On Marx's Essays from the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts - CLR James

1940's - Grace Lee Boggs with C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya.

[The three essays by Karl Marx to which this was an introduction in 1947 were "Alienated Labour", "Private Property and Communism" and "Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic". James comments: "This is an important document in the development of what is known today as the Johnson-Forest theory. It is worthwhile noting that when we translated this now celebrated document by Marx it had not been translated into English before by anybody. We were studying Marxism and felt that it was necessary."] - From At the rendezvous of victory

Submitted by UseValueNotExc… on April 7, 2023

The three essays here presented have been selected and translated from the economic-philosophical manuscripts written by Marx in 1844 and collected in the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, Bd. 1, Abt. 3 Berlin, 1932.

We do not publish these translations as archives. Far from it. They are far more alive today than when they were written. We publish a selection in this modest form because we are determined to break through the vast conspiracy of silence which surrounds them.

Marx in his student years had mastered the Hegelian philosophy. Here we see the first fruits of his studies of political economy. It was not only Hegel whom Marx stood on his head. He at once put his finger on the philosophical weakness of the classical school of economists — their limited and superficial concept of private property.

The essay on alienated labour shows Marx making his philosophic concepts concrete, in the relation between wage labour and capital in the process of production. With an amazing certainty and confidence he drives home what is essentially new in his discoveries. What
distinguishes him from Smith and Ricardo is that he understands private property whereas they do not. Only his own words must speak for him.

We have, indeed, obtained the concept of estranged labour (of estranged life) from political economy as the result of the movement of private property. But in analysing this concept, it is revealed that even if private property appears as the basis, as the cause of estranged labour, it is rather a consequence of it. In the same way, the gods are not originally the cause but the effect of human confusion in understanding. Later this relationship becomes interchanged.

There he broke once and for all with the classical economists. His problem, the Marxian problem, became the analysis of the labour process. As he says triumphantly, "For when man speaks of private property, he believes he has only to deal with a fact outside man. Where man speaks of labour, he has to deal directly with man. This new posing of the question already includes its resolution."

Twenty years later Marx was to begin Capital by saying that the pivot of the understanding of political economy was the fact that, like commodities in general, labour itself possessed a two-fold nature, abstract labour and concrete labour. Here, in 1844, already, he had not only isolated labour from property. He was seeking the contradiction in labour itself. The worker was dominated by the objective results of his labour. It became the private property of someone other than the labourer. Why? Marx leaps generations ahead with his answer. It was because the very type of labour activity that the modern worker carried
out was of such a kind that the appropriation of the result by others was inevitable. Smith and Ricardo took the activity for granted and dealt only with the results of the activity. Marx claimed that in the activity itself the result was already contained. The abstract labour of Capital is the labour for value production. The concrete labour is the production of use-value. Value could only take bodily form in use-value but value dominated. When use-value dominated we would have a new society. Many Marxists still see the domination of use-values in a mere multitude of use-values for consumption. They are unaware that they are merely repeating the mistake of Ricardo on a higher scale, substituting results for activity. The substitution of use-value for value must take place in labour itself. Where, under capitalism, the labourer was valued at his consumption, a new society demands that the use-value of labour itself become the dominant form in production — the full development of the labourer's natural and acquired powers. The labourer must become a fully-developed individual, freedom is an economic necessity and proletarian democracy an economic category. This is no longer a theoretical problem. From one end of the world to the other, today man faces one problem — increased productivity. The rulers of production are helpless before it. Modern man revolts against the very conditions of labour. Except by the forces of men released from capitalist production, there is no solution to the economic and social crisis. All the lamentations and moaning about Bolshevism being a new means of dominating the workers have no meaning for those who grasp the essence of Marx's social ideas of which his philosophy and economics are only a constituent part.

Lenin of all modern men saw this to its last and ultimate conclusion. He took just this and made it revolutionary policy for the masses. He could lead the October Revolution because he saw mobilisation of oppressed humanity as the only solution to the crisis. In Can the
Bolsheviks Retain State Power (and The Threatening Catastrophe) he said openly to millions what Marx was writing in the study in 1844:

The most important thing is to inspire the oppressed and the toilers with confidence in their own strength, to show in practice that they can and must themselves undertake a correct, strictly orderly and organised distribution of bread, food, milk, clothing, dwellings, and so forth, in the interests of the poor. Without this, Russia cannot be saved from collapse and ruin; whereas an honest, courageous and universal move to hand over the administration to the proletarians and semi-proletarians will arouse such unprecedented revolutionary enthusiasm among the masses, will so multiply the forces of the people in combatting their miseries, that much that seemed impossible to our old, narrow, bureaucratic forces will become practicable for the forces of the millions and millions of the masses when they begin to work for themselves, and not under the whip, for the capitalist, the master, the official.

This was not to come afterwards. This was the revolution itself. Lenin continued without a pause.

Only then shall we be able to see what untapped forces of resistance are latent in the people; only then will what Engels calls "latent socialism" be made apparent; only then shall we find that for every ten thousand open or concealed enemies of the power of the working class, who manifest themselves either by action or by passive resistance, a million new fighters will arise, who until then had been politically dormant, languishing in poverty and despair, having lost faith in themselves as human beings, in their right to live, in the possibility that they too might be served by the whole force of the modern centralised state and that their detachment of proletarian militia might be fully trusted and called upon to take part in the immediate, direct, day-to-day work of administration of the state.

The only slogan he could find to express it was, "Workers' control of Production" but what he meant by that was an uncoiling of creative forces imbedded in the senses of modern man and implanted there by the productive forces and the productive process. Lenin's concept of the party, his insistence on a rigid discipline, democratic centralism, more than ever necessary today, cannot be for a single moment separated from Marx's economic-philosophic concept of the destiny of the modern proletariat.

That is what Marx began with. His philosophy was a philosophy of the activity of man, of man as active in the labour process. The free individual was he whose labour by its very nature ensured his freedom. If he was not free in his labour he could not be free in any sense. Lenin grasped this not as theory but as practice. The Mensheviks in 1917 saw what he saw but trembled to say that the only force which could save the country was the "latent socialism", the suppressed capacities of the masses. Today the Stalinists have carried the Menshevik politics to a stage further. That they are tools of the Kremlin and therefore oppose the proletarian revolution is true, but, as with so much that is true, is only a form of appearance. In essence, terrified at the crisis around them and incapable of placing the solution of all economic and political problems upon the powers of the workers, they are thereby driven to cling to the Kremlin with its established state and its established army and its established apparatus of power. That it is the creative power of millions of men which alone can solve the problems of modern society is not only a philosophical concept. It is the very ruin of society which makes it a revolutionary reality.

The proletariat does not make the revolution and then wait for some "plan" to create a new type of economy. To think in those terms is to make a divorce between economics and politics, the repudiation of which was the midwife of Marxism. The difference between the proletarian revolution and all others is that the revolution itself releases the new economic forces, the creative power of the people, the greatest productive force history has known. The beginning, middle and end of Marx's scientific analysis of capitalist economy is the conflict between dead capital and living labour. On this hangs the falling rate of profit, the industrial reserve army and the revolution. Without this, one falls into the trap of market economics, underconsumptionism and ultimately, the deepest confusion as to the role of the party. The Mensheviks trembled in 1917 because, among other reasons, they could see neither the economic nor the military forces which could develop and protect Russia after the socialist revolution. Lenin did not tremble because he saw that the socialist revolution in ruined Russia was the creator of forces undreamt of by the bourgeoisie. Thus the most
profound philosophical and abstract theories of Marx became the most practical concrete revolutionary policy.

Even the bourgeoisie can babble about the creative powers of atomic energy. Marxism is concerned first and foremost with the creative powers of the masses. That is not Marxian politics and sociology and philosophy. It is Marxian economics. The degeneration of the Russian revolution has obscured this truth. The revolutionary regeneration of the world proletariat will make it the foundation of every aspect of modern life and thought. Without it there is no escape from barbarism.

How deeply ingrained was this conception in Marx's thought is proved by that masterpiece of social philosophy, the essay on "Private Property and Communism".

For Marx, private property was the material expression of that wealth which alienated men from human living. Its movement is production and consumption. Religion, family, state, law, morals, science, art, follow the "movement" of production and consumption.
In a society where private property is transcended, religion, family, state, law, morals, dissolve in the corporate life of the community.

Such fundamental questions Marx never separated from his analysis of capitalist production. Take the question of the family and the relations between the sexes. In his chapter on "Machinery and Modern Industry" (Capital, Volume I, page 536), he gives, almost in passing, a superb example of his method.

However terrible and disgusting the dissolution, under the capitalist system, of the old family ties may appear, nevertheless, modern industry, by assigning as it does an important part in the process of production, outside the domestic sphere, to women, to young persons, and to children of both sexes, creates a new economical foundation for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes. It is, of course, just as absurd to hold the Teutonic-Christian form of the family to be absolute and final as it would be to apply that character to the ancient Roman, the ancient Greek, or the Eastern forms which, moreover, taken together, form a series in historic development. Moreover, it is obvious that the fact of the collective working group being composed of individuals of both sexes and all ages, must necessarily, under suitable conditions, become a source of humane development; although in its spontaneously developed, brutal, capitalist form, where the labourer exists for the process of production, and not the process of production for the labourer, that fact is a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery.

A few pages before, he drew the dialectical opposition between education under capitalism and as it would be in the new society.

Though the Factory Act, that first and meagre concession wrung from capital, is limited to combining elementary education with work in the factory, there can be no doubt that when the working class comes to power, as inevitably it must, technical instruction, both theoretical and practical, will take its proper place in the working-class schools. (Capital, Volume I, page 534)

Family, education, relations between the sexes, religion, all would lose their destructive alienated quality in a new mode of production in which the universality of the individual would be the starting point and source of all progress, beginning with economic progress.

The passage in which Marx poses and develops the idea that the cultivation of the five senses is the work of the whole history of the world to date, blows up from below the frenzied fantasies of those who, from the psychoanalysts to the Existentialists, cannot understand that the problem of the modern personality is the problem of modern capitalist production. Man's capacity for seeing, touching, hearing, talking, feeling, exist in the multitude of objects of productive wealth and the achievements of science which surround him. The masses of men must appropriate these or perish.

The personality of the modern worker is assailed upon all sides from morning till night (and even in his dreams) by such stimuli that his needs as a modern human being make him and his class the most highly civilised social force humanity has ever known. But the greater the
needs of social living, inherent in the socialised nature of modern production, the greater the need for individual self-expression, the more it becomes necessary for the masters of society, themselves slaves of capital, to repress this social expression which is no more and no less than complete democracy. Production which should be man's most natural expression of his powers, becomes one long murderous class conflict in which each protagonist can rest not for a single minute. Political government assumes totalitarian forms and government by executive decree masquerades as democracy. The officer worker, with black coat and white collar, is transformed into a mere cog in a machine. If the worker is deprived of all the intellectual potentialities of the labour process to the extent that science is incorporated in it as an independent power, the intellectual absorbs knowledge and ideas but is as impotent in the intellectual process as is the worker in the labour process. The intellectual is cut off from the world of physical production and the social organisation of labour. The divorce between physical and mental labour is complete. The individual, worker or intellectual, is no more than the sport of vast forces over which he has no control. The senses of each are stimulated without possibility of realisation. The resentments, the passions of frustrated social existence take revenge in the wildest of individual aberrations. Before these forces psychoanalysis is powerless, and voting every few years becomes a ghastly mockery. Facing the disintegration of society, capital mobilises all available forces for the suppression of what is its own creation — the need for social expression that the modern productive forces instils into every living human being. The explosion of this suppression is the motive force of revolution. This is Marxism. These essays will, we hope, remind us of what Marx stood for.

Vulgar Communism as the mere transcendence of private property is denounced by Marx. He had in mind the communism of Weitling but the analysis is permanently valid. This communism is not a new form of "appropriation". The level of productivity is so low that in grasping the wealth of society such as it is, the workers do not appropriate a higher stage of culture. In these circumstances, private property is transcended only in form. This kind of communism "is only a form of appearance of the destruction of private property". In a passage which reads as if it is a contribution to the contemporary debate instead of having been written over a hundred years ago, Marx says that this type of communism, whatever its form, "is already recognised" as man once more finding his true place in the social order. But to the degree that it has not yet grasped "the positive essence" of private property in the shape of "human needs" it is still "a prisoner" or property and "infected" by it. The analysis of alienated labour which is the precursor of Capital merely expresses in economic categories the conception of private property and human relations treated in this essay. Realistic observers of the relations between the sexes today, those who stubbornly refuse to be hypnotised by phrases as they probe into the future of the relations between whites and Negroes in trie United States, will see in Marx's conception of human needs the only basis for emancipation and equality.

All this may seem to the wilfully blind as mere theorising. They are unable to see what is under their eyes: that as modern society develops, religion, education, the state family, morals, lose their separate identity and become fused with the necessity for the mastery of society. This is the totalitarian state. Marx, a master of dialectical logic, saw this ultimate development from the very beginning and posed the abolition of these separate forms of aleination in the complete flowering of all the capabilities of the individual, in all forms of social endeavour. The enemy of this was private property. Later he called it capital. But the
economic analysis from start to finish is the material supplement of the philosophical concept. The two are in inextricable unity. The only proof he knew was the objective development of society. Despite the modifications that he introduced later in the working-out of the theory, the original structure, even as a bare outline, stands out today as the sole tenable explanation and solution to the collapsing barbarism of modern civilisation.

The psychological appeal of totalitarianism, of Fascism in particular, is to transcend all social and individual frustration in the nation, the state, the leader. It cannot be done. In one of these essays Marx says: "We should especially avoid re-establishing 'society' as an abstraction opposed to the individual. The individual is the social essence." A quarter of a century later in Capital he writes the chapter on "Machinery and Modern Industry":

Modern Industry indeed compels society, under penalty of death, to replace the detail-power of today, crippled by lifelong repetition of one and the same trivial operation, and thus reduced to the mere fragment of a man, by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labours, ready to face any change of production, and to whom the different social functions he performs are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers.

It is a terrible emasculation, in fact a denial of Marx to believe that there was some science called economics and upon this, for decoration, Marx grafted humanistic sentiments. Every fundamental feature of his economic analysis is based upon the worker in the labour process and holds no perspective of solution except the emancipation of the labourer. It is a strange reflection of our times that this conception, that the solution of the economic contradictions of capitalism is the human solution, is opposed nowhere so bitterly as in the movement itself. Where it is accepted, it is accepted as Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin accepted the necessity for the October insurrection — in some distant future.

The last essay, Marx's settling of accounts with the Hegelian dialectic, is very difficult. Our translator, Ria Stone, hopes on a future occasion to give the notes and other material to the complete essays, which would guide the average reader who seriously tries to master this essay. In fact it is because so much of this work and its associated
aspects are crying to be done that we publish this. Our resources are limited, we have tried in vain to awaken particular interests. We hope, we are confident, that somewhere there is a response waiting for us.

But the critique can be read and understood as it is. If the two early essays are grasped, then a working knowledge of philosophy will suffice. What Marx is saying over and over again is that Hegel saw the alienation. He saw its root in the mode of labour. What baffled him
was that he could not see in the labour process itself the positive, creative elements which would overcome the alienation. Few moments in the history of thought are more dramatic than that related by Marcuse (Reason and Revolution) when the young Hegel, working out his ideas, wrote down the conditions of the workers in capitalist production, and seeing no way out for them broke off the manuscript which forever after remained unfinished.

Yet alienation had to be overcome or the outlook for man was hopeless. Hegel solved it by making thinking man, the philosopher, overcome it in thought. Instead of getting rid of religion, the state, family, etc., he smuggled them all in again under the guise of philosophy. But to grasp the fact of alienation and the need for reintegration was Hegel's great discovery and his method was the dialectic method. Man was striving for full self-consciousness and for Marx full self-consciousness was not the insight of a few philosophers, but the active participation of all men in social life, beginning with production, and expressing and developing their natural and acquired powers. That is the essence of the "Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic". It is to be noted that one of the three basic books which Lenin studied when preparing State and Revolution was Hegel's Phenomenology in which the critical attitude of Hegel, the driving necessity to negate the
existing order and the existing consciousness by a new order and a new consciousness, receives its most vigorous expression. Later Hegel, by his inability to transcend, to negate the existing order by an actual social force, would leave the road open for the re-introduction not only of religion but of uncritical idealism and positivism which are running wild in modern philosophical thought. But he who grapples with these first two essays and then seriously applies himself to Marx's Critique of the Dialectic, will get an insight not only into Marxism, but into all the various currents of social and political as well as literary and philosophical nostrums that bounce their heads in vain against the problems of contemporary society.

We who introduce these writings owe to them a special debt. It is our belief that precisely because of the unbearably acute nature of the modern crisis, theory and practice are linked in a way that was not thought possible in less urgent times. The most profound of the philosophical concepts of Marx of 1844, abstract clarification for the initiator of a theory, now become the imperative needs of hundreds of millions of people. No other generation could understand this writing as we can. For us practical politics today consist in using the phenomena of contemporary society as a means of illustrating these truths, urging the actions that are demanded for their realisation. For us, as dialecticians, the social requirements of the age exist in the needs and aspirations of the masses. That is Marx's historical contribution to the dialectical method, to have demonstrated the affirmations of a new society in the negations imposed upon the proletariat by the old. To believe that these affirmations exist only in the heads of a few is merely to repeat Hegel over again, substituting for Hegel's few philosophers, the few conscious revolutionaries. Every political line that we have written has been fertilised by the concepts contained in these translations and the others we are unable to reprint. We have been stimulated to find that those of our colleagues who work in factories and who share our ideas have found that the great masses of the American workers feel and think in a way that invest these century-old essays with a meaning and significance that they could never have had, however assiduously they were merely read and merely studied. Backward in politics, the American workers constantly manifest a range of social aspiration and depths of creative power which in the not very distant future will shake the world. If these essays have helped us to understand Marxism and them, they too have helped us to understand these essays and Marxism. The political tendency which we represent has therefore a great pride and satisfaction in making available for the first time to American readers these precious antecedents of revolutionary Marxism. We are convinced that nowhere would they have been more warmly welcomed than by Trotsky.