theoretical inquiry into capitalist development: 'Capital is the subject' (Jessop, 1991, p. 150). Marx's conception of capital as the subject posits, as Backhaus (1997) has shown, no more than the theoretical hypothesis of political economy. Indeed, Marx called the 'relationships among the things themselves' (Marx, 1976, p. 145), the 'form of value'. This form is the focus of Marx's critique of fetishism where 'all productive power of labour is projected as powers of capital, the same as all forms of value are projected as forms of money' (Marx, 1979, p. 634). All these projections and fetish-like forms hide the circumstance that they are 'the product of a social relation, not the product of a mere thing' (Marx, 1966, p. 391; see also Marx, 1972, p. 147).
Against this background, the definition of the 'working class' in terms of its position in the production process and freedom on the labour market accepts bourgeois and that is mystified forms. Gunn (1987) makes this point succinctly: the feet of the wage labourer 'remain mired in exploitation even while [their heads breath] in bourgeois ideological clouds'. These are the clouds of equal and free bargaining over wages and the conditions of work. The class relation, however, does not amount to the wage relation. It obtains, rather, 'through the wage relation' (cf. ibid.). This much is clear from Marx's short chapter on class where he argues that 'we have already seen that the continual tendency and law of development of the capitalist mode of production is more and more to divorce the means of production from labour, and more and more to concentrate the scattered means of production into large groups, thereby transforming labour into wage-labour and the means of production into capital' (Marx, 1966, p. 885). Here, two issues are emphasised: the divorce of the means of production from labour; and the consequent transformation of labour into wage labour and of the means of production into capital. Time and time again in Capital, the Grundrisse, and other works, he reports the same insight. For example, in the Resultate des unmittelbaren Produktionsprozesses (1969, p. 81), he says that capital is a very mysterious being because it is an alien power that develops in and through the command over individual workers.
The notion that capital is a mysterious being calls for an understanding of the social constitution of its command over labour. This 'command' cannot be properly understood in and through the constituted mist that myth represents. As the next section will show, the mysteries of capital are founded on the divorce of labour from its conditions. The remaining task of this section is to justify this focus: 'It is not the unity of living and active humanity with the natural, inorganic conditions of their metabolic exchange with nature, and hence their appropriation of nature, which requires explanation or is the result of a historic process, but rather the separation between these inorganic conditions of human existence and this active existence, a separation which is completely posited only in the relation of wage labour and capital' (Marx 1973, p. 489). This insight is of utmost importance. The focus is on human existence, active humanity; and he argues that this existence subsists through the separation of labour from her conditions, a seperation that is posited in the relationship of wage labour and capital. The issue of seperation poses, then, the constitutive foundation of class.
Orthodox accounts do not raise the issue of the social constitution of human practice that suffuses and contradicts the commodified relations of capitalist reproduction. The wretched power of exchange value production, the commodified relations of production, are not only taken for granted but, also, applied in an attempt to ascribe 'class-relevant' characteristics to social categories whose constitution, as that of capital, remains a mystery. In short, the notion of 'class' stands accepted in terms of the reified world of capital; myth is summoned as the key to unlook the meaning of myth itself. The accepted - academically viable - expression of this sort of approach is the study of social stratification.
III Separation and Constitution
Commodity exchange and 'money' pre-date capitalist production. For money, however, to be 'transformed into capital, the prerequisites for capitalist production must exist' (Marx, 1972, p. 272). The first historical presupposition is the separation of labour from her conditions and 'therefore the existence of the means of labour as capital' (ibid.). This separation 'is the foundation of [capitalist] production...[and] is given in capitalist production' (ibid.). For Marx, this separation comprises a world's history. 'Commodity and money are transformed into capital because the worker ... is compelled to sell his labour itself (to sell directly his labour power) as a commodity to the owner of the objective conditions of labour. This separation is the prerequisite for the relationship of capital and wage labour in the same way as it is the prerequisite for the transformation of money (or of the commodity by which it is represented) into capital' (ibid., p. 89). The constitution of human purposful activity as relations between the things themselves is based on this separation and, once established, obtains as the constitutive presupposition of capitalist social relations (see Krahl, 1971, p. 223).
The divorce of labour from her conditions is the precondition of their existence as capital. The conditions of work confront labour 'as alien capital' (Marx, 1972, p. 422) because the conditions of 'production are lost to [the labourer] and have assumed the shape of alien property' (ibid.). The divorce, then, of human purposful practice from her conditions and their transformation into an independent force, i.e. capital, transforms the product of labour into a commodity and makes the commodity appear as 'a product of capital' (Marx, 1966, p. 880). This entails 'the materialisation of the social features of production and the personification of the material foundations of production' (ibid.). Thus, the capitalist and wage-labourer 'are as such merely embodiments, personifications of capital and wage-labour; definite social characteristics stamped upon individuals by the process of social production' (ibid.). In this way, primitive accumulation appears suspended (aufgehoben) in the commodity form. Yet, however suspended, it is the constitutive condition of capitalist social relations as relations between things. The presuppositions of capital, 'which originally appeared as conditions of its becoming - and hence could not spring from its action as capital - now appear as results of its own realization, reality, as posited by it - not as conditions of its arising, but as results of its presence' (Marx, 1973, p. 460). In short, primitive accumulation is not just an historical epoch which pre-dates capitalist social relations and from which capital emerged. It entails, fundamentally, the constitutive presupposition through which the class antagonism between capital and labour subsists - primitive accumulation is the 'foundation of capitalist reproduction' (Marx, 1983, p. 585).
Primitive accumulation is the centrifugal point around which resolves the specific capitalist mode of existence of labour power, the determination of human purposeful activity in the form of a labouring commodity. While the capitalist production and exchange relations subsist through the commodity form, primitive accumulation is the secrete history of the determination of human purpusful practice in the form of wage-labour. The commodity form subsists through this determination, presupposes it and, through its form, denies it in the name of abstract equality and freedom. This insight is focused in Marx's critique of fetishism: 'The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals and private groups makes up the aggregate of social labour. Since the producers do not come into social contact which each other until they exchange their products, the specific social character of each producer's labour does not show itself except in the act of exchange. In other words, the labour of the individual asserts itself as a part of the labour of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between producers. To the latter, therefore, the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear, not as direct social relations between individuals at work, but as what they really are, material relations between persons and social relations between things' (Marx, 1983, pp. 77-8). The social individual, then, subsists as such an individual not in an 'immediate' sense but in a 'mediated' sense: it is mediated and so subsists through the commodity form. This form represents the social relationships between people as attributes that belong to things. The separation of human activity from its conditions is thus not only the real generation process of capital but, also, once constituted, the 'real' process of the commodity form. In other words, primitive accumulation is suspended in the commodity form as its 'subterranean' condition, constitutive presupposition, and historical basis.
The 'logic of separation' (cf. Negri, 1984) entails that the individual capitalist has constantly to expand 'his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot, except by means of progressive accumulation' (Marx, 1983, p. 555). The risk is bankruptcy. Thus, mediated through competition, personified capital is spurred into action. 'Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, [the personified capitalist] ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production's sake', increasing 'the mass of human beings exploited by him' (ibid.). The positing of the results of human labour as a force over and above the social individual, including both the capitalist and the wage labourer, and the 'fanatic' bent to make workers work for the sake of work, is founded on the separation of labour from its means. 'The means of production become capital only in so far as they have become separated from labourer and confront labour as an independent power' (Marx, 1963, p. 408). In short, the freedom of labour from her conditions and their transformation into private property entails the capitalist property right to preserve abstract wealth through the 'sacrifice of "human machines" on the pyramids of accumulation' (Gambino, 1996, p. 55). The law of private property entails that 'labour capacity has appropriated for itself only the subjective conditions of necessary labour - the means of subsistence for actively producing labour capacity, i.e. for its reproduction as mere labour capacity separated from the conditions of its realization - and it has posited these conditions themselves as things, values, which confront it in an alien, commanding personification' (Marx, 1973, pp. 452-53). The logic of separation is the 'real process of capital' (Marx, 1972, p. 422). Indeed, as Marx argues, capital is 'the separation of the conditions of production from the labourer' (ibid.).
In sum, Marx does not conceive of capital as a thing in-itself which, endowed with its own objective logic, exchanges itself with itself and that, by doing so, generates profit. Rather, it is conceived as a social relationship between labour and the conditions of labour which are 'rendered independent in relation' to labour (ibid. 422). 'The loss of the conditions of labour by the workers is expressed in the fact that these conditions of labour become independent as capital or as things at the disposal of the capitalist' (ibid. p. 271). Primitive accumulation, then, is not just a 'period' from which capitalist social relations emerged. Rather, it is the historical 'act' that constitutes the capitalist social relations as a whole. As Marx put it, this separation 'forms [bildet] the conception [Begriff] of capital' (Marx, 1966, p. 246). The separation of labour from its conditions and the concentration of these in the hands of 'non-workers' (Marx, 1978, p. 116) posits capital as a perverted form of human social practice where the 'process of production has mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him' (Marx, 1983, p. 85).
IV Perverted Social Categories and Social Constitution
The previous section argued that the class struggle that freed master from serf and serf from master is constitutive of the relation between capital and labour. Class struggle is 'the fundamental premise of class' (Gunn, 1987, p. 16). Primitive accumulation, then, persists, within the capital relation, as its constitutive pre-positing action (vorausetzendes Tun). This Tun lies at the heart of capital's reproduction: the pre-positing action of the separation of labour from her means is not the historical result of capital but its presupposition, a presupposition which renders capital a social production relation based on the divorce of labour's social productive force from her conditions, and even more pronounced, confers on these conditions the power of applying labour as a human factor of production.
The systematic character of primitive accumulation subsists, then, in suspended form through the constituted relations of capital. The separation is not the result of capital but its genesis and it is now posited as the presupposition of capital. It no longer 'figures' as the condition of its historical emergence but, rather, as the constitutive presupposition of its fanatic bent on reproducing human relations as relations between commodity owners and that is as social categories of capitalist reproduction. In short, the separation 'begins with primitive accumulation, appears as a permanent process in the accumulation and concentration of capital, and expresses itself finally as centralisation of existing capitals in a few hands and a deprivation of many of their capital (to which expropriation is now changed)' (Marx, 1966, p. 246).
The terror of separation, of capitalism's original beginning, weights like a nightmare on the social practice of human purposeful activity. The commodification of social practice in terms of the category of wage labour confronts its conditions as alien conditions, as conditions of exploitation, and as conditions which appear, and so exist contradictorily, as relations between things. 'Man is confronted by things, labour is confronted by its own materialised conditions as alien, independent, self-contained subjects, personifications, in short, as someone else's property and, in this form, as "employers" and "commanders" of labour itself, which they appropriate instead of being appropriated by it. The fact that value - whether it exists as money or as commodities - and in the further development the conditions of labour confront the worker as the property of other people, as independent properties, means simply that they confront him as the property of the non-worker or, at any rate, that, as a capitalist, he confronts them [the conditions of labour] not as a worker but as the owner of value, etc., as the subject in which these things possess their own will, belong to themselves and are personified as independent forces' (Marx, 1972, pp. 475-76). Capital presupposes labour as wage labour and wage labour presupposes capital as capital. Each is the precondition of the other. 'Every pre-condition of the social reproduction process is at the same time its result, and every one of its results appears simultaneously as its pre-condition. All the production relations within which the process moves are therefore just as much its products as they are its conditions. The more one examines its nature as it really is, [the more one sees] that in the last form it becomes increasingly consolidated, so that independently of the process these conditions appear to determine it, and their own relations appear to those competing in the process as objective conditions, objective forces, aspects of things, the more so as in the capitalist process, every element, even the simplest, the commodity for example, is already an inversion and causes relations between people to appear as attributes of things and as relations of people to the social attributes of things' (Marx, 1972, pp. 507-8). The perverted form of value presents, in other words, the mode of existence of human purposeful activity the form of impersonal relations, conferring on the human being the indignity of an existence [Dasein] as a personification of things. Thus, concerning the capital-labour relation, 'the workers produces himself as labour capacity, as well as the capital confronting him'. At the same time, 'the capitalist reproduces himself as capital as well as the living labour capacity confronting him' (Marx, 1973, p. 458). 'Each reproduces itself, by reproducing the other, its negation. The capitalist produces labour as alien; labour produces the product as alien' (ibid.).
Once the logic of separation is taken for granted, i.e. once its constitutive presupposition is merely assumed as a historical past, the logic of separation can be understood merely in terms of the constituted fetish of capital as the subject that structures the actions of human agents. Orthodox accounts feed on this seperation between (capitalist) structure and (human) agency. Their derivation of the sociological elements [Daseinsformen] inscribed in this separation such as class position, class location, class characteristic, class structure and so forth, take for granted what needs to be explained. In other words, the outward appearance of reality is accepted as a given, and then it is in the light of this outward appearance that economic and political class categories are assessed in terms of their ascribed class characteristics and 'strategic opportunities' (cf. Jessop, 1991). This outward appearance is none other than the 'material' emphasised by positivist thought: raw sense data. It is, however, only 'in the last, most derivative forms that the various aspects of capital appear as the real agencies and direct representatives of production. Interest-bearing capital is personified in the moneyed capitalist, industrial capital in the industrial capitalist, rent-bearing capital in the landlord as the owner of land, and lastly, labour in the wage-worker' (Marx, 1972, p. 514). These enter into competition as 'independent personalities that appear at the same time to be mere representatives of personified things' (ibid.). In the context of competition, the social relationship between capital and labour becomes externalised (see ibid., pp. 514-15) and labour's social productive force becomes 'invisible' (ibid., p. 467); just as Adam Smith's notion of the invisible hand reports. The externalisation of capital and labour as distinct groups defined by their revenue characterises the 'bewitched world' (ibid., p. 514) of capitalist production: labour no longer appears as a social productive force but, rather, as an appendix to, a human factor of, capitalist production. It is this appearance that the Marxist sociology of 'structure and agency' seeks to render intelligible through schemes of classification.
Approaches, whether Marxist or not, premised on the dualism between constitution and existence (Dasein) can, of course, provide an analysis of labour. But they can do so only in terms of labour as a human agency, and in terms of value as embodied labour. This theory of value merely shows that 'the development of social labour produces either a process of accumulation of value or a complex norm of distribution' (Negri, 1992, p. 70). In this view, the perverted existence of human relations as relations between things is assumed to be true in practice. Such assumptions merely confirm that 'myth' is not a condition merely of former times but, rather, that it continuous to exercise its domination over thought itself. Hence Marx's insistence on demystification: Neither 'nations' nor 'history' nor capital have made war. 'History does nothing, does not "possess vast wealth", does not "fight battles"! It is Man, rather, the real, living Man who does all that, who does possess and fight, it is not "history" that uses Man as a means to pursue its ends, as if it were a person apart. History is nothing but the activity of Man pursuing its ends' (Marx/Engels, 1980, p. 98). History has been the record of battles and exploitation because all history has been a history where society's laws of motion have been 'abstracting from its individual subjects, degrading them to mere executors, mere partners in social wealth and social struggle. The debasement was as real as the fact that on the other hand there would be nothing without individuals and their spontaneities' (Adorno, 1990, p. 304). The positing of the presuppositions of capitalist social relations shows the real 'basis' of capitalist society: labour's purposeful activity as commodified activity, as abstract labour in action. In short, and as Marcuse reports, 'the constitution of the world occurs behind the backs of the individuals, yet it is their work' (1988, p. 151).
Without an understanding of the social constitution of the perverted world of capital, there could be no critique of capital without, at the same time, espousing it as as performing a useful economic function. This, then, would lead to the view of capital as 'the subject' that embodies the logic of an abstract market structure whose empirical reality is mediated by class struggle (Bidet, 1985). Against this theoretical rationalisation of capital as an extra-human force, it is only on the basis of an understanding of the logic of separation that a critique of capital can be supplied: this critique breaks into the understanding of capitalist exploitation and accumulation as a constituted form and 'unhinges this constitution and marks the singularity and the dynamics of the antagonism which the law of labour comprehends' (Negri, 1992, p. 70). The capital relation is the historical product of labour's alienation from itself: Capital is the separation of labour from the means of production and capital's existence rests not just on the exploitation of labour but, rather, on the continuous accumulation of capital through the progressive exploitation of labour (Marx, 1983, p. 555). Labour's 'natural power' to maintain value and to create new value (cf. ibid., p. 568) is commanded by capital in the production process which is, at the same time, the consumption process of living labour. It is the labourer who 'constantly produces material, objective wealth, but in the form of capital, of an alien power that dominates and exploits [the labourer]: and the capitalist as constantly produces labour-power, but in the form of a subjective source of wealth, separated from the objects in and by which it can alone be realised; in short he process the labourer, but as a wage-labourer. This incessant reproduction, this perpetuation of the labourer, is the sine qua non of capitalist production' (ibid., pp. 535-36). Thus, the contention that capitalist accumulation is not just based on the results of primitive accumulation but, instead, that primitive accumulation is the constitutive presupposition of the class antagonism between capital and labour. As Marx put it, capitalist 'accumulation merely presents as a continuous process what in primitive accumulation, appears as a distinct historical process, as the process of the emergence of capital' (Marx, 1972 p. 272; see also Marx, 1983, p. 688). There would be no capitalist accumulation without the reproduction of labour as 'object-less free labour' (Marx, 1973, p. 507). Human social practice is rendered perverted in and through the divorce of labour from her conditions.
The presupposition of capitalist social reproduction is the freedom of labour from her condition; this presupposition informs and in-forms the real movement of capitalist social relations. Marx conceived of this movement as the movement of communism and that is of the social cooperation of the social individual. The social reproduction of capital and labour, then, acquires its livelihood in and through the negation of communism, a negation that the commodity form presents. Social cooperation obtains in the perverted form of capital (see Marx, 1983, Ch. 13) and that is as a cooperation that seems to be established by the things themselves. This negation rests on the reproduction of human social practice in the mode of being denied, that is as a commodified activity. Capital, 'fanatically bent on making value expand itself' (ibid., p. 555) can do no other than to intensify the division of labour so as to increase its productive power. There is no doubt that 'the subdivision of labour is the assassination of a people' (Urquhart, quoted in Marx, 1983, p. 343); yet it merely consolidates the 'original' separation of labour from its conditions through further and further fragmentations of the social labour process, dismembering Man [Mensch] (cf. Marx, 1977, p. 155). Still, however much social labour is fragmented, divided and subdivided, human cooperation remains 'the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production' (Marx, 1983, p. 317). This cooperation exists against itself in the commodity-form that integrates the 'assassination of a people' with the respectful forms of equal and free exchange relations.
Labour 'is and remains the presupposition' of capital (Marx, 1973, p. 399). Capital cannot liberate itself from labour; it depends on the imposition of necessary labour, the constituent side of surplus labour, upon the world's working classes. It has to posit necessary labour at the same time as which it has to reduce necessary labour to the utmost in order to increase surplus value. This reduction develops labour's productive power and, at the same time, the real possibility of the realm of freedom. The circumstance that less and less socially necessary labour time is required to produce, for want of a better expression, the necessities of life, limits the realm of necessity and so allows the blossoming of what Marx characterised as the realm of freedom. Within capitalist society, this contradiction can be contained only through force (Gewalt), including not only the destruction of productive capacities, unemployment, worsening conditions, and widespread poverty, but also the desruction of human life through war and ecological disaster. In other words, the value form represents not just an abstraction from the real social individual. It is an abstraction that is 'true in practice' (Marx, 1973, p. 105). The violence of capital's original beginning is thus posed as the foundation of its constituted existence where the pleasant norms of equality and freedom obtain as the rights of private property. Benjamin's (1965) critique of violence reports nothing less. In short, primitive accumulation is a constantly reproduced accumulation, be it in terms of the renewed separation of new populations from the means of production and subsistence, or in terms of the reproduction of the wage relation in the 'established' relations of capital. The former seeks to bring new workers under the command of capital (Dalla Costa, 1995; Caffentzis, 1995) and the latter to contain them there as social categories 'freed' from their conditions.
'Class' is a critical concept. The class antagonism between capital and labour presupposes the class struggle that led to the emergence of capitalist social relations. This presupposition has constantly to be posited in the process of capitalist reproduction. Capitalist reproduction without the separation of labour from its conditions would clearly be no-thing and thus impossible. In short, class struggle is the 'logical and historical presupposition for the existence of individual capitalists and workers' and 'the basis on which exploitation' rests (Clarke, 1982, p. 80). Were one to espouse capitalist social relations without theorising their constitutive relations of separation, the working class could only be affirmed uncritically as a productive force that deserves a better, a new deal. The category class makes sense only as a critical concept that denotes the perverted existence of human relations. These relations suffuse and contradict the existence of the working class as a labouring commodity. Equally, the concept 'class antagonism' does not connote an economic relationship. Rather, it denotes a social relationship which is independent from individuals while obtaining only in and through them. The critique of wage labour as a fetish category entails at the same time that the line of class antagonism falls not merely between but, also and importantly, through the social individuals.
The uncritical endorsement of the working class turns Marx's critique of the fetishism of the value-form, and of economic categories as perversions of human social relations, against itself. Within the orthodox tradition, all depends, in the last instance, on economic development. In this way, Marx's critique of economic categories stands transformed into an endorsement of economic categories, and his critique of Ricardo's labour theory of value into endorsing a productivist view where only industrial labour is deemed to be of social value. Of course, Marx accepted these views because capital amounts to the constituted existence human social practice in precisely this productivist and constrained way. It is indeed the case that human beings exist as a resource for the accumulation of abstract wealth for accumulation's sake. This is their forsaken existence (Dasein). However, his acceptance did not entail endorsement. Rather, the reduction of human social practice to a commodified activity and that is, an exploitable resource was criticised in toto. Marx's critique of political economy does not project a different sort of economy, a centrally planned economy of a workers' republic, a republic of labour. In the light of Marx's writing, such an understanding of his critique confuses the capitalist existence (Dasein) of human purposeful social practice as a labouring machine with Marx's critique of the perverted existence of capital and therewith the perverted existence of the working class as a class in-itself (and as such an 'in-itself', a thing).
Marx's work is emphasised by the critique of the value-form as a fetish which appears to possess extra-human powers. His critique of fetishism supplies an understanding of 'value' in terms of its human content, that is, as a perverted form through which social relations subsist contradictorily as relations between things (Backhaus, 1997; Holloway, 1992). The critique of economic categories shows that economic relations are, in fact, perversions of human relations. In other words, in capitalism, the social character of human social practice has to be realised in and through the categories of political economy. These categories are adequate insofar as they posit the constituted existence of perverted social relations. In this way, the category 'working class' exists in practice and thus is defined by its 'position', 'location' and 'function' within capitalist social relations. However, the acceptance of the notion 'class in-itself' is uncritical. It simply shows the human being as a mere economic thing or personification, and affirms it as a structure-producting agency. In contrast, the critique of political economy shows that the reality in which the social individual moves day in and day out has no invariant character, that is, something which exists independently from it. Thus, the critique of political economy amounts to the conceptualisation of the totality of social praxis (begriffene Praxis) (Schmidt, 1974, p. 207) which constitutes, suffuses and contradicts the perverted world of things. The espousal of the world of things merely comprehends the constituted totality of capitalist social relations and it confers on this totality an objectivity in abstraction from its real movement and constitution, and that is, for Marx, the social practice of the real human being - however perverted this practice might be (see: Backhaus, 1997). In short, 'the separation beween in-itself and for-itself, the substance of the subject, is abstract mysticism' (Marx, 1981, p. 265).
The chapter has emphasised human practice. There is no hidden attempt here to introduce a Marxist ontology. The concept of human practice disavows the bourgeois concepts of humanity and rationality. The critique of fetishism reveals that the constituted forms of capital are, in fact, the forms in and through which human practice 'exists': 'in-itself' as relations between things whose constituted form is the separation of social practice from its condition and 'for-itself' because the relations between things presuppose the pre-positing action of separation that is reproduced by 'active humanity' in and through her class-divided social practice. Neither do things exchange themselves with themselves nor is labour exploited by the objective laws of capital. It follows that human practice subsists also 'against-itself' as, on the one hand, a perverted social category and, on the other, as a power that makes history. Capitalist society obtains through exploitation and subsists through class struggle. The constitution of this struggle is the pre-positing action of separation whose constituted form is the reified world of capital. As Adorno (1975, p. 25) argues, 'reification finds its limitation in reified Man [Mensch]' so that reification entails, at the same time, its negation. There would be no reified world without human social practice and transformative power. Human practice, then, exists in-itself, for-itself and against-itself. This understanding is not thrown into relief by the circumstance that human purposful practice has so far only managed to make history look like a grotesque and bloody grimace.
The understanding of the constituted forms of capital can not be based on a priori notions of the capitalist laws of development. Rather, it rests on their genesis and, from within an understanding of their genesis, its established existence. The 'established existence' of the working class and capital can not be taken as a starting point for the analysis of class struggle. Rather, their established existence can only be understood in and through the conceptualisation of their genesis, that is in and through the historical constitution of their established existence. It is this historical constitution - that of separation - that the class struggle is about. Its central category is that of necessary labour. It shows the dependence of capital upon labour; entails the continuous attempt to increase the exploitation of labour, and the associated crises of capitalist accumulation; and establishes an understanding of the real movement of communism. The reduction of necessary labour time that capital is ever eager to achieve, poses the real possibility of human emancipation for which the 'shortening of the working day is the basic prerequisite' (Marx, 1966, p. 820). Paraphrasing Adorno (1975, p. 44), full-employment makes sense in a society where labour is no longer the measure of all things. In other words, then, the category of necessary labour is not an economic abstraction but a critical concept. It denotes the possibility of human cooperation liberated from its antagonistic link to the relations of capital and that is, from its perverted existence in and through the commodity form. Within its capitalist form, cooperation is a contradictory productive force. 'Not only have we here an increase in the productive power of the individual, by means of cooperation, but the creation of a new power, namely, the collective power of the masses' (Marx, 1983, p. 309). It is of course the case that the critique of political economy can be made manifest in practice only when it has seized the masses; when, in other words, the masses are seized by the understanding that it is their own labour, their social practice, that produces a world that oppresses them (cf. Marx, 1975b, p. 182).
For the human beings to enter into relationship with one another not as personifications where 'the person objectifies himself in production; the thing subjectivies itself in the person' (Marx, 1973, p. 89) but as social individuals, as human dignities who, no longer separated from their means, are in control of their social existence, the 'mastery of capitalist production over man' has to be abolished so that man's social reproduction is 'controlled by him' (cf. Marx, 1983, p. 85). Human emancipation, then, entails the transformation of the means of production into means of human emancipation. In other words, full employment makes sense in 'the society of the free and equal' (cf. Agnoli, 2000) where humanity exists not as an exploitable resource but as a purpose.
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