6. The context of closure

Submitted by libcom on October 28, 2005

6. The context of closure

Shortly after the publication of the first volume of Capital Marx wrote a letter to Engels outlining the principal arguments that were to follow in the subsequent two volumes. At the end of this outline Marx writes: At last we have arrived at the forms of manifestation which serve as the starting point in the vulgar conception: rent, coming from land; profit (interest), from capital; wages from labour. But from our standpoint things now look different. The apparent movement is explained. Furthermore, A. Smith's nonsense which has become the main pillar of all political economy hitherto, the contention that the price of the economy consists of those three revenues, i.e. only of variable capital (wages) and surplus value (rent, profit (interest)), is overthrown. The entire movement in this apparent form. Finally, since those 3 items (wages, rent, profit (interest)) constitute the sources of income of the 3 classes of landowners, capitalists and wage labourers, we have the class struggle, as the conclusion in which the movement and disintegration of the whole shit resolves itself. (MECW Vol.43, p. 43) Here we can see, explicitly, how Marx intended that the critique of political economy contained in all three volumes of Capital would necessarily lead to the question of class struggle. With a thorough critique of political economy Marx hoped to establish a secure foundation for his theory of class conflict. But why did he stop short at his three volumes of Capital? Why did he not make this great reversal within his thematic from the positive to the negative side of bourgeois society, from a theory of the dialectic of capital to its counter-dialectic of class struggle; from the critical standpoint of the bourgeoisie to the critical standpoint of the proletariat?

Undoubtedly, the political conditions of the early workers movement in which Marx found himself led him to concentrate his efforts on understanding the existing positive and objective conditions of bourgeois society. The voluntarism of his socialist rivals who sought by sheer will alone to overcome the weakness of the small socialist and workers movement of that time forced Marx to stress the need for a 'scientific' and objective basis for socialist theory and practice. Yet such conditions of the early socialist movement were themselves merely the expressions of the wider historical context in which Marx lived and wrote. A context that placed limits on the development of Marx's thematic and eventually obliged him to foreclose his theoretical project.

The historical context Marx's lifetime spanned the period in which capitalism reached maturity. It was during his life that the capitalist mode of production came to dominate the three principal powers of western Europe: Britain, France and Germany, and gave these powers the enormous productive potential to sustain the subjection of vast areas of the globe through trade and conquest. In 1818 only England had any degree of industrialization; Germany and France still remained predominantly agrarian with industry still confined to traditional craft production. By 1884 the era of railways and steam-powered mechanization had dawned throughout most of Europe. Marx's native Germany had become transformed into a major industrial power that could challenge the industrial supremacy of Britain. During this same period industrial capitalism had taken root in the USA with all its extensive resources, transforming it from a refuge, where the surplus populations of Europe fled to scratch out a meagre living from the plentiful land, to a rapidly industrializing nation that, like Germany, was swiftly catching up with Britain's industrial lead.(1)

With the great industrial revolutions of the nineteenth century, whose origins and development Marx closely studied, capitalism reorganized production on its own basis. With the rise of industrial capitalism, capitalism became self- sustaining; and with its expansion the capitalist mode of production completed its dominance over ever greater areas of the world. From the industrial development of England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the fundamental laws of full blooded industrial capitalism could be discerned. By the 1870s they had been repeatedly confirmed by the subsequent developments throughout western Europe and the USA. Hence the historical period through which Marx lived gave him a clear view of the fundamental economic laws and tendencies of the capitalist system. However, at the same time, this historical period can be seen to place strict limits on Marx's political perceptions of bourgeois society.

In pre-capitalist societies the social relations of production were intricately overlaid by personal, political and often religious factors. The political and the economic were inseparable. As commodity exchange and production began to infuse throughout late feudal society, creating the conditions for the emergence of capitalism, the social relations between people increasingly took the form of objective and quantifiable economic relations embodied in things -- money and commodities. Consequently the economy began to emerge as a distinct autonomous sphere of human affairs which appeared in the shape of a complex of objective laws. It was this that allowed the classical political economists to apply an objective scientific analysis to the economy as a distinct social sphere; and it was this that allowed Marx to push classical political economy beyond itself to reveal these objective laws of the bourgeois economy as being founded on specific historical social relations which impose a real inversion of human praxis.(2) But this separation of the economic as a distinct social sphere had further implications.

As the dominant class within the capitalist mode of production, the bourgeoisie derived its power first and foremost from the realm of the economic. The bourgeoisie could only remain as such insofar as they personified and enacted the objective laws of the capitalist mode of production. After all, the bourgeois individual did not owe her social position to birth or education, but to her role in the process of economic production and exchange. Yet because of this, once the emergent bourgeoise had established the economic sphere as a disinct social sphere free from traditional political and religious impediments, the capitalist class could remain content with its position of economic dominance without attempting to establish itself politically.

But what is more, it was not only that by deriving its social power from the distinct sphere of the economic the bourgeoisie had not the immediate necessity of organising itself as the dominant political class, it was also that the very nature of this economic sphere hindered the political assertion of the bourgeoisie as a class. Central to the economic sphere was competition which threw each bourgeois individual into a confrontation with the rest of her class. In this 'war of all against all' coalitions and alliances may arise but only against other coalitions and alliances and only on the basis of limited, and often temporary, common interests. Hence the emergent bourgeosie's attempts to organise itself as coherent political force were repeatedly undermined and retarded by the very nature of its economic power. Yet if the bourgeoisie was to overcome the feudal fetters to its progress and secure its dominance in society at large, particularly against the emergence of its greatest adversary -- the proletariat -- it had to take political power, it had to organise the whole of society in its own interests through the use of state power.

Thus the history of the emergence of bourgeois society is the history of the contradiction between the economic and the political power of the rising bourgeoisie. On the one hand the tremendous development of the productive forces that the bourgeoisie had itself unleashed had endowed it with enormous economic powers which demanded commensurate political power; yet, on the other hand, the division between the political and the economic, and the very process of economic advance, undermined and retarded the ability of the bourgeoisie to organise itself as class capable of realising its potential political power. This contradiction meant that the struggle by the bourgeoisie to take over the state apparatus, and thereby establish its political power, was often a long drawn out process -- and this was perhaps nowhere more true than in Marx's native Germany. Thus, while the capitalist mode of production had come to dominate much of Europe and North America during Marx's lifetime, the political struggle of the bourgeoisie for dominance over the remnants of the old feudal order in Europe still persisted at his death.

The development of the proletariat as a class with nothing to a sell but its labour-power, stripped of all means of production, depended on the development of industrial capitalism. With industrial capital production was fully reorganized along capitalist lines. Large scale production and mechanization decimated rural and artisan labour and produced the fully urbanised modern proletariat. This process of proletarianization developed rapidly during Marx's life time but despite the dominance of industrial capital in western Europe and North America, only in England and did industrial capital reach the point of subsuming the vast majority of the working population as urban proletarians.(3) Elsewhere earlier forms of production still persisted to employ significant sections of the working population. The immediate class action of the emergent proletariat had been to contest the crushing economic power of the industrial bourgeoisie. When the proletariat did find itself acting politically, as in the Chartist movement in England and in the 1848 revolutions that swept continental Europe, it did so in terms of the continuing struggle of the bourgeoisie to impose its political power over the existing forms of the state.

The immediate political tasks which Marx had recognised as facing the proletariat at this time had been to force through the bourgeois political reforms that the bourgeoisie was itself unable to achieve. In his analyses of the 1848 revolutions, such as that contained in the Eighteenth Brumaire and Class Struggles in France, Marx recognized the proletariat as merely one of many social and political forces acting out the political drama. The demands that conclude the Communist Manifesto; such as progressive income tax, free education, nationalization of land and transport, the abolition of inheritance and universal adult suffrage, go little beyond the most radical demands of the most progressive bourgeois parties and fall far short of a communist society.

Marx was well aware of the weakness of the proletariat of his time and the complicated political conditions that it found itself in. Yet, for all this, he was convinced that the economic development of capitalism, the expansion of industrial capitalism along with its inherent periodical crises, would serve to strengthen the proletariat and eventually throw it into open conflict, both economically and politically, with the bourgeoisie.

Yet Marx could only delineate the emerging outlines of this conflict. It was a conflict that only became clearly defined towards the end of Marx's life. It was only with the emergence of the first mass workers' party, with the the rise of the German Social Democratic Workers Party, and with the establishment of the first mass trade unionism with the emergence of the 'New Unionism' in Britain, which occurred in the 1880's, that the proletariat could be said to have emerged fully as a class directly opposed, both economically and politically, to the bourgeoisie. It was only then that the central political division of bourgeois society presented itself in all its clarity as the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marx died before the mature class struggles of bourgeois society could unfold.

Marx could not know how the great representative organs of the working class, which were only just emerging at his death, would become obstacles to the revolutionary aspirations of the working class only a few decades latter.(4) Nor could he foresee the effects of the affluence, which was to be won through such organizations, on the formation of proletarian consciousness. Stalinism, the bureaucratization of the labour movement, fascism and the so-called consumer society were all, for the most part, phenomena of the twentieth century; nineteenth century bound Marx could not be expected to have fully comprehended them. This does not mean that Marx has nothing to say to us about such matters; the tendencies that were to lead to such outcomes were already at work during Marx's life time but that the embryonic state of such tendencies restricted his analysis of them and could therefore remain implicit within his theory.(5)

At the risk of running ahead of ourselves we shall illustrate this and make its implications a little clearer by briefly considering the controversy surrounding the question of the 'immiseration of the proletariat'. This controversy, perhaps more than any other surrounding Marx and Marxism, has raised the problem of the historical specificity of Marx and hence the applicability of his theory to modern conditions. It is therefore a useful controversy with which to illustrate the limitations placed on the development of Marx's theoretical project by his historical context.

The question of the 'immiseration of the proletariat'

Ever since Bernstein's attack on Marxist orthodoxy at the turn of the century bourgeois and revisionist commentators have never tired of pointing out the contrast between Marx's 'prediction' of the increasing immiseration of the proletariat and the abundant evidence of a strong secular rise in working class living standards since the publication of Capital.(6) On the basis of this 'empirical refutation' it has then been concluded that Marx's economic and social theories are either wrong or, at best, restricted in validity to the era of laisser-faire capitalism of mid-nineteenth century England. Against such conclusions Marxists have argued that this 'prediction' of an 'absolute immiseration' of the proletariat has been based on a superficial reading of Marx's theory.

For Marx wages would tend towards the value of labour-power; that is the value measured in labour time of the basket of commodities required for the social reproduction of the worker's capacity to work. Of course the increase in the social productivity of labour that accompanies the development of capitalist production will tend to reduce the labour time required to produce this basket of commodities and therefore reduce the value of labour-power even though the real wage remains the same. It is on this inherent tendency for the value of labour-power to fall, rather than on real wages, that Marx's thesis of an immiseration of the proletariat rests.

For Marx the social well-being of the proletariat does not depend primarily on the quantity of use-values it appropriates as wage goods, although of course this is important, but on the degree of its alienation. As labour-power becomes devalued with the advance of the social productivity of labour the working class becomes excluded from its very powers of creation to an ever greater degree. It is with this poverty of exclusion that the proletariat becomes immiserated rather than with any decline in its ability to consume following a decline in the level of real wages.(7) It is in such qualitative terms of the poverty of exclusion that we can say Marx's saw the absolute immiseration of the proletariat, rather than in the quantitative terms of a declining living standards as is usually assumed.

It is true, however, that Marx does connect a fall in the value of labour-power with a fall in real wages, and thus a decline in working class living standards, which has lent credence to bourgeois and revisionist readings of Marx's immiseration thesis. For Marx the basket of commodities required for the social reproduction of the worker, and hence the value of labour-power at any point in time, was not determined simply in terms of some physiological minimum -- as was the natural wage of classical political economy -- but was also defined in terms of cultural and customary standards that were historically determined.

Thus this basket of commodities, since it is not a natural minimum, can be diminished. Hence not only can the value of labour-power fall over time but the real wage, to which it corresponds, may also fall. In fact Marx is keen to show how the capitalist will seek to push wages below the value of labour-power and in doing so tend to undermine customary levels of wages and thus the value of labour-power itself. Thus to a limited extent the value of labour-power could fall faster than the rise in the social productivity of labour would warrant thereby producing a 'long term' decline in real wages.

Yet Marx's theory of the determination of the value of labour- power not only suggests the possibility of a declining real wage in the 'long term' but also opens up the possibility of rising real wages.

Firstly, the very historical development of capitalism itself may serve to offset the decline in the value of labour-power and raise the 'long term' level of real wages. For instance, with the geographical concentration of capitalist production capital may require a more mobile workforce that can travel greater distances to or from work, or, as another example, the growing sophistication of certain production processes may demand a more educated workforce, either way the costs of reproducing the workers' capacity to work will tend to rise thereby increasing the value of labour-power and with it the 'long term' levels of real wages needed to cover these extra costs of reproduction.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the historical development of capitalism brings with it a strengthening of the working class, both in numbers and in organization. Beyond a certain point it becomes possible for the working class, at favourable moments, not only to resist the capitalist attempts to depress wages below the value of labour-power, but to push wages above the value of labour-power. To the degree that the working class can sustain such high wages in real terms they may eventually become incorporated into the value of labour- power in the form of a customary element in future years.

As we shall see when we come to examine Marx's theory of the wage in Capital, the very logic of Marx's theoretical line of development demanded that he, at least provisionally, emphasized the power of the capitalist to depress wages. It is this that has allowed Marx's critics to conflate a decline in the value of labour-power with a decline in the level of real wages and thus conclude that Marx's thesis of the immiseration of the proletariat is at variance with the empirical evidence of rising real wages. Yet the failure to go beyond this to examine the possibility of rising real wages can be seen to owe not a little to the historical context in which Marx was writing and which inhibited the development of Marx's theory at this point.

When Marx came to defend workers combinations and the strike weapon against the criticisms of the Proudhonian socialists the weakness of the proletariat at that time meant that he was obliged to concede that strike action could not actually raise wages for long. Instead he argued that strikes could at least prevent wages from being lowered. Thus in his polemic against Weston contained in Wages, Prices and Profit Marx writes: ...in 99 cases out of 100 their [ the workers'] efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour [power]... (MESW, p. 446) and so the: ...general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages... (MESW, p. 446) Yet in reaching this conclusion Marx had argued only a few pages earlier that the value of labour-power is determined ultimately through the process of class struggle over the wage: ...the capitalist tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the workingman constantly presses in the opposite direction. The matter resolves itself into a question of the respective powers of the combatants. (MESW, p. 443) The empirically apparent answer to the question of the 'respective powers of the combatants' was for Marx the overwhelming strength of the capitalist, but such an answer is clearly historically contingent. Implicit within Marx's theory is the possibility of the proletariat becoming strong enough to actually raise wages. Such a possibility was perhaps too remote and speculative for Marx's polemic of 1865, at such an early stage in the development of the workers movement, but it was one that was to become increasingly significant as the workers' movement grew in strength. Marx could stress the necessity for combinations and strike action and sketch their development into trade union organization but the historical context within which he wrote inhibited the elaboration of the question of class struggle at this point.

The intellectual climate and political perspectives So we have seen how the disjunction between the political and economic development of bourgeois society allowed Marx to grasp the appearance of the bourgeois economy as a set of objective laws through his critique of classical political economy, but at the same time this disjunction inhibited his elaboration of the question of class struggle and politics. The historical context within which Marx lived and wrote, therefore, restricted his ability to make the great reversal within his broad thematic, from the dialectic of capital to the counter-dialectic of class struggle, and consequently contributed to the closure within Marx's theoretical project at this point. The question that now arises is how Marx, in the course of his intellectual development, came to confront these historical limitations and how this confrontation came to shape the closure within his theoretical project that becomes apparent with Capital. Once we have dealt with this question it will then be possible to begin to examine the closure within Marx's project itself.

a) critical utopianism versus critical positivism As we saw in chapter 2, both Marx and Engels in the 1840s, with all their youthful exuberance, took a highly optimistic view of the approaching fall of capitalism and the consequent triumph of communism. There is perhaps little doubt that for the founders of historical materialism the growing social conflicts of their time would soon sweep away capitalism, and, what is more, that it would be their native Germany which, although being relatively backward in its capitalistic development, would be at the forefront of the proletarian revolution. For Marx and Engels revolution was on the cards.

Of course Marx and Engels must have recognized the relative backwardness of capitalism meant that the proletariat as well as the bourgeoisie were relatively weak, but they could argue that once the imminent bourgeois revolution finally broke the fetters of the old feudal order then the resulting rapid development of German capitalism would swell the ranks of the proletariat and prepare the way for the proletarian revolution. The proletariat fresh from the revolutionary experience of the bourgeois revolution, in which it would have to play a leading role due to the weakness of the German bourgeoisie, would have little difficulty in overturning bourgeois society. It would be more than a match for the German bourgeoisie which was crippled by its competition with, and dependence on, its English counterparts.

The prospect that communism would be established in their lifetime led Marx and Engels to what we may perhaps term an attitude of 'critical utopianism'. They sought to grasp in their writings 'what is coming to be'. The works of Marx at this time tended to take the form of polemics; either against the Young Hegelians, as in The German Ideology and The Holy Family, or against rival socialists, as in The Poverty of Philosophy and The Communist Manifesto. They took the broad sweep of historical materialism and its view of history, drawing out what Marx saw as the predominant tendencies to use as weapons within these polemics. There was little room for details, or for counter-tendencies that presently existed, the overriding question was not what things are but what they would be compelled to become!

This attitude of 'critical utopianism' was a necessary starting point for the development of historical materialism. It went beyond utopian socialism, which merely posed the alternative possibility of a communist or socialist world, by insisting that communism would have to emerge out of the material conditions of existing society; while at the same time it avoided the trap of reformism. It was an attitude that allowed both Marx and Engels to open up the broad sweep of their newly founded thematic.

Yet such an attitude soon ran up against the historical limitations of their time. The 1848 revolutions that swept continental Europe ended in the triumph of reaction. In Germany the bourgeoisie proved far too weak and inept to make much progress while the proletariat and the petit-bourgeoisie failed to carry through the bourgeois revolution on their behalf as Marx had hoped. The illusion of Germany as the weak link in autocratic Europe was dispelled.

At the same time the events in France, the starting point and the heart of the social and political crises that erupted in 1848, proved equally disappointing for Marx and Engels. In the Eighteenth Brumaire Marx relates how the opposed factions of the bourgeoisie ended up hiding behind the monarchical vestiges of the old feudal order in the face of the insurrectional Parisian proletariat and how the dead weight of the peasant masses eventually ensured the victory of reaction.

The disillusionment that followed the defeat of the 1848 revolution combined with the long years of reaction and exile awaiting the economic crises that would once again herald the onset of a fresh revolutionary wave to convulse Europe, produced a profound shift in the attitude held by both Marx and Engels. This shift in attitude is perhaps best illustrated by Engels in his introduction to Class Struggles in France that he wrote in 1895. Looking back on his and Marx's attitude at the time of the 1848 revolutions Engels explains: When the February Revolution broke out, all of us, as far our conceptions of the conditions and the course of revolutionary movements were concerned, were under the spell of previous historical experience, particularly that of France. It was, indeed the latter which had dominated the whole European history since 1789, and from which now once again the signal had gone forth for general revolutionary change...when thereupon in Paris, in June, the first great battle for power between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was fought; when the very victory of its class so shook the bourgeoisie of all countries that it fled back into the arms of the monarchical -- feudal reaction which had just been overthrown -- there could be no doubt for us, under the circumstances then obtaining, that the great decisive combat had commenced, that it would have to be fought out in a single, long and vicissitudinous period of revolution, but that it could only end in the final victory of the proletariat.

But history has shown us...to have been wrong, has revealed our point of view of that time to have been an illusion. (MESW, p. 644) From this conclusion Engels goes onto to argue: History has proved us, and all who thought like us, wrong. It has made clear that the state of economic development on the Continent at that time was not, by a long way, ripe for the elimination of capitalist production...industrial revolution which has everywhere produced clarity in class relations...has created a genuine bourgeoisie and a genuine large-scale industrial proletariat and has pushed them into the foreground of social development. However, owing to this, the struggle between these two great classes, as a struggle which, apart from England, existed in 1848 only in Paris and, at the most in a few big industrial centres, has spread over the whole of Europe and reached an intensity still inconceivable in 1848...today one great International army of socialists, marching irresistibly on and growing daily in number, organisation, discipline, insight and certainty of victory. If this mighty army of the proletariat has still not reached its goal, if, far from winning victory by one mighty stroke, it has slowly to press forward from position to position in a hard tenacious struggle, this only proves, once and for all, how impossible it was in 1848 to win social transformation by a simple surprise attack. (MESW, p. 646) So, for the older and wiser Engels, and Marx, the overthrow of capitalism came to be seen as a long drawn out struggle. The immediate political consideration was now the careful building of a strong working class movement committed to socialism, rather than the ideological preparation for an imminent insurrection. Only after the workers' movement had established itself after perhaps decades of struggle and organization could there be a realistic prospect of a revolutionary transformation of society. There was no longer any hope of an insurrectional short cut to communism for Marx and Engels in their latter years.

The 'critical utopianism' of their youth became replaced by, what we may term, a 'critical positivism'. Their central concern became focused on what is, on the existing state of affairs and problems that constrained the still young workers' movement. The question of the economic consequently became even more central. No longer did Marx envisage his critique of political economy as being little more than a 'brochure' in a series that would embrace a whole multitude of topics; instead it became an enormous 'text book' for the guidance of the socialist movement fighting within capitalist society. Marx's theoretical works ceased to be short polemics but instead increasingly took the form of scientific treatise considering the questions at hand in all their depth.

In a letter to Engels in 1863 Marx remarks, concerning the wave of uprisings in Poland of that year: What do you say to the Polish business? This much is certain -- the era of revolution has now fairly opened again in Europe. And the general position is good. But the comfortable delusions and the almost childish enthusiasms with which we hailed the era of revolution before February 1848 have all gone to hell...we know what a part stupidity plays in revolutions, and how they are exploited by scoundrels... (MESC, p. 144) So that such stupidity could be overcome in the future, the socialist movement required theoretical clarity. It needed a firm foundation for its policies and arguments. It had to understand the objective material conditions within which it was obliged to operate. The basis for this is what Marx hoped to provide with his detailed critique of political economy. Without the imminence of a decisive revolutionary struggle Marx had the time to focus in detail on this and his thematic in general.

b) Capital and the climate of positivism The shift towards a 'critical positivism' was further accentuated by the general change in the intellectual climate of the mid to late nineteenth century within which Marx and Engels had to articulate their theories. The great advance made by the natural sciences during the nineteenth century had served to raise the esteem of such sciences far above that of philosophy. Science was seen as the great progressive force of the time. Consequently, as the century wore on, positivism, which sought to grasp the world in terms of natural objective laws, gained in prestige. Increasingly, following positivists such as the great French proponent -- Comte, it was sought to extend the methods of the natural sciences into the study of society and history. By the l860s the great speculative philosophy of Hegel, with all its essentialist and teleological conceptions, which had dominated the intellectual climate of both Marx and Engels youth, had become distinctly old fashioned. To the empirically minded atomist that came to dominate the second half of the century, Hegel was but a barely comprehensible 'has been'.

Undoubtedly this 'rise of science' had an important impact on Marx and Engels, and this was perhaps nowhere more so than in the realm of biology. Marx was deeply impressed by the work of Darwin, whose work -- On the Origin of the Species -- had served to refute all the religious dogmas concerning creation. Further, as Marx remarks in a letter to Lassale written in 1861: Darwin's book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle. (MESC, p. 125) And what is more, in a foot note in Volume I of Capital: Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature's Technology, i.e. the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which organs serve as instruments of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organisation, deserve equal attention. (Capital I, p. 372) While both Marx and Engels came to defend their ideas on the grounds that they were 'scientific' and expressed admiration for the advances in the natural sciences, they did not fully embrace the intellectual fashion of positivism.(8) Although they recognized the strong methodological parallels between history and the natural sciences they maintained that they could not be reduced to one another. What is more, Marx repeatedly defended Hegel, as is shown, for example, in the Afterword of the second German edition of volume I of Capital and also in a letter written to Engels in 1866: I am also studying Comte now, as a sideline, because the English and French make such a fuss about the fellow.

What takes their fancy is the encyclopedic touch, the synthesis. But this is miserable compared to Hegel (although Comte, as a professional mathematician and physicist, was superior to him, i.e. in matters of detail, even here Hegel is infinitely greater as a whole). (MESC, p. 210) The importance of the dialectic, and the superiority of dialectical logic over the analytical logic that dominated the natural sciences, for Marx and Engels meant that they could never abandon Hegel for positivism.

Engels, however, as we shall see in our concluding chapter, was far more profoundly affected by the rise of scientism than was Marx. His efforts to establish a natural dialectic, by extending the dialectic to the natural sciences, was to have important implications in the development of Marxism. Engels, when recounting the development of historical materialism in his latter works -- such as in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific -- defines the most significant feature of Marx's socialism as it being a scientific socialism as compared to the utopian features of his socialist rivals. In such works Engels can be seen to read his scientific conceptions back into his own and Marx's polemics of the 1840's, dispute the fact that at that time neither of them used such terms to distinguish their work from their socialist rivals.

We shall return to Engels's scientism, and his consequent divergence from Marx latter when we consider the transposition of the closure within Marx into the closure within Marxism.

Conclusion We have seen then, how, in coming to terms with the limitations imposed by the historical context within which he lived, Marx's theoretical attitude shifted from a 'critical utopianism' towards a 'critical positivism', a shift that was accentuated by the rise of scientism in the intellectual climate of the mid to late nineteenth century. With an attitude of 'critical positivism' Marx was led to focus in detail on the actual objective material economic conditions that confronted the socialist movement. The emphasis of his thematic shifted towards the existence of capitalism as opposed to its overthrow; to the dialectic of capital as opposed to the counter-dialectic of class struggle. The active and subjective sides of Marx's thematic came to be curtailed and closed off in order to reveal in all its clarity the objective and material aspects. This shift from a 'critical utopianism' to a 'critical positivism' was at the same time a movement of closure.

The question that we shall address is how and where Marx enacted his closure within his thematic in order pose the problematic of political economy, and how this corresponded to the logical necessity for a provisional closure within the theoretical line of development of the Marxian project. We shall begin with the work that is pivotal to the shift from the theoretical attitude of 'critical utopianism' to that of a 'critical positivism' -- the Grundrisse and its relation to Capital.


1. The question of the maturity of capitalism is vital both for an understanding of Marx and for current perspectives on capitalism. It has been often argued that capitalism had not only reached maturity by the time of Marx's death but that within the following few decades leading up to the First World War it entered the stage of its decline. This has led many marxists to view the 'monopoly' capitalism of the Twentieth Century as being radically different from the 'classical' capitalism which was analysed by Marx. Whilst this view has served to bolster the revolutionary commitment to the imminent overthrow of capitalism, it has also opened the way for the theorists of a neo-capitalism for whom Marx is simply an outdated theorist of Nineteenth Century capitalism. For a recent criticism of idea of capitalism as being in decline, see Machover (1991).

2. See chapter five.

3. Even in Britain, the most advanced capitalist economy of the time, the biggest sector of employment, even as late as at the turn of the Century, was still domestic service.

4. The obvious example of this being the role of the German Social Democratic Party in supporting the German war effort by voting for war credits in 1914, against all its previous anti- imperialist promises, and its role in crushing the revolutionary wave of 1918-21, despite its nominal commitment to the overthrow of capitalism.

5. So, while Marx could see the full development of the dialectic of capital he could not see the development of the counter-dialectic of class struggle. As we have already noted an important analysis of the impact of the growing power of the working class on bourgeois political economy is that put forward by Negri. See Negri (1988).

6. See Bernstein (1961).

7. Marx's 'predictions of an increasing immiseration of the proletariat have been an easy target for the more empirically minded orthodox economist, particularly in times of economic prosperity such as the post-war economic boom of the 1950's and '60's. Even non-Marxist economist that are otherwise more sympathetic to Marx have raised this issue against Marx, see (Schumpeter, 1947). However, the more perceptive of bourgeois critics of Marx immiseration thesis have acknowledged the importance of Marx's conception of alienation albeit as a non- economic factor; see for example Sowell (1960).

8. It should also be noted that Marx and Engels commitment to the natural sciences served as a useful political expedient. The great advances of bourgeois science, with all its attendant notions of scientific progress, undoubtedly greatly impressed the working class of the late Nineteenth Century. Against the appeal of such rivals as Bakunin, who could claim to be the great insurrectionalist and 'man of action' who called for action not words, and Proudhon, who could claim respect as the self-taught worker, Marx's only claim to the ears of the workers was as the great scientific thinker of the movement, a thinker who could defeat the bourgeois ideologists on their own ground of 'scientific' thought. In making concessions to bourgeois science Marx could thereby hope to enhance his own ideas amongst the working class.